Kerala Truly God`s Own Country, with luxuriant foliage and wildlife, sea vistas and backwater idylls, as well as rich heritage, delectable cuisine and Ayurveda, Kerala is balm for both body and soul.
Munnar Hill Haven
Rolling hills, dotted with tea plantations— Munnar promises to take your breath away at first sight. Situated at the confluence of three mountain streams—Mudrapuzha, Nallathanni and Kundala, this beautiful hill station was once the summer resort of the British government in south India. Munnar is one of the must-visits of a traveller’s itinerary while exploring Kerala, and for very good reason. It has vast expanses of tea gardens, offering a soothing balm of greenery for the eyes. And if one were to be curious to learn more about Munnar’s tea legacy, there is also a tea museum in Nallathanni estate of Tata Tea that is worth a visit. Munnar has the highest peak in south India—Anamudi Peak. Located inside the Eravikulam National Park, it stands tall at 2,700 m and is a great trekking destination. In fact, the national park in itself is a must-visit because of the sheer variety of natural splendour on display—it’s home to the endangered Nilgiri Tahr or Nilgiri Ibex and some rare species of butterflies. Once every 12 years, the hill slopes in the park get covered in carpets of blue when the exotic Neelakurunji blooms.
It will bloom next in 2018, so if you are a nature lover or just a curious traveller, you’ll probably want to catch this rare sight. There are lakes and waterfalls too, and if you are in the mood to not ‘go and see’ anything, the winding lanes in the picture book-style town let you enjoy lazy strolls or just sit and sip some tea.
MUNNAR GETTING THERE
- Air – Kochi International Airport is 110 km away.
- Rail – Aluva is the nearest railway station (110 km away), then Ernakulam (130 km) and Madurai (135 km).
- Road – Well-connected by state- run bus services. Taxis available. ACCOMMODATION Munnar has several options to suit all budgets.
BEST SEASON All year round.
KOVALAM – Beach Bliss
Kovalam is a beach-lover’s paradise. It fills your heart—if you are already a convert— and makes even the non-believer fall in love with the idea of sun-kissed shores and an endless expanse of water as far as you can see. Running across 17 km of Kerala’s coastline, three exquisite, crescent-shaped beaches form Kovalam—Hawa Beach, Lighthouse Beach and Samudra Beach— which are separated by rocky outcroppings. The rocky projections into the waters also create a bay of calm waves, making it ideal for sunbathing. Kovalam is a popular beach destination with tourists, especially from Europe, and offers a range of activities including swimming and catamaran cruising. There are a lot of Ayurvedic massage centres and Ayurvedic health resorts on the beach, so it’s highly recommended to pamper oneself with a traditional massage which rejuvenates you completely. Life begins late in the day here but as evenings wear on, most of the places have cultural programmes like Kathakali dance performances, giving a taste of Kerala’s rich heritage at the seaside. There are many eateries lining the shoreline, offering a range of delicacies including delectable seafood, so a meal while listening to the waves crashing on the shores is a must-do. With palm groves lining the white sandy shores, Kovalam paints a dream-like picture, inviting everyone.
KOVALAM GETTING THERE
- Air – Thiruvananthapuram International Airport (15 km).
- Rail – Thiruvananthapuram Central Railway Station (15 km).
- Road – Well-connected by state- run bus services; taxis available.
ACCOMMODATION Hotel Samudra (KTDC) is a premium beach resort with an excellent view of the sea. Several other options, including Vivanta by Taj, and budget hotels are also available.
BEST SEASON November to February.
ALAPPUZHA (OR ALLEPPEY)
Naturally blessed with a network of tranquil canals and lagoons, the backwaters are definitely one of the high points of Kerala tourism and Alappuzha or Alleppey is best known for them. A leisurely houseboat cruise along the water channels, through rustic Kerala where coconut trees line small villages on either side, is an experience that is likely to remain with you long after your holidays have ended. The present- day houseboats are a reworked version of the kettuvallams of olden times. Kettu in Malayalam means ‘a structure to dwell in,’ while vallam means ‘boat.’ Kettuvallams— simply a thatched roof over a wooden hull—were used to carry tons of spices and rice to the ports. As time passed, and trucks replaced these boats as transportation, locals came up with an ingenious idea to keep these boats—some more than 100 years old—viable. They created extra rooms for guests, thereby saving the kettuvallams from being phased out. Today you can hire a houseboat to suit your need—a smaller one for a day cruise lasting a few hours, or a bigger one that has all the amenities of a hotel, including bedrooms, modern toilets, a kitchen, and even a balcony for angling, for a night-in. Whatever one chooses, the experience of getting a peek at typical village life in Kerala—women washing clothes, children playing, people boarding a small ferry to go to the town for work—and taking in marvellous spectacles of flocks of birds over the water while sipping on coconut water (which you can buy from a boatman), is unbeatable. Little wonder Alleppey is often called ‘Venice of the East.’
ALAPPUZHA (OR ALLEPPEY) GETTING THERE
- Air – Kochi International Airport (75 km).
- Rail – Alleppey Railway Station.
- Road – Well-connected by bus services and taxis. ACCOMMODATION
Range of hotels for all budgets and homestays. Houseboats are also available.
November to February.
Romance The Waterfall
Kerala is naturally blessed with a number of waterfalls, of which Athirappally in Thrissur district is the most popular. Nicknamed ‘Niagara of the East,’ Athirappally plunges 80 feet and watching it gush down while frothy white clouds of spray rise is surreal. The vista is particularly arresting at dusk— the water looks like an unravelling ribbon of white satin, disappearing into the distance. About five kilometres from Athirappally is another waterfall, Vazhachal, which is also very popular. Both waterfalls are on the Chalakudy river, located on the edge of the Sholayar forest range. They originate from the upper reaches of the Western Ghats. A third waterfall called Charpa Falls is located between the two. Apart from the beauty of the waterfalls themselves, this area is also rich in flora and fauna. In fact, it’s the only place in the Western Ghats where four endangered Hornbill species are seen.
ATHIRAPPALLY GETTING THERE
- Air – Kochi International Airport (55 km).
- Rail – Chalakudy Railway Station (30 km); Thrissur (55 km).
- Road – Well-connected by a bus network. Nearest bus stand is Athirappally.
Rainforest Jungle Lodge (premium), Bethania Resorts (budget) and others.
September to January.
HISTORY’S TREASURE TROVE
MUZIRIS HERITAGE PROJECT – Ancient Port City
The story of Muziris is a fascinating one, taking you back to 3000 BC. An ancient port city—one of the busiest in the world—it was known for its opulence as ships brimming with the finest silks, fragrant spices and precious gems sailed from here to faraway lands. Today, Kodungallur (central Kerala) stands where Muziris once was, and an ambitious project by the state government gives visitors an opportunity to explore ruins and remnants of a bygone era. The Muziris Heritage Project also attempts to showcase the cultural diversity of Kerala. So you find an ancient Hindu temple dedicated to Goddess Mahakali in the same vicinity as the Cheraman Juma Masjid—India’s first mosque—as well as a synagogue and the Marthoma Church in Azhikode village, testifying to Muziris’ open-armed welcome to people of all religions and races. There are several museums and historic sites, including forts like the Kottapuram Fort built by the Portuguese in 1523, which has been witness to many wars. The heritage project has a hop-on-hop-off boat service—like your hop-on-hop-off bus service in other parts of the world. It also offers three circuits that travellers can opt for, depending on their interest—one on religion and architecture (temples, mosque, museum), the second on the Portuguese influence (including a place to try Portuguese-inspired cuisine), while the third explores history and tradition (including the Cherai beach).
MUZIRIS HERITAGE PROJECT GETTING THERE
- Air – Kochi International Airport (20 km).
- Rail – Aluva (about 17 km), Ernakulam (about 27 km).
- Road – Well-connected by bus services; located about 100 m from Paravur-Kodungallur Road off NH-17.
Several hotels to suit all budgets. BEST SEASON
November to February.
History and nostalgia beckon you in Fort Kochi and it is highly recommended that you let go of any vehicle and explore it on foot. This way, you have ample time to soak in the rich heritage of this place and be one with its vibe. Among the sites to visit here is Fort Immanuel, a Portuguese bastion built in 1503 and reinforced in 1538. Very close to it is the Dutch cemetery which was consecrated in 1724. The tombstones remind you of the European voyagers who left their homeland to expand their colonial empires. Thakur House and David Hall are two colonial era structures that come up next, leading to St Francis Church, the oldest European church in India. Also built in 1503 by the Portuguese, this church is where the explorer, Vasco da Gama, is buried. While you continue your romance with history, Vasco da Gama Square is an ideal place to stop and enjoy the vibrant atmosphere. There are rows of food stalls serving up fresh and delicious seafood, and the sight of Chinese fishing nets being lowered into the waters of the Arabian Sea looks right out of a picture postcard.
In fact, most places that you visit in the Fort Kochi area are a testimony to the rich amalgamation of different cultures, evident in its architecture and cuisine. Princess Street, for instance, has European-style houses on either side, and Rose Street has one of the oldest Portuguese residences in Kochi—Vasco House, believed to have been the home of Da Gama. Fort Kochi also has many art galleries, museums and cafes that provide space to established and emerging artists to showcase their work.
FORT KOCHI GETTING THERE
- Air – Kochi International Airport (30 km).
- Rail – Ernakulam (about 1.5 km).
- Road – Well-connected by buses and taxis.
Homestays are highly recommended; hotels are also available.
October to April.
Fast becoming a favourite among tourists and often sought after by filmmakers as a shooting location, Fort Bekal is an imposing structure overlooking a breathtaking view of the Arabian Sea. Built in the 17th century, it is also the largest and best-preserved fort in Kerala. Located in the northernmost district of the state, Kasaragod, the fort is shaped like a giant keyhole. The walls of the fort, which are a few centuries old, are so strong that they have withstood many battles. It is said that each ruler who captured and occupied the fort reconstructed it according to his own military strategy. The many holes on the fort’s walls facing the sea facilitated targeting the enemy at a distance, and its zigzag entrance, trenches around it, the observation tower built by Tipu Sultan to overlook the surroundings, the water tank with its flight of stairs, and the south-facing opening of the tunnel, all offer fascinating insight into its strategic planning. Historians differ in their opinion of who originally built Fort Bekal. Some believe it was the rulers of the ancient Kadampa dynasty, others credit Shivappa Nayak of Badanore, and still others trace it to the Kolathiri rajas. There is also an Anjaneya Temple and an old mosque, believed to have been built by Tipu Sultan, near the fort. Fort Bekal borders a beautiful beach—another plus point for someone looking at turning the pages of history while bathing in the cool sea breeze and taking in the magnificent view from the fort’s tall observation towers which were once occupied by huge cannons.
FORT BEKAL GETTING THERE
- Air – Mangalore airport (67 km); taxis can be hired for Bekal.
- Rail – Kasaragod and Kanhagad (14 km and 16 km, respectively, from Bekal).
- Road – Nearest towns are Kasaragod and Kanhagad, regular state-run buses are available.
Several options, from budget hotels to resorts and luxury hotels, are available in Bekal.
BEST SEASON Winter (December-February).
The Guruvayoor Sri Krishna Temple in Thrissur is one of the most visited pilgrim centres in Kerala. Of particular mention are some other shrines.
The Annamalai Temple in Karikodu, Idukki, is 1,800 years old. Dedicated to Lord Shiva and built in the traditional Chola style of architecture, the temple is made of stone while the idols are made of stone and metal. Of particular attraction is a window with nine lattices that point to the nine planets or Navagrahas. There is another window with five lattices, signifying the five elements. The temple is in the care of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), and some of its main relics are kept in museums in Thrissur and Calicut.
ANNAMALAI TEMPLE GETTING THERE
Kottayam Railway Station (60 km) and Kochi International Airport (58 km) are close by. Bus services are available. ACCOMMODATION Range of hotels.
CHERAMAN JUMA MASJID
The Cheraman Juma Masjid is the first mosque in India, built in AD 629. It is also the second in the world where Juma prayers (special Friday prayers) were started. Located two kilometres from Kodungallur town in Thrissur district, people of all faiths visit the Cheraman Juma Masjid, and offer oil for a lamp—believed to be more than 1,000 years old—that burns inside.
CHERAMAN JUMA MASJID GETTING THERE
Irinjalakuda is the nearest railway station, while Kochi International Airport is 30 km away. Nearest bus-stand is at Kodungallur (3 km).
Number of hotels and resorts
The Mattancherry Synagogue in Fort Kochi was constructed in 1568 and is a beautiful piece of architecture that makes you linger. It’s the oldest of its kind in the Commonwealth and was destroyed during a Portuguese raid in 1662, but was rebuilt two years later by the Dutch. This 18th- century synagogue, which looks quite simple from the outside with just a clock tower, is exquisite on the inside. It is hand-painted and its willow-patterned floor tiles are from Canton, China. Do look out for the stone slabs with inscriptions in Hebrew, great scrolls of the Old Testament, and ancient scripts on copper plates in which grants of privilege made by the erstwhile Cochin rulers were recorded. The area around the synagogue has a number of curio shops, so take a walk around. The synagogue is closed on Fridays.
MATTANCHERRY SYNAGOGUE GETTING THERE
Ernakulam Railway Station (10 km) and Kochi International Airport (30 km). Taxis and boat services from Ernakulam town also available. ACCOMMODATION
Several options in Kochi, including bed and breakfast, suiting all budgets.
An absolute must-do when in Kerala, the land of traditional Ayurveda practitioners. There is no dearth of Ayurveda centres, but the state government has a list of certified centres. Try it to soothe an aching body, or simply rejuvenate your mind and soul.
When in Kerala, eat as the Malayalis eat! Ditch your regular fare and dig into their wide range of both non-vegetarian and vegetarian dishes.
The traditional sadya—in which the dessert comes midway!— is a must-try; and if you want to taste a piece of heaven, go for the fresh and scrumptious seafood.
SHOPPING AND SOUVENIRS
Holiday souvenirs can transport you back to the places where you created wonderful memories. There are many unique, handmade items available—aranmula kannadi (metal mirror), items made of coconut shells, mural replicas, and handloom items. Dry spices are also a good option.
Kerala is blessed with rich flora and fauna, and has many wildlife sanctuaries and national parks that are home to some rare animals and birds. Most of them practise sustainable eco-tourism that not only ensures a safe haven for the animals but is also mindful of the livelihood options of the tribal population residing in the vicinity of the forests.
PERIYAR NATIONAL PARK
Also known as the Periyar Tiger Reserve, this is one of the most popular wildlife destinations in the country. Lying in the mountainous Western Ghats of Kerala, it is home to the tiger and a large population of elephants which are its main attraction. One can also spot lion-tailed macaques, sambar, leopards and the Indian bison. Eco¬tourism initiatives here include the Periyar Tiger Trail, bamboo rafting, and a Tribal Heritage Programme.
PERIYAR NATIONAL PARK GETTING THERE
Air Madurai, at 140 km, and Kochi International Airport, at 190 km from Thekkady. Rail Kottayam Railway Station, 110 km from Thekkady.
Road Well-connected with state capital Thiruvananthapuram (271 km) by bus services, as well as other cities like Madurai (140 km) and Kochi (200 km). ACCOMMODATION
KTDC Periyar House is on the bank of the Periyar lake and is a budget jungle lodge. Aranya Nivas, again by KTDC, is another option.
BEST SEASON September to June.
WAYANAD WILDLIFE SANCTUARY
Established in 1973, the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary stretches to the protected areas of Nagarahole and Bandipur in Karnataka and Madumalai in Tamil Nadu. One can spot elephants, tigers, leopards, bears, many species of reptiles, and birds. There are two eco-tourism centres here—Muthunga and Tholpetty—for wildlife safaris, elephant camp visits, treks, birdwatching and tribal folklore, among other things, for visitors.
WAYANAD WILDLIFE SANCTUARY GETTING THERE
- Air – Kozhikode International Airport.
- Rail – Kozhikode (110 km).
- Road Well -connected with cities like Bengaluru, Mysore and Chennai.
Eco-tourism centres have eco-huts, dorms and rooms. BEST SEASON
August to February. It remains closed from February 11 to April 10.