“Forgive yourself for not knowing what you didn’t know before you learned it.” Maya Angelou
To say we were both pretty excited about our trip to Kerala would be untrue, the other half was super excited but I was pretty anxious (did you know there are 238 species of snakes in Kerala alone, 50 of which are poisonous, eek!!). Could I do India? I had heard so many stories, people seemed to either love it or hate it! Everyone who asked where I was going for the Eid break pulled a face when I said Kerala, a few wished me luck and one friend said she hated it!
A short flight from Abu Dhabi, Kerala also referred to as ‘God’s Own Country’ or historically Keralam, is India’s southernmost state on the Malabar coast. Waiting at arrivals was the man who made our trip such a success, our fantastic driver Nisanth. Booked in advance based on recommendations this man mountain (seriously he was a giant) was an absolute God send. Punctual, courteous and knowledgeable, he made our trip a smooth and pleasant experience, worth every single rupee and more.
Much like our earlier Bali trip, the other half had researched and planned our itinerary, a hectic five places in eight days covering many, many miles, I was responsible for choosing and booking the hotels, a wise move on his part once again to alleviate any blame should things not be to my liking! First impressions of Kerala was that it was extremely humid (even first thing in the morning at 6am when we arrived), very busy, colourful and a tad pungent but luckily not overpowering. We flew into Cochin (Kochi) and planned to head South flying out of the capital, Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum) on the West Coast at the end of our trip.
What we did….
Although the plan was to head South, the other half wanted to see a particular waterfall which was north of Cochin, me and my big mouth suggested in the planning stages, without any concept of where it actually was in relation to the airport or our first night destination, that we go there as soon as we land. I had not taken into consideration the night flight and lack of sleep, the distance involved in getting to said attraction and then onto our hotel, let’s just say many, many hours!! I also discovered very quickly that it’s impossible to sleep in a car in Kerala due to incessant beeping of horns, cars beep each other to say they are overtaking and they overtake a lot!
First stop, as suggested by Nisanth was a good hearty western breakfast at the Marriott Hotel before setting off to Athirappilly falls. The suggestion was made that we stopped at the Thumboormuzhi Dam and Butterfly Gardens in Thrissur, we weren’t that bothered but to be polite we agreed and thank goodness we did as beyond the initial beautiful gardens, which is the natural habitat to many butterflies, one hundred and forty-eight species to be exact some of them quite rare, was also the most spectacular view of the river. A suspension bridge gave us unprecedented views of the dam built across the Chalakudy River to divert water for irrigation purposes, the surrounding dramatic scenery and views downstream, let’s just say we trusted and embraced Nisanth’s every suggestion from then on!
The Athirappilly Falls themselves are further up the west-flowing Chalakudy River near the Vazhachal Forest, a short drive away. To get to the viewing point we walked down a monkey (the long-tailed bonnet macaque variety) lined walkway before reaching the top of the spectacular twenty-four-metre (80 ft) waterfall that cascades down massive rocks in three separate powerful sections, it’s the largest waterfall in Kerala, given the nickname by some as ‘The Niagara of India’. Now I’m not sure if it was the high humidity or sleep deprivation but whilst taking a photo of some well-placed macaques under a sign, I pointed out to the other half that it said ‘Way To Full View Of Falls’ which he had missed entirely.
Cue a mini-trek in flip-flops and plane attire down a reasonably steep walk to see the falls in their full glory. Was is worth it? Well yes, the sight was quite amazing, the power of the falling water was incredible but scary at the same time, the spray was a most welcome shower! The bottom of the falls was quite eery, the sound of the water deafening and there were lots of signs warning of danger and death! Much needed and probably over priced water was purchased back at the original sign and I arrived back at the car in a sweaty and frizzy haired mess! Got some good photos though.
A short walk past many extremely colorful market stalls that line all tourist attractions these days and we were back in the car with Nisanth. He stopped at the smaller Charpa falls in the same area before we visited the more gentle gradient but still rapid Vazhachal waterfalls and medical gardens for a short stroll through the lush greenery.
A couple of hours later we arrived at our first hotel, the rather splendid Vivanta by Taj Malabar in Cochin. First impressions of Cochin was that is was a bustling city, busy with loads of traffic and buildings plastered in brightly coloured campaign posters, literally everywhere you looked was covered in advertisements of some kind or another, a kind of street art you could say. Arriving late afternoon meant we were in time for the complimentary High Tea served in the main restaurant and then took the sunset cruise around on Vembanad Lake passing moored brightly painted fishing boats and the famous cantilevered Chinese fishing nets. These enormous spider like nets require many fishermen to operate them due to their weight so are less popular nowadays as modern fishing techniques are more profitable and less labour intensive.
After a good hearty breakfast, we checked out the next morning ready for our long journey to the tea country of Munnar but not before Nisanth took us on a tour of Fort Cochin, stopping at all the historical sites which we may have missed left to our own devices. Keralans are very proud of their country and history, Nisanth wanted to share his knowledge and the sites that made his country what it is today.
Explorers and traders aplenty have visited Kerala for centuries, each leaving their mark in some shape or form. The Chinese left the aforementioned fishing nets that line the shore, the British, the Dutch and Portuguese have imprinted their different archaeological styles on Kerala’s history, each plain to see in Fort Cochin and the Mattancherry areas. Our first stop was a glimpse into the Dutch cemetery near Kochi beach, the last resting place of many Dutch soldiers and traders. Next up was a pretty little yellow church of St. Francis Csi which is believed to be India’s oldest European church according to the sign outside and the last resting place of explorer Vasco da Gama, his tombstone is still there but his remains were taken to Lisbon fourteen years after his death.
We stopped at the market adjacent to the shore adorned with more Chinese fishing nets, to enjoy fresh coconuts, avoided getting run over by the many tuk-tuk’s and then passed through the quaint little streets and museums of the Mattancherry area, once the centre of the spice trade. Nisanth took us to an overpriced Kashmiri emporium selling Indian handicrafts where despite lots of sales pressure we left with only a small decorated wooden box, watch out for these unplanned stops as drivers are incentivised to bring unsuspecting customers! We passed through the narrow alleyways of Jew Town and saw some synagogues before heading out on the main road to Munnar.
Along the way Nisanth pointed out the trees and vegetation that lined our route, many different crops provide the income for Kerala’s farmers including the lucrative rubber trees that are rotated with growing pineapples in the same fields. One more stop for a traditional Keralan lunch and a brief visit to the Cheeyappara waterfalls before we eventually reached our second hotel by early evening, The Fog Resort and Spa located in rolling green hills in the depths of Munnar’s tea country.
Where we ate….
Fresh coconuts were everywhere, delicious, refreshing and cheap too.
We had an Indian lunch buffet at the small Hotel Maria International in Kothamangalam on route from Cochin to Munnar. Very cheap but really tasty, this venue was selected for us by Nisanth. I had a mild potato and pea curry and fresh pineapple juice while the other half selected the traditional Keralan curry lunch, a mixture of small curry dishes served with rice, pickles and roti (bread).
High tea and an Indian buffet at the Vivanta by Taj hotel on the first night. I had a dodgy Italian Risotto but the other had the more traditional Keralan cuisine.
Where we stayed…..We spent one night in Fort Cochin staying at the luxurious Vivanta by Taj – Malabar hotel located on Willington Island (read more about that here).
My first two days in Kerala surprised me, I felt more relaxed than when I first arrived especially in the capable hands of Nisanth. The landscape and natural beauty were amazing, everyone we met was so friendly and welcoming, the only downside was the packed schedule and miles and miles of travelling in such a short time frame, obviously the other half’s fault as he planned the itinerary …… little did I know the best parts of our Indian adventure were yet to come!
Unless otherwise stated, all photos on this page © Jo Brett 2015. All rights reserved.