God's own country- Kerala
For all the travel lovers, nomads, travel journalists, nature admirers, run-aways and the self styled “professional” photographers, soaked in the busy routine life and who are eager to take a refugee into the nature’s womb, Kerala is your destination. People running after foreign trips and tour planners should know that all glitters is not gold and there is more in our own country to explore than a normal eye can meet.
This article is from my recent trip to Kerala and a ton of soulful memories which I would unknowingly cherish sitting in my assiduous and diligent office life probably even after a decade. Only exploring Kerala, can make you understand why this Southern state of a mighty, diverse, culturally rich nation, is referred to as god’s own country. The main attractions and tourist places are Munnar, Backwaters in Allepy and Kovalum, Trivendrum, the port of Kochi, Athrapalli Water Falls and many more.
I went on this excursion with my mom, dad and elder brother, as we all were tangled in the cobwebs of our own busy lives, wanted some relieving family moments to ease our souls and attach memories to our unbreakable bond of a happy family. I am happy to state that we achieved a lot more than we imagined and this tour was worth a million moments money cannot buy.
The first step of the destination should be Munnar and for that you have to take a flight to Kochi. Stay a night in Kochi and then proceed the very next morning to the exotic hill station full of nature, greenery and tea estates which are a century old and have been passed on to us Indians from the British Era. Munnar is 125 kms from Kochi and it takes 3.5 hrs to reach there. You may have got a glimpse of the beautiful hill station in the award winning flick “Life of Pie’ in its first half. Visiting Munnar teaches you that tea, though an integral part of our daily routine, our day starter and our body stimulator is worth much more than we ever considered it to be. It takes a huge amount of care, technique, workforce and appropriate climatic conditions so that we are able to grab a cup of our favorite beverage i.e ‘chai’.
History is an edifice of understanding something and realising it importance and for that a visit to the Tea Museum is must. They play a movie telling about how the land was bought and tea estates started by the Britishers. They bought ample land and employed the local workforce for extracting leaves and processing tea which eventually led to the establishment of a full-fledged tea empire, which later on was taken over by the major players-The Tatas. They took over and bought the tea empire after the end of British Era. The types of tea range from white tea, green tea, everyday used brown tea and the black tea. You will be intrigued by the fact that teas like the expensive white tea and green tea can cure majority of bodily imbalances and help the biological cycles work as swiftly as the engine of a Rolls Royce. Then the machines carrying out the tea manufacture process are showcased. The next morning you sip your tea, you will experience a different aura of charm around your cup of chai. The homemade chocolates available at numerous shops will make you forget the popular chocolate brand and will be a feat for the choco lovers. Even, the strawberry jam made from local strawberries, with uncrushed strawberries can give you a memorable breakfast.
Next attraction in Munnar is the Anamudi Peak, the 2,695-m high mountain which stands tall in the Eravikulam National Park and is the pride of Kerala. It is the highest point in India outside the Himalayan Mountain Ranges. Anamudi word literally means the forehead of an elephant and the peak looks like a giant elephant face basking into glory.
The peak together with the Eravikulam Park, is home to one of the largest surviving populations of Asian elephants, Gaurs and the Nilgiri Tahrs. The mountain, covered with evergreen forests and inhabited by endemic flora and fauna and a vibrant avian life, is a paradise in the wild. The green forest is also the source of some large and scenic rivers in Kerala and the nearby State of Tamil Nadu. The peak makes you believe in nature’s might and how small human existence is in front of these vast symbolic landmarks of the unchallenged heavenly existence. The trek uphill to the peak will surprise and delight you with you spotting Tahrs, Gaurs and with birds chirping and boasting of the beauty of their sweet home. The animals unlike hostile humans, welcome you into their abode and the chirping of birds and happiness of the running gaurs says it all. Sight of a Nilgiri Tahr standing with elegance and pride and fearless by the human gun can melt your heart for these distant evolution cousins of us. It is a visual delight worth thousand stories.
Next spot should be the Mattupetty Dam. It has been a vital source of power, yielding along with other such dams, huge revenue to the states. The large amount of perennially available water allows wild animals and birds to flourish. You can experience boating thrill into the water reservoir amidst the mountains and each paddle of the boat and cold breeze will surely enhance seconds to your life.
Third is the botanical garden which is a must for flora lovers. The government managed botanical garden/nursery is a package to experience large species of flowering and non-flowering plants in one park. The Bougainvillea, Rose, Jasmine, Orchid, Fuschia and Neelakurinji are some of the popular flowering plants of Munnar. The park full of pots of numerous species of plants and flowers will rejuvenate you and the botany lovers would have a field day and gain inspiration. You will come to know about the unique Neelakurinji plant. It is a beautiful endemic shrub that changes the colour of the mountain grassands to a twinkling blue due to its gregarious flowering but once in 12 years. These grasslands seem to borrow the attractive colour of the blue sky after every 12 years. It is like a new mother who has delivered her first son after waiting for 12 long years of pregnancy. The next year of flowering is 2018.
After Munnar, you cannot just come to Kerala and not spend a night experiencing tranquility in a houseboat at Allepey!
Your next stop should be Thiruvenathapuram or Trivendrum, the capital of Kerala, on the West coast of India near the extreme South of the mainland. The city is characterized by its undulating terrain of low coastal hills and busy commercial alleys. The distance from Allepey to Trivendrum is 152 kms and 3 hours by car. The main attraction is the beautiful Kovalum beach, 12 kms from the city. The lighthouse beach in Kovalum is the famous of all and frequently thronged by tourists. Kovalam was among the most prominent tourist spots in India during the hippy era. It still has a high status among tourists, who arrive mostly from Europe and Israel. Kovalam is finding a new significance in the light of several Ayurvedic salons, and recuperation and regeneration resorts which provide a wide variety of Ayurvedic treatments for tourists. You can pamper yourself with massage and skin beautification treatments. So one can experience the might of the waves while walking to alongside the beach or take a dip in the water and refresh himself.
The beach is full of sea facing resorts that serve delicious, fresh sea food. The prawn soup with perfect Kerala spices was my all time favourite. The main attraction and the stalwart of al resorts on the beach is The Leela Hotel. There you experience the high levels of luxury and hospitality with the hotel having lavish rooms, awesome cuisines and a private beach with some of the water sports. The hotel has the best view of the beach as it is on a strategic point being constructed on a high rock with beach at both sides. The sea is vast and flooded with considerate number of desis and foreigners bathing in the warmth of the yellow sun that will make you forget your worries. And for the travellers having money constraint, you can avoid the inclusive meals, but can grab a coffee or beer in the hotel bar and then go on with the tour of the hotel.
Next morning, visit the Padmanabhaswamy temple of Lord Padmanabhaswamy. The temple is an epitome of devotion and a live proof of the rich ancient architecture and the feeling of devotion instilled in the religious god fearing Indian society. In line with the Temple Entry Proclamation, only those who profess the Hindu faith are permitted entry to the temple. Devotees have to strictly follow the dress code. In line with the Temple Entry Proclamation, only those who profess the Hindu faith are permitted entry to the temple. I had to leave my western outfit and slippers at the gate and wear a rented lungi to gain entry into the temple. It was a different experience of walking around clothed similar to an ancient Hindu high priest chanting the mantra of nirvana. The darshan chamber consisted of the ‘murti’ of the Lord in a chamber with gold plating and people taking Prasad and making offerings to the Lord. Another interesting fact is that the estimated value of the monumental items is close to 1.2 lakh crore or 1.2 trillion (US$21 billion), making it the richest temple in the world. If the antique value is taken into account, these assets could be worth ten times the current market price.
Coming to the Southern region and not visiting the Southernmost tip may leave a lacking feeling in you, thus crossing the borders of the beautiful Kerala and reaching to the Sourthern tip of the country in the state of Tamil Nadu is recommended. It is for the reason that an ardent traveler can stand upto the phrase of having seen all, “Kashmir se lekar Kanyakumari tak”, one day, hopefully.