Kerala in 5 days

Charley Chaplin arrival

From Goa we planned on seeing Kerala in 5 days. We headed to the railway station to board our 7pm train to Kochi, only to realise it was running late by more than 2 hours. While waiting, we spent time talking to random people, playing with dogs and drinking tea. If it couldn’t get worse, the heavens opened 15 minutes before the train arrived.

Once on the train, we swapped seats with a wonderful old couple. In the morning, we spent our time admiring the beautiful Kerala country side and asking fellow travelers when would we reach our destination as the Indian trains don’t do announcements within the train.

Finally, we made it to Aluva station in the rain and met Mr Shyam, our driver for next 4 days. On the way to our first destination Munnar, we stopped for lunch and thoroughly enjoyed the taste of traditional Kerala meal served on a banana leaf plate. Yum!!!

Kerala Veg Meals on Banana Leaf

The Kerala hills

The drive to the hills was an amazing ride. Mr Shyam was an excellent driver but also an Indian one, which meant he cruised at min. 60km/hr throughout the journey whether it’s a flat road or mountain curves. We concentrated on the view and hoped for the best!

We saw a few waterfalls along the way and stopped at a spice garden. This was our first visit to a spice garden and a guide showed us around the plantation. We saw some common spices, special herbs and trees. We also tried fresh spices and realized what we had been missing out on. At the end, we couldn’t resist buying some spices for our moms :)

In the evening, at driver’s recommendation we headed to Punarjani Traditional Village. There we watched a Kathakali perfomance which is the traditional theatre of Kerala. It was extremely refined and the story involved Lord Vishnu and Godess Laxmi. Having said that, we didn’t really understand what was going on. :/

Kathakali, Kerala

We then watched a performance of Kalaripayattu, the traditional martial art of Kerala, and we were amazed! Although it was only a performance, the fighters were no actors, they fought barehanded, with sticks or even with sharp weapons. We came out thanking the driver for his recommendation!

Kalaripayattu, Kerala

Here is a mashup of various scenes from the performances –

The next day, We started at 9am to see highlights of the Munnar area. We saw a beautiful dam, a picturesque lake, mighty waterfalls and tea estates. This was definitely turning out to be one of the highlights of our trip so far.

Echo Point Lake, Munnar, Kerala

Nilgiri tahr in Munnar, KeralaWe also visited the Evaildukam National Park. It was set up in 1971 but efforts had been going on for a century to stop the killing of mountain goats, Nilgiri tahr, and other animals in the area. The national park sits around the most amazing hills and tea estate patterns form an unique picture of Munnar which is beautiful beyond belief. One could forget they are in India and be in Scotland or New Zealand.

Eravikulam national park view, Munnar, Kerala

To finish the day off, we visited a waterfall in the middle of Tata Tea Estates. We met Aunty Mary, who was the owner of a tea shop just next to the waterfall. We got talking to her and realized that although she and her family have enjoyed living in a scenic spot for 5 generations, they suffer from poverty and find ways to earn more. They grew spices and worked at the Tea plantation but that wasn’t sufficient. This got us thinking and all we could say is – life is tough and the grass is always greener on the other side.

Aunty Mary, Munnar, Kerala

Tip: We recommend hiring a driver for a day or two to see Munnar and all the hidden gems. The transport to commute from one spot to another is very expensive. Furthermore, the driver will ensure he takes you to all the regular tourist spots.

Backwaters

We said goodbye to the hills next morning and started driving to the lake district. On the way, we saw Malayees (Keralites) starting their day and kids going to school.

The Kotianad area and Allepey area have a natural lake between them which is fed by the water from Kerala’s rivers and the sea. The British added to this area by making islands and bunds for farmland. This area is now the food bowl of Kerala and the canals, bunds, islands and the lake make up the backwaters of Kerala.

Our driver searched and found the houseboat drop off next to a tiny canal in the Kumarakom area. Boarding the houseboat, we were shown our bedroom, the living area and explained the yummy menu. After this, we got moving and enjoying the beauty of Kerala.

If we thought Munnar was the highlight of Kerala, we were to be proven wrong. The houseboat on a lake against the backdrop of coconut trees and a blue sky is a sight to behold. Moreover, The pace of the houseboat is slow enough to enjoy the sights but fast enough to not be bored.

Backwaters of Kerala

The beauty of this part of Kerala just can’t be explained in words. Although coconut trees, banana trees, lakes and sea birds exists all over the world, in Kerala all these come together and create a postcard like image everywhere.

Backwaters of Kerala

Karemeen, state fish of KeralaThe staff on board the houseboat included a navigator and a chef. However, they swapped roles so many times that we couldn’t tell who was who. The food they made was absolutely delicious and I got to try the state fish of Kerala, karimeen, which was fried and tasted amazing. On the other hand, they were like an aunty who over fed you. The portion sizes were huge and we mostly left half the food. Sorry mum!

We heard about a local drink called Toddy, which is made from young coconuts. Although not alcoholic, alcohol can be added to make it a liquor. We wanted to try it so we told the navigator and he stopped us at a Toddy shop along the waters edge. The taste was sweet and sour with a natural fizz. It was refreshing but not our cup of coconut water!

All houseboats must dock at 5:30pm before sunset and our boat also docked along a bund with a power source for the night. We went off shore to see the sunset and we’re stunned at the beauty. It was a beautiful sunset with paddy fields, coconut trees and the backwaters. Life was becoming so still with birds and fishermen all going home.

Sunset at backwaters of Kerala

Flowers in a pondThe next morning we woke up early for the sunrise which was equally as beautiful. On the contrary, everything was getting more hectic. Birds were flying flying out, fishermen were getting out to catch fish and the local ferry service was picking up schoolkids and workers for the new day. Within this chaos, we realized that an empty field next to the
bund had water and some flowers. Upon closer inspection, we realised that we were looking at blooming water lilies both pink and white as far as the eyes could see. Picturesque!

Cochin

Our next stop in the tour was Cochin also known as Kochi. This city was and has been a prominent coastal city in India. It had been trading in spices and ivory for thousands of years. Jew Market, Kochi, KeralaThe result of this trade is a mixed culture and population. Our first stop was the Dutch Palace and the Jew Town Market.

Unfortunately, the synagogue was closed for a Jewish holiday and we didn’t shop for anything – less money and no space. The palace, however, has an amazing history and knowledge about the Cochin royal family especially the matrilineal system they followed.

Chinese Nets, Kochi, KeralaWe ended our tour of the Old Cochin city by visiting the Cochin beach and the Chinese nets. The chinese nets are the result of trade between China and Kerala. The nets are connected to ropes, planks of wood and stone weights. They are lowered every 5-10 minutes and is an amazing sight to see as different nets go up and down and the same time. At the time of our visit, it was off season for fishing and the fishermen were mostly gathering small fish and asking for donation from tourists. The donation price is around Rs 50 or $1 US and they let you pull the net along with other fishermen for the price. Money well spent!

In the evening, we visited the Ernakulam Shiva temple to get some peace and blessings. Since the entire precint was not open till 5pm, we decided to wait inside the main temple. It was our first visit to a Kerala Hindu temple and we watched people’s devotion to the deity as they prayed and circumnavigated the inner precinct. It was a sombre experience for us!

On the contrary, we had been wanting to watch a South Indian film all along the time we were here. However, we never had the chance in Hyderabad. Therefore, we went to watch Loham, a film starring a massive star in Kerala, Mohanlal. The film was a thriller and there were no subtitles. We could guess the general plot of the film but the ending left us a bit confused.

Following advice from my best mate, Bharat, who happens to be from Kerala state, we decided to stay an extra day in Cochin. We took a bus to the Hill Palace Museum, which was another palace of the Cochin royal family. The museum had a great collection of the art and culture of Kerala and India.

Our next destination was the Chottanikkara temple of the Goddess Durga. Did we tell you that we can’t stand autorikshaw drivers? Well here is a classic case why – we took the auto to the temple from the museum and the driver started the meter. Upon getting there, the guy claims some special tax that he’s being charged for going outside the city. We argue with him and threaten to take him to the police, but in the end paid him extra and left the scene.

The temple itself was a huge precinct with many smaller temples and a pond inside it. After seeing all the temples and the pond, we started noticing something strange about the people at the temple. The temple seemed to have alot of mentally ill individuals with families. We had accidentally stumbled upon a temple where people bring family members under a spell or with ‘spirits’ inside them. These individuals were rolling allover the floor, jumping or in a trance chanting the name of the deity. Strangely, the families didn’t feel embarrassed or sad over the condition of the mentally ill. This freaked Shruti out but we stayed a bit longer for the evening aarti. We were glad we did as Kerala temples have oil lamps outside which get lit for the evening and the whole temple appears like a giant lamp. After the Aarti, we left the area in the rain and that was the end of our trip in Kerala.

Summary

Transport

We covered a lot of distance in Kerala using a tour by A life time trip. It is possible to individually visit these places or take public transport between them. Buses are available from government bus stand, but hiring a car is definitely easiest way to commute between these locations.

Once in a major city, there are buses, taxis and autorikshaws available. We traveled in the govt. buses and there was no issue whatsoever.

Summary

When we were heading to Kerala, we said to ourselves – let’s see if Kerala really is God’s Own Country. And, after spending some time traveling around, we must say, it definitely is. This Indian State has amazing hills, waterfalls, lakes, backwaters and lot of history. Kerala is definitely a very pretty state that provides a complete package of natural beauty.

Another thing we noticed here was the use of Hindi. We were really surprised to see almost everyone could converse in the national language. We had always heard that hindi is not used much in south and that’s not true!

Lastly, the culture and food of Kerala is different to other places we have been. This state has a huge population of Muslims and Christians. Apart from the attire, we couldn’t really tell the difference between people. They all have one culture above their religion, and that that they are all Keralite. The rice used in this state is different as well and we haven’t see it anywhere.

We definitely recommend visiting Kerala. As our houseboat navigator said, come in December and Kerala will be even more green and cool.

Kerala

Kerala in 5 days Gallery

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Around Sri Lanka

Our days in Trincomlee came to an end quickly. We decided to travel around Sri Lanka for the remaining 5 days. We booked a tour through Visit SL Tours and were on the road early in the morning with a driver.

Paddy Fields around Sri LankaWe drove for almost 5 hours through the Eastern Province and Central Province of Sri Lanka. The countryside is beautiful beyond belief with paddy fields, coconut trees and hills everywhere. Unlike Trincomalee, these provinces are the heartland of the Sinhalese Buddhist population which meant, we saw Bodhi trees, Buddhist shrines and monks dressed in saffron quite often.

Sigiriya, Sri LankaOn the way, we had a quick pit stop at Sigiriya, which is very significant to the Sri Lankan history. It is basically a huge rock where the king built his fort and now only a lion sculpture and so
me paintings remain. As we didn’t have enough time, we decided not to climb up. Our next stop was for lunch in our driver’s city, Karunegelle. The city has a great hill with a large Buddha statue.

Elephant Orphanage

We finally reached Pinnuwala Orphange at 2:45pm. We bought our tickets to the sanctuary but as it was bathing time for the elephants, we walked to a river, 100m away, where the herd were enjoying themselves.

Elephant Orphanage, Sri Lanka

Elephant Orphanage, Sri LankaThere were around 30 elephants chilling in the water and mud. It was quite hot and the crowd had gathered all around the river watching the elephants and feeding a few of them some bananas. The caretakers were charging up to LKR 1000 to hug and touch an elephant. We stood at the edge and managed to interact with a few for free :)
The highlight was watching a very young elephant calf playing around the older elephants in the water. Elephant Orphanage, Sri LankaIt was so happy just being in the water and the herd was taking close care of it. Once we had enough of the heat, we did some souvenir shopping. We then waited around for the herd of about 25 elephants to head back into the pens. We watched them cross a major road, walk into the sanctuary, eat the trunks and leaves and finally drove to Kandy.

Here is a mashup video of the elephants –

Music credits to Bertn1991 – http://www.newgrounds.com/audio/listen/618232

Kandy

It took around an hour and a half to get to Kandy. It was pure luck that we managed to be in Sri Lanka during the Kandy Perahara event, which is one of the biggest religious event in Asia. It is a Sri Lankan procession which has dancers, drummers, monks, elephants and an idol or relic related to the Buddha.Sarongs at Kandy Perahara, Sri Lanka Once we parked, we rushed through the crowds towards the Temple of the Tooth. We were told that Suyash and I could not enter the premises due to wearing shorts. Therefore in a hurry, we bought two sarongs and learnt how to put them on.

Our excitement was turned into disappointment when we were told that we couldn’t enter the temple as the Perahara was getting ready to move. However, we didn’t have to wait long to cheer again as we realised that the Buddha’s tooth relic came out on a huge elephant ready to be shown to the whole city of Kandy.

Kandy Perahara, Sri Lanka

Kandy Perahara, Sri LankaWe quickly grabbed a spot as the procession got moving. We saw flame rotators, disc rotators, sword fighters, elephants with lights, monks, dancers and drummers. The highlight of the night was the Nedumgombo Raja, the biggest calmest elephant with huge tusks charged with carrying the tooth relic.

Tip: The perahara starts from the Temple of the Tooth and goes around the city. Getting a spot early in the temple is the best option as you can finish watching the whole procession by 8:30pm. This also applies for any parade or procession, otherwise you will be stuck with the crowd.

Here is a short mashup of the performances at perahara –

Adam’s Peak

After grabbing quick dinner in Kandy, we then drove to Adam’s Peak area for an early morning walk to the summit. We reached Nallathanniya at 12:30am after a crazy night time drive through mountains and bad roads. Suyash and I rotated responsibilities to accompany the driver through the late night drive on mountain. We spotted wild boars, horned deer and hedgehogs on the way.Adam's Peak, Sri Lanka
We checked into our room, which was 2 floors below basement, slept for an hour and went climbing the peak into the night. The manager at the hotel told us it will take approx. 2.5 hours to climb the peak. We started our ascent in the pitch black night. We had a few people ahead and it was a nice walk up the hill in the first hour. After this the climb got hard and harder with the temperature lowering and the stairs getting steeper. In total we climbed 5660 steps and it totally killed our legs.

 

 

Adam's Peak, Sri Lanka

Adam's Peak, Sri LankaOur fitness level was not the best and we realised that halfway in to the climb. Unfortunately, though we made it to the top, there were too many clouds and the sun was nowhere to be seen after the time of the sunrise. Eventually, we decided it was best to descend and make it back to hotel in time. The walk down was as hard as the walk up and we eventually made it back around 9:30. Though the photos on the way down were amazing, we recommend attempting the Adam’s Peak climb if you are fit enough and there is a high chance of seeing the sunrise.

Adam's Peak, Sri Lanka

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tip: Always check the season and weather forecast for any location you want to visit.

Galle & Unawatuna

As we left Nallathanniya, it started to pour. Though there were pretty sites around, we crashed very soon as we were all too tired after the trek and no sleep through the night. We made no stops on the way other than lunch.

Soon after lunch, the boredom of the drive made Suyash and Shruti play random Bollywood related games in the car. Since I don’t remember the films much, I was a spectator. The game was hilarious, both of them were clueless at times and I had a lot of fun watching the siblings coming up with random things to do.

We arrived in Galle around 6pm just before sunset and checked into Happy Night hotel, along the Unawatuna Beach. The name was a bit funny but the hotel was amazing regardless being cheap. Due to the lack of sleep and aching legs, we decided to get pizza, sandwiches and beer while watching a Hera Pheri, a hillarious Bollywood classic, in the room. We called it a night early and slept for a good 9 hours.

Though we felt refreshed the next morning, the legs were still in pain. We decided to see some of the highlights around Galle city and return early. Once there, we had traditional Sri Lankan breakfast and walked to the Fort. As Kumar Sangakkara had retired a day earlier, the cricket stadium in Galle was full of posters of his farewell. Though we don’t support Sri Lanka in cricket, we salute the legend for his contribution to cricket!

Galle Fort, Sri LankaGalle city is quite small and the highlights are all walking distance from each other. A tuk tuk driver saw us walking around the Fort and told us he’ll give us a tour of the old city for LKR 500. We decided against it as we wanted to walk around and absorb the surroundings. However, he was adamant and decided to reduce the price to LKR 400. Against Suyash’s advice, we decided to take the tuk tuk as our legs were in quite bad shape.

Eventually we realised it wasn’t a bad decision. The driver stopped at 3-4 places and gave us 20 minutes each. Old Galle city is an amazing place. It looks like an European town in the middle of Sri Lanka. The town was settled by the Portuguese before the Dutch took over. It had Dutch churches, houses and other Dutch government buildings from the 17th and 18th centuries.

One of the highlights for us was the Dutch museum. The museum was housed in a renovated Dutch Governors house by a local businessman. Artefacts from the Portuguese, Dutch and British eras were carefully preserved there. It was also interesting to see an old lady making lace the traditional way while another man was cutting and polishing gems using a wheel blade. It really was a trip back to the past. The entry was free but the staff showed us around and eventually lead us to the jewelers shop within the museum. They were not forceful but it was a clever ploy nonetheless.

Galle Fort, Sri LankaWe stopped at the church, lighthouse and a Buddhist temple before the time was up. On the way back, Suyash had planned to go the Japanese Pagoda and a place called Jungle beach. However, the driver was charging too much and being on a cliff it would be a pain to walk back from there. Due to Suyash’s great bargaining skills, we managed to offend the tuk tuk driver who accused us of being tightarses (slightly justified!) :P

Galle Fort, Sri Lanka

Since we didn’t want to go the beach or walk, we decided to chill with music into the evening. We again played a game of ‘play a random song on youtube’. The game was a success and it made us quite happy listening to a whole range of songs from 90s Bollywood, Punjabi and House classics. We ended the night with local food though I had a slight Galle belly in the middle of the night.

Suyash left early in the morning for his flight to Singapore while we stayed back, slept a little more before taking an express bus to Colombo for the home run in Sri Lanka.

Final Thoughts

From the Adam’s Peak experience, we will be more careful about planning for back to back activities and never visit a place for one single attraction. But nevertheless, driving around Sri Lanka was a good experience. We crossed many towns and villages and saw the different cultures, Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslims in the country.

We also regret not climbing Sigiriya – we would have possibly experienced more culture there.

Around Sri Lanka Gallery

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