It was the month of May. My Chartered Accountancy exams had just got over and I desperately longed for a nice vacation. Our family trips had taken a sudden sabbatical thanks to our hostile schedules. That summer, we decided to embark on a trip to God’s own country, Kerala.
Kerala, located in South India is sandwiched between the Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea. This thin strip of land has abundance of natural beauty. It is dotted with lush greenery, famed backwaters, beautiful beaches, pretty hill stations and exotic wildlife.
And just like that, six of us (my family and my cousin siblings) set out on our voyage to the Southern paradise of India. Since we were operating on a tight budget (15000 pp max) we chose trains as means of our transportation. And it turned out to be the best warm up for what awaited us at Kerala.
A train journey to Kerala is long but mesmerizing in itself. It took us almost two days to reach Kerala but anyone who has traveled in Indian express trains will know that it has its own charms.
The early morning Chaiwala calling out “Chai Chai”; the fight amongst siblings for the window seats & the upper berth, the Gujarati family in the compartment & their delicious theplas, the card games & antakshaari, the request to change seats with other group in order to accommodate that last-minute entry. The best of all is sitting at the windows or the doors and just gazing as the world goes by, watching the slow sensual change in scenery. From Mumbai to Kerala, you can witness metamorphosis from Konkan wilderness to coastal beaches & coconut trees. The view is breathtaking.
We got off at Ernakulum station (130 km away from Munnar). Our first stop was Munnar. We had booked a house stay in Munnar, after reading its rave reviews on Tripadvisor. The stay was at quiet remote location, some 20 mins away from the main market area in Munnar. It was a quaint private bungalow with 100 acres of farm sprawled across the backyard.
We reached the bungalow at almost midnight. Exhausted from the long ride, we went straight to our rooms and fell flat on our beds, falling fast asleep.
In morning, I woke up to the sounds of the birds, with a ray of sun peeking through the window. Squinting my eyes I wake up devoid of any alarm but just the calls of nature. I open my door to welcome these nature marvels with a warm smile on my face.
I take a stroll in the gardens, where the bird songs continue to accompany me on my every step. There was a particular whistling bird that made a peculiar whistle sound. I tried so hard to get glimpse of this rare bird but couldn’t, I could only hear his noise teasing me
After an hour or two, our Akka (maid) arrives informing us that our breakfast is ready. Our host had made us delicious traditional Malayali breakfast consisting of warm soft Appam (Fluffy rice flour pancakes), spicy Kadala (Chickpeas curry) and filter coffee.
While my two siblings were reluctant to experiment with their foods, I and my sister were more than happy to savor the variety of cuisine and culture the place had to offer. Mom and Dad were neither too excited nor too disappointed with the change of cuisine.
After the meal, on our request, our host took us on a tour to his spice garden and explained us about the variety of plants he had cultivated. It included cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, vanilla, cocoa beans and turmeric. My cousin brother, who owns a shop of pulses and spices back in Mumbai, was completely intrigued by this whole spicy affair. Our host generously plucked few vanilla pods for us to sample and seize some sweet memories back home.
After spending the mornings at leisure, in afternoon we went to unravel the beauty of Munnar.
Munnar: Munnar is synonymous with tea plantations. And it is rightly so. While driving in Munnar we could see the lush green carpet of tea plantations on both the sides of the road. Just arrays of vast green slopes rolling down the hills. The roads are a dream to drive.
En route, we came across Muttupatty Lake, a very picturesque lake with crystal clear water.
Later in the afternoon we visited the Tata tea museum. Tea Museum chronicles the journey of tea in the area. The museum enlightened us about the entire tea making process, ensuring that the legacy of those who worked hard survives and is recognized publicly. Did you know that the tea harvested today was grown 100 years back? The Tea Talk was as inspiring and insightful as Ted Talks, and all of us were convinced that we need to buy their varieties of tea. We were definitely enticed to shop for some tea and that was the first time I got home some green tea.
At dusk, we visited the town market of Munnar to satiate our urge to shop for Kerala’s specialties; spices, herbs and oils. Munnar is pretty famous for its spices, nuts, herbs, oils, teas, coffees among other things. The shops lined up the streets selling everything from gourmet produce, agri commodities, spices, handicrafts, home-made chocolates, wooden items, fabrics, garments and more
We were surprised to see markets flooded with assorted range of homemade chocolates. Our driver uncle later told us that Munnar offers large amount of Cocoa to chocolate manufacturers making Munnar favorite spot for homemade chocolates. We bought some grounded spices, some chocolates and herb infused natural hair oil.
When night began to settle, we made our way to the home stay, carrying with us bags bursting with flavors.
Next day was reserved for Thekkady, home to Periyar Tiger Reserve & Wildlife Sanctuary. It is one of the prime wildlife reserves in India which attracts lots of visitors. The tickets get outsold within minutes so advance booking is recommended. I was pretty excited for this wildlife experience. I have never been on a jungle safari so I was ecstatic imagining my ‘Jungle King’ moment, having an encounter with magnificent wild animals out there. One could opt for Jeep Safari, River Safari, and Raft Safari or trek to spot the animals in the Jungle. Due to paucity of time and budget, we chose for River Safari which saved us both, our time and money. It was a 2 hour guided boat ride that passed through the lake amidst the forest.
We could spot deers and few birds, but no tigers, elephants or jackals. Honestly, I was little disappointed since I had a lot of expectations from this place. Maybe it was wrong time, wrong place or wrong Safari, I don’t know.
The forest took up half of our day. The other half we spent at leisure. Thekkady attracts a lot of foreign travelers so you can spot many trendy cafes, souvenir shops, Ayurvedic centers and cultural centers here. Kerala is also famous for their Ayurvedic therapies and massage parlors.
Ayurveda is an ancient system of medicine from India (more than 5000 years old) where ‘Ayur’ means life and ‘Veda’ means science. Ayurveda believes in natural and holistic wellness with focus on curing the roots of health issues. While Ayurveda was not originated in Kerala, it continued to thrive in this state owing to the land’s geographic isolation, climatic conditions and abundance of natural herbs.
Being in the Ayurvedic hub of India, it would be a disgrace if we didn’t try our own medicine. New to the idea of Ayurveda, we went to Ayurvedic centre near our hotel seeking some natural rejuvenation. The experts at the parlor suggested traditional Ayurvedic oil massage or as they called it ‘Abhyanga’ for a complete calming experience.
The masseuse wore a typical white cotton sari with a gajra (string of flowers) on her braided hair. She took me to a calm earthy room and offered me a detoxifying herbal tea. For the next one hour, the masseuse massaged my head and my body with herb infused aromatic oil. It was such a peaceful experience, letting go of all the stress my body had accumulated. The wonders of this treatment went beyond relaxation as I could see notice my skin was glowing after the massage.
For late evenings, we had planned to see Kathakali dance and Kalaripayattu martial art form in theatre there. But after this deeply relaxing massage, all we wanted to do was crawl into our beds and go off to sleep. We ditched the cultural performances and pampered ourselves with nice beauty sleep.
Next day we went to meet Elephants at Elephant Junction in Thekkady. Now there is something about seeing elephants that makes you awestruck. So majestic, so reverential! We took 10 minutes elephant ride in lush green plantations and later even fed the elephant some bananas.
After Elephant ride, we bid farewell to Thekkady and set to Allepey.