Heaven on Earth

It is almost impossible to compress a trip to beautiful Kerala into a few pages. Most people explore as many exotic places they can find in Kerala in one trip and save diligently to visit again!

Kerala is indeed God’s own country — the kind of natural beauty available to the eye all year round is sometimes unbelievable. The breathtaking backwaters and coconut forests in Allepey, the hills carpeted with tea gardens in Munnar, the placid waters of lake Periyar and the tranquil banks of Vambanad lake in Kumarakkom are spots that the serious traveller must visit; other options abound which are not so ‘touristy’.

Before you plan your trip to Kerala, decide whether you want to explore the beaches in the south or the backwaters in the north. Each is a unique experience and you are truly blessed if you can explore both!

If your plan is to be by the beaches, then go south heading to Trivandrum and Kanyakumari. Experience the backwaters by heading north towards Cochin covering Thrissur District, Munnar, Thekkady (Periyar), Allepey and Kumarakkom along the way.

Cochin, the capital, has much to offer in terms of entertainment and will afford you an opportunity to stock up on things you need before you get away from the bustling city life and explore tranquil Kerala! Cochin consists of Ernakulam, the main city, Fort Kochi and the quaint, man-made Willingdon Island which connects both these places.

Fort Kochi is great for a stay and you’ll find a lot of tourists here planning the rest of their vacations! Check out the Chinese Fishing Nets in Fort Kochi and the St. Thomas Church (the first church built in India). The Muttoncherry Dutch Palace is also worth a visit. If you like ships, you can see many of them out at the Cochin harbour; you may even catch sight of dolphins while sipping on some naturally cool drinks! Ernakulam is also fun – Marine Drive is beautiful and you can even book a half-day trip through the Backwaters at Allepey in a small boat. The trip covers small water channels around the jungle, in-between small villages and you can spot kingfishers, cormorants, water snakes and other reptiles!

Don’t forget to visit Thrissur (also called Trichur): the cultural capital of Kerala. Thrissur is on flat terrain and is slowly emerging as a bustling city. A small hill on the outskirts of Thrissur town called Vilangan gives a panoramic view of the city.

After visiting Athirappally Waterfalls (which are magnificent although a little crowded), head for Vilangan Kunnu or Vilangan hills. At the bottom there is a check post and you have to pay an entry fee to the hills. The road from here to the top is narrow and rather dangerous in some places but definitely worth your time. Beauty is abundant here; it’s well known as the ‘couple’s hangout’ so spend the quality, private time you were waiting for here!

Before leaving Thrissur, make sure you visit Punnathur Kotta, located near Guruvayoor in Thrissur district and head out to the Aanakkotta or Aanathavalam roughly translated as the Elephant’s den where you can see elephants being fed tremendous amounts of fodder and bananas!

The famous Guruvayoor temples are here, spread across 10 acres of land with over sixty elephants herding together! The elephants came here as offerings by the devotees of Lord Guruvayurappan (the Kerala-centric name for Lord Vishnu) and tourists regularly come to check the mighty animals out.. The place is also well known for its ‘Gaja Pooja’ or the worshipping of elephants. It’s truly a sight to see – everywhere you turn there are elephants! Beware of pocketing elephant tail strands though, no matter how much you’re tempted; it’s banned!

The next destination is Munnar, a hill station approximately 150 km from Cochin. The land of tea gardens, Munnar is a haven for lush green bushes of tea laid out like carpets! Check out the Madupetty dam which has a huge reservoir surrounded by hills. If you’re in Munnar during February, mangoes are in season not to mention fresh strawberries and carrots! Tourists love the daring speedboat cruises around the reservoir. It’s generally crowded here so come early!

Munnar also has its Echo Point where you’ll see a lot of people yelling at the top of their voices, curious to hear what they sound like when reflected from the surrounding hills! Apart from Echo Point, Munnar is a restful, contemplative spot so enjoy the peace and solitude before heading out to Thekkady.

The road to Thekkady is incomparable! Spectacular and magnificent tea gardens embrace these hills and as you go further down, you can visit the famous ‘Spice County’. Kerala has always been known for its spices; in fact this is the reason why colonisers came here in the first place! Check out the black pepper plants grown at home by the villagers residing along the road, as well as the cardamom plantations which go on for miles and miles!

Thekkady is arguably the most exhilarating vacation experience. The Periyar National Park, known for its elephant herds, is an amazing sight! The only thing you will have to be prepared for is the need to get up at an unearthly hour to take the first trip into the jungles; wild animals love the sunrise. While tourists can not venture beyond the surroundings of the lake, you can still catch a cruise which is the best way to see the park from vantage points. It’s cheap to do a lot of different things here, from getting a guide to getting photographs taken! If you can stretch the wallet a bit, we recommend you attend the three-day Tiger Trail or indulge in Keralan style ayurvedic massage in the middle of the forest!

No guide to Kerala is ever complete without a mention of Kumarakkom which is located around the huge Vambanad Lake that stretches from Kumarakkom to Cochin! Once you find a place to stay, be ready to unwind on a hammock and enjoy the strong breeze from Vambanad Lake. The beauty of Kumarakkom is that you can sit on the banks and watch houseboats pass you by.

Sometimes money can buy you wonderful things and it can definitely do a great deal of good if you invest it in exploring Kerala!

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