“You are going to Kerala, again?’ asked a friend so very confused. There isn’t any answer I could give because so much is lost in translation. Kerala kindles that kind of emotion.
Kerala is special, this is where my husband and I started with our travels together years ago. In the last few years, we have made a couple of trips to Kerala, experiencing the various facets that this gorgeous place has on offer. And, it surprises us each time. Kerala feels like a symphony of multiple destinations put together, from misty hill stations, tea gardens, wild life sanctuaries, picturesque waterfalls and rivers to surreal backwaters and dreamy beaches. Not one trip is enough to soak in the sunshine that is Kerala.
During my recent trip to Kerala, I decided to put down my top five recommendations (things to experience) for the first timers:
1. Houseboat and backwaters: match made in heaven – Cruising in the houseboats on the backwaters in Kerala is a unique experience, one that cannot be missed. We stayed overnight in the houseboat, voyaging in Kumarakom. While you spend the day cruising along some spectacular sceneries, at night the boat is carefully parked on the banks of the backwater. These houseboats are fully furnished with AC, TV, refrigerator, living room and a bed room – well, it’s a house on a boat! There was a cook onboard who whipped up some delicious meals, anytime of the day. For some solitude, we decided to be the sole occupants of the houseboat. (It can be booked on a sharing basis too) Sitting on the deck, sailing on the backwater at a leisurely pace and watching life go by in slow motion was an experience that cannot be translated in words.
2. Spice market – When in Kerala I highly recommend a visit to the spice plantations or spending a few hours in the spice market. One of them is Mattancherry, which is known for the spice markets. It’s not a conventional market but instead an ancient building with tiny shops selling a variety of spices. The marketplace is awe inspiring with a vast assortment of spices, oils, tea and coffee on display. On the ground floor of the building in a huge verandah, were some women busy laying out around 400 kg of ginger to dry out in the sun, it was nothing short of a sight. Although, I am not particularly into cooking but this place looked like a haven for cooking enthusiasts. The delicious aroma from the spices and the passionate sellers will force you to make some worthy purchases.
3. Café culture – I never expected to experience a taste of European café scene in Kerala. But was thrilled to discover that Fort Kochi has a thriving historical and cultural beat to it. Going by the number of foreign tourists in the area, the place hardly appears to be in India. The Indian travellers here seemed far and few except for the locals running the cafes and shops. You can also see the Chinese fishing nets at the beach, which sure are a great sight but with very few fish they are more for show for the tourists. The streets in the area are ideal to wander and explore the place on foot. Spotted around are Colonial mansions, trendy cafes, art galleries, alfresco restaurants and boutiques, bright colourful houses and narrow streets. They all make up for an outstanding town experience, one that will force you to slow down, enjoy a cup of tea while reading a book or having a simple conversation.
4. Go Hiking: Ever wondered of gazing at the beauty of Kerala from atop a mountain? Munnar offers some breathtaking trails and glorious views, something for everyone whether or not an adventure junkie. We had never been on an official hike, a few jungle trails, yes, but not any mountain climbing. Talking to our Airbnb host one evening over dinner, we were convinced to go on a hike in Munnar. Opted for a lighter trek through grasslands and tea plantations. The hike was for about four to five hours with a guide. Surreal for nature lovers, the trek lets you explore the vast tea plantations and the guide filled us in with details about the tea industry. Not another person in sight for miles, felt truly peaceful. The feeling of finally reaching the top of the mountain after the climb is hard to describe in words.
5. Tucked away beaches: We are always hunting for quiet and isolated beaches. This time in Kerala, found two serene and truly beauteous ones – Marari in Alapuzha and Cherai in Vypin Island, near Kochi. Loved every bit of it, the drive upto the resorts were incredible, backwater on one side and sea on the other. Not much to do around, getting an authentic Ayurvedic massage seemed ideal. Evenings were made more interesting, with the locals (mainly children) from nearby villages catching fish and crabs on the beach for their sumptuous dinner. Interacting with them was challenging though as they only spoke Malayali, so we had to do with sign language. Tranquil, pristine and surreal is the best I can describe the whole experience. Away from the crowds, warm sea breeze, glowing sunsets, the best locations for a perfect beach getaway.