This is a post about Kerala vacation from Paul’s Travel Blog reproduced with his permission
Ever since our first trip to India, we have suggested to our friends who were getting married that they should have their honeymoon in Kerala. None have taken our advice, but with the Kerala portion of our trip over I want to make another pitch for Kerala as your next vacation destination. First some logistics, then a suggested itinerary.
Logistics. Most people need a visa to visit India, but in our experience this is an affordable and quick process (as fast as same day in New York or Hong Kong). The default seems to be a six month multiple entry visa. Of course, India is far from the States, but new nonstops to Delhi mean that you need make only one connection, possibly making the Indian domestic segment (to Kochi) on one of the discount airlines, such as Jet. If you can fly more cheaply to Singapore (to where there are also nonstops from the U.S.), you can fly to Kochi on either Silk Air, Singapore Airlines’ regional carrier, or on discount Tiger Airways (also owned by Singapore Airlines, and probably for a fraction of the price as Silk Air). From Delhi or Singapore to Kochi is a shortish flight.
Itinerary. Kochi is the perfect place to start your Kerala trip. A harbor known since ancient times and occupied by the Dutch and the Portuguese (before the Brits), and with the historical city peacefully isolated on a peninsula (accessible by ferry or bridge), Kochi has a colonial ambience and a sense of connection with the past / distance from the modern present that I have experienced in few other places. It is a living city that has museum-like qualities, and can be walked for days. Please refer to my earlier posts for Kochi highlights.
From Kochi, where you should spend at least three full days, move on to a couple days in the Kerala backwaters. The backwaters are a network of connected lakes and waterways, which empty out to the sea. Sometimes narrow channels and at other times tremendously large lakes, the backwaters act as an alternate water-based transportation network as well as essential irrigation for rural Kerala. They are breathtakingly beautiful, with dense linings of coconut palms and peaceful village life on full display. Perhaps the best (and certainly the most luxurious) way to experience the backwaters is by hiring a houseboat, in the form of a traditional rice barge, for a day or two, complete with staff and meals cooked on board. The accommodations are fairly simple but the experience hard to beat (expensive for India, but the cost is still less than $100 per night).
Alternately, you can take public ferries, for negligible sums of money, and still enjoy the same view (but you should go for the houseboat–how often do you get to sleep on your own boat on gentle waters, with a staff of three?). The biggest center for backwater tours is Alleppey, which is a couple hours away from Kochi by bus.
From Alleppey, head south to the ocean or east to the hills, or both. To the south is Varkala. Varkala is highly enjoyable even for non-beachgoers–please refer to my earlier post. To the east are the steeply rising Western Ghats, which provide a cool break from the hot coast and are filled with spice farms, orchards and coffee and tea plantations. At Munnar (we have not been), you can admire the tea plantations while at Thekkady (we went in 2003), you can visit Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary which if not exactly filled with elephants and tigers (though they’re there) is still beautiful. In either Munnar or Thekkady you will be able to visit spice gardens, orchards, tea plantations and the like. You can spend a couple or few days at either Varkala or the hills, the former reachable by train and the latter by bus. Of course, as always in India, hiring a car is a comfortable and affordable option.
From the hills or the beach, you can return to Kochi for a day or two of shopping, and then return home. Within a two week period, you will be able to feel some serious history, enjoy cultural activities, sample rural life and see breathtaking tropical and montane scenery. You will have an opportunity to see the exotic side of India without being overwhelmed with touts and tricksters (as in other parts of the country). Everything is beautiful and relaxing, the cost affordable and of course the food tasty. [blog entry on South India food to come!]