Kerala, the Tropical Paradise of South India

April 26, 2016

During my study period in Bhubaneswar I decided to make one bigger trip. I decided to go to Kerala. It was supposed be completely different from Orissa or any other state in the north, so it should be fun! In February, the climate is at its best there. Not too hot, but you can already feel that the temperature will raise to a tropical level soon. During my roundtrip in April, after classes have ended, it wouldn’t be a good time to go south. So, I had to go now!

kerala-sunset-backwaters

Kerala is a popular state in India, both for Indian and foreign tourists. It is well-known for having the highest literacy rate in India (99% of the population can read), but at the same time it has the highest ratio of alcoholics as well. Kerala has long been an alcohol-free state, but a few years ago alcohol consumption was allowed again and that’s where things went wrong.

In the backwaters of Kerala, which are canals that come from the sea and lakes and meander their way land-inwards, alcohol consumption is still prohibited.

You should also go to Kerala for its paradise-like beaches, tropical views from the houseboats, and golden jewelry. You should go and try out the typical Ayurvedic massage, follow a cooking class, attend a martial arts show, and sleep in a tree house while sipping tea that comes straight from the tea plantations below you.

I will now give you an overview of what my one-week trip looked like.

kerala-munnar-tea

DAY 1: Bhubaneswar-Trivandrum

Early morning I left for the airport to fly from Bhubaneswar through Mumbai to Trivandrum (which is now known as Thiruvananthapuram, but who the hell can pronounce that?!). The flight connections went smoothly and in the afternoon we arrived in the capital city of the state Kerala.

We installed ourselves into the second best hotel of the city, Hycinth by Sparsa, for which we had to pay only €17/pp. Can’t be frugal for that price right?

We decided to catch the sunset at Kovalam Beach, which is one of the many popular beaches. This one was quite close to where we were staying. After a long ride in a tuktuk we zigzagged in a narrow street around tourists and many souvenir stalls to reach the white sand beach. At first I was a bit shocked to see so many women in bikini’s, shorts, and short dresses… but Kovalam is very touristy, so apparently that makes it more or less acceptable for us to show our knees and shoulders.

While walking down the beach by the water, we ran into a travel agent where we booked the houseboat for the next day. Two nights, three days on a private houseboat for two people would cost us Rs. 18,000, or €243 all-in. Quite expensive, but totally worth it!

That evening, we ate on a restaurant’s terrace with seaview. After dinner we walked back over the sand to get a tuktuk to drive us back to the hotel. It was quite hard for me not to fall asleep on the way. But I did my best, thinking that soon enough I would be laying down on the super soft kingsize bed that was waiting for me. (Such a luxury after the hard mattresses at XIMB!)

Kerala-trivandrum-beach

kerala-kovalam-beach-india

DAY 2: Trivandrum-Kollam

The next morning, after a delicious breakfast with cereal and pancakes (!!), we left for the trainstation to catch the train to Kollam. There, our houseboat would be waiting for us. Seeing as we didn’t make a reservation for the train, we had to go in general sleeper class. Thankfully, it wasn’t too crowded on the train and we had a whole section to ourselves.

Upon arrival in Kollam, a driver picked us up. Because we were too early to go on the boat, we went on a search for beer first. Like I said earlier, alcohol is not allowed on the backwaters, so we wanted a secret stash for later on. But… no alcohol was to be found anywhere. They can be quite smart, those Indians!

kerala-kollam-backwaters

kerala-india-backwaters

kerala-houseboat-backwaters

On the boat, we got a tour of the frontside deck, the bedroom and en-suite bathroom, and the kitchen. When we sat ourselves down in the “living room” on the front deck, we each received a coconut as a welcome drink. I never had coconutmilk before and I actually quite liked it – it was a perfect welcome drink in this setting.

Eventually we went out on the water and my eyes almost fell out of their sockets. How tropical and heavenly can a place look?! The fact that the boat barely made any noise and that we chose a less touristy location made for a very chill, relaxing, peaceful atmosphere. I went for a tanning session on the very front of the front deck and already after half an hour my short was burned into my skin.

In the afternoon we moored at some random place and got ready for dinner. In the evening I watched Narcos on the laptop, while having a refreshing beer that the staff got for us from… somewhere. Alcohol consumption may be prohibited here, but rules in India are usually more like “suggestions”.

kerala-houseboat-kollam-backwaters

kerala-india-backwaters

DAY 3: Kollam Backwaters

Spending a couple of days on a houseboat really forces you to relax. There is not much to do and phone reception is… poor to say the least. The second day, we were entertained with a gondola-like canoo ride which took us into the deepest canals of the backwaters. Often we had to lay down in the canoo to fit underneath the low bridges that connect the small towns with each other.

We also stopped in some of the villages. One of them was the home of our guide. He took us to the local café where we had some really good chai and discovered how they make ship ropes.

That evening I found a ginormous cockroach in the bed and rats were running from mainland on board. Eeeek! The staff did their very best to keep them away from us (and the kitchen) though!

Let me introduce the staff to you. There was a captain who barely spoke English, and a cook who was so friendly and tried so hard to speak English to me. He also made us food as if he were cooking for his own family, upon our request. And that is how I got to know the traditional, South-Indian kitchen. The cook had previously been cooking at weddings and other events. In short, the food had been superb!

kerala-kollam-houseboat

kerala-backwaters-india

kerala-backwaters-india

DAY 4: Kollam-Munnar

Honestly, this had been one of the toughest days of the week. It took us almost twelve hours to get from the backwaters to hill station Munnar. Two trainrides and one looooong busride. And the busride was… an adventure. Without AC, without windows (only rails) and so so full of local people, we drove on the narrow, winding roads in the hills at quite a high speed. I was sitting by the window and had to look away a few times when we came extremely close to the cliff’s edge. This happened especially when we had to take a bend at the same time as a bus that came from the opposite direction.

Once we had arrived in the center of Munnar, we made a secret stach of booze again and continued our way during a half-hour tuktuk ride over roads with full of potholes.

We had dinner at the hotel. We chose this particular hotel because of its price (€19/pp) and because it was supposed to offer a similar view and experience as a treehouse but in the comfort of a hotel. All real (and affordable) treehouses were already taken, which is a downside of the last-minute booking strategy. The truth is, though, that from our terrace we couldn’t actually see the forest through the trees… Too bad. The room itself was really good and the balcony was big and cosy, so really only the view disappointed a bit. The hotel also had its own tea plantation where we went for a walk both during the night and during the day.

kerala-munnar-tea-plantation

kerala-munnar-hills

DAY 5: Munnar

Because we didn’t expect the journey to Munnar to take this long, we decided to stay an extra day and give ourselves some well-deserved rest. As we booked our hotel through MakeMyTrip – and because we booked only for one night – we had to shift to another hotel the next day. Thankfully, there was another hotel nearby where we could stay for only €16/pp. Bamboo Dale Resort is a hotel where everything is made of bamboo. It was awesome. We had a huuuge terrace around our room and a swing from where we could enjoy the amazing view.

We went for a walk around the terrain, examined the “natural pool” near the waterfall, walked along the river and climbed up the rocks to get back to the main building – which was a piece of cake now thanks to our training at the survival camp from the week before. We ordered some supergood yet supercheap roomservice.

At two o’clock in the afternoon we had a Skypecall with our leadership and personal development coach in Belgium for an update. After that, we just rested and enjoyed the view.

In case you are wondering why I didn’t went out to go and visit stuff, then the answer is quite simple: we had already seen a tea plantation in our previous hotel, I don’t like to visit museums, the dams were too far away and we had been traveling enough the previous day, and visiting a spice plantation didn’t seem worth it to us either. Besides, we wanted to take full advantage of this really cool hotel!

kerala-munnar-india

kerala-india-munnar

DAY 6: Munnar-Trivandrum

Our second last day was one long journey again. After two long busrides (during which we lost a side mirror and bumped into an opposite bus and caused a traffic jam), we had to spend another four hours in the general class of a local train with no seating during the first half of the journey. A whole day without AC and being on the road that long… I was exhausted by the end of the day. A driver would have been a lot more comfortable, but when you’re on a budget, you can’t just spend €50 when you can just as easily spend €12 on an alternative. And besides, in hindsight, this way it also makes for a far better story. But in the moment itself, I was really sick and tired of it. I just reminded myself to be happy that I wasn’t traveling alone for once!

Since we couldn’t stay at the Hycinth again, we went to Hotel Keys and that was also quite up to the previous hotel’s level! In the lobby we played some pool while we waited for our dinner to be prepared. Once back in the room, I attempted to watch another episode of Narcos, but fairly quickly I was off to Dreamland.

kerala-mountains-munnar-bus

DAY 7: Trivandrum-Bhubaneswar

The return journey via Mumbai to Bhubaneswar went smoothly. We flew with Indigo again, a national airline in India that I can recommend. The catch is that you can only take 7kg of hand luggage and check in only 15kg.

kerala-india-south

Lastly, I want to take an extra minute to explain MakeMyTrip to you. This website, which also has an app, offers the possibility to book everything through one platform: trains, busses, flights, hotels… If you book your flight with them, you automatically get 70% discount on your next hotel booking.

I, myself, always booked through the app to get that discount. That is why I got to stay in the best hotels for the cheapest price. However, the prices for the flights are not always cheapest through this platform. But the discounts you get on the hotels more than compensate for that in the end.

Kerala has been a unique, beautiful, and memorable trip. In total, I spent €520 on my own, all included. That is quite a good price if you realize that 80% of the budget was spent on the houseboat and flights. Otherwise, it is quite easy to live low-budget in Kerala.

An overview:

Hotels & houseboat: €215,78
Food & drinks: €61,16
Transportation (bus, train, tuktuk): €18,05
Flights: €223,92
Extras: €2,7

Total: €521,61

Should you add Kerala into your India travel program? If you are going in the winter season, absolutely! The period of November-March is ideal. Otherwise, I would first consider if you can handle the heat during the summer months. Maybe read what reviewers online have to say about it. In any case, I wish you a wonderful trip!

 

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