A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about cochin

Kerala and a touch of Karnataka again (Oct-Nov 2010)

So goodbye Karnataka, hello Kerala!

With my bout of (explosive) food poisoning and the bed bug incident put behind us, we were good to go! We had gone back to Bangalore to sort out my broken camera lens (I clumsily dropped it while going through customs in Heathrow back in September) so we booked a train from Bangalore to Ernakulam (for Fort Cochin) in the neighbouring state of Kerala. We’d heard good things about Kerala and were looking forward to a change of scenery from a big city to the historical coastal port of Fort Cochin. We had learned that Kerala had the highest levels of literacy in the whole of India and had even democratically elected communist parties into power more than once in the last few decades. Though unusual, it was said that this had had a positive effect on the overall education, health and wealth of the Keralan people…it was time to find out for ourselves!

We took the overnight sleeper train (but this time upgraded to the AC carriage as we were hoping that we would find that there would be less cockroaches roaming around and the toilets might not be quiet so disturbing!). To be fair, in the most part that was true; however at the end of a long overnight train journey, going to the toilet was still an extreme sport!). Thank god for the sealed windows in AC, to keep flying insects at bay during sunset but it did little to help block out the bad smell that would drift though from the loos every time the train came to a stop at a station. Seriously, words cannot describe that smell!) And squatting on a moving train, that’s an art form if you ask me! But enough toilet talk…I think you get the picture!

As with many of the train trips we had taken, we found that the Indian people sharing the carriage with us were very friendly. (In the majority of the sleeper options you share with about 5-7 other people so you soon get used chatting to your new neighbours!) We shared our space with a young family and other than getting woken up to the sound of a Disney film blaring out of a laptop at 7am, the journey itself was pretty smooth. As we arrived at the train station in the morning, we met a young English travelelr who was heading to the fort area also so we all jumped in a rickshaw together. We hadn’t booked our accommodation ahead of our arrival so we had a look around and there seemed to be something in for every budget. We picked a modest but clean room in the heart of the town on Princes Street with a balcony overlooking the street outside. At Rs.400 (about 5.70 GBP) per night it was good value for money and very well located. The name of our new digs was ‘The Outback’, but fortunately it didn’t resemble anything from Oz apart from the name!

J chilling on the balcony of our room

J chilling on the balcony of our room

Fort Cochin is a very quaint colonial style historic port with plenty of charm; compared to the nearby local town of Ernakulam (which is like most Indian towns; chaotic & noisy) Cochin was a sight for sore eyes. The main harbour, famous for its export history from the days of the Raj was lined with its famous Chinese fishing nets and roadside fish market.

IMG_0602.jpg

The nearby streets were filled with aging yet colourfully painted and restored colonial buildings now serving as hotels, restaurants and craft shops. It was clear that Fort Cochin is now primarily geared up for the tourists but the people who lived and worked there were friendly and the food good so we were not complaining! Many of the restaurants did not have an alcohol licence so when we sought out a beer, it would be served up in a tea pot and mugs so as to conceal their contents! Top marks for a novel approach to the problem (though J never quite got his head round drinking beer out of a mug)!

View from our balcony - Fort Cochin

View from our balcony - Fort Cochin

We stayed for about 3 nights, all of which were pretty peaceful and relaxed. We spent time walking along the peaceful and quaint streets and the fishing bay (where they use the famous chinese fishing nets) as well as going to see a performance of Kalaripayattu, the oldest martial art form of Kerala in South India (over 2000 years old).

IMG_0585.jpg

At the end of which J asked if they would teach him some of the moves so up he went onto the stage to try his hand at it!

J trying his hand at Kalaripayattu

J trying his hand at Kalaripayattu

The local people seemed to live a very peaceful existence here too, many happy to make conversation and the school children leaving school to go home would swarm the streets riding on the back of rickshaws and scooters waving to us and other foreigners as they went by. With other places calling us we decided that to book a multi-stop trip with a driver to take us inland to the well known tea plantations in Munnar for two nights, then the national park in Periyar for two nights and then back out to the coastal town of Allapey where we would pick up a boat to coast along the famous Keralan backwaters.

Our onward journey began at 5am and we met our driver who was waiting outside our hotel, a friendly man though he wasnt much of a talker! We had a long drive ahead of us but on route we stopped off at a river side place where we had been told that a nearby Elephant sanctuary would be taking the elephants down to the river for their daily bath. We were not the only ones who knew about this daily ritual and there was about a dozen people gathered by the river bed waiting for the arrival of the elephants. We saw about four elephants come down the lane and one by one plunge into the water with their keepers riding up high on their shoulders. Seeing elephants in captivity was not ideal but it seemed to me that they enjoyed being scrubbed down by their keepers. It was a brief stop off and still groggy from our early start, we got back in our taxi and back on the road once more.

We arrived in Munnar by around lunch time. Munnar is an inland hill station famous for its tea plantations with its highest peak reaching around 2900 metres (Picture the town Stallone arrives in in Rambo, first blood with an Indian twist). The hills on the approach to the town we were to stay in were lush and green. The air was misty and cool and the feeling of the place was very different from the other places we had visited so far in India. Before we got to our accommodation we spent a few hours in the car exploring the local area. The drive from Munnar was amazing with endless fields of tea plantations disappearing into the distant hills, sweeping curving roads hugging the smooth soft lines of the green plantations.

IMG_0675

IMG_0675

Tea plantations in Munnar

Tea plantations in Munnar

IMG_0660.jpg

As we climbed further up the hills, we saw the heavy white mist resting on the hill tops, creeping slowly over them like a blanket. The stillness and the beauty left us speechless as we climbed further up and over the peaks until we reached the ‘Top station’ which was the highest point on the highway and nearby to where a the Kurichi or Neelakurinji plant flowers only every 12 years (though unfortunately not this year!)

We dropped off our bags at our homestay and headed into town to do a scouting mission to the local town and to grab some lunch. We had been told by John who was our homestay host that the best local café which served the best food in Munnar was only a short walk away! It was a little place called Rapsey which was in the main bazaar in the centre of the local town. Serving simple but delicious food and boasting a packed visitor’s comment book, it certainly lived up to the hype! On the walk home, hoping to find somewhere to grab a beer we got chatting to a local police man who told us (OK, so we specifically asked him) that the one and only bar in Munnar was located up the hill at a big hotel (we were beginning to realise that the further away from the coast we got, the more difficult it was to get a pint!). So we decided that it would be rude not to at least take a look! Off we went, found the hotel…and the bar attached to the side (with its own separate entrance tucked away from the main hotel entrance). We walked in to find a dimly lit bar (with only 1 toilet just for men…do you think they are trying to say something???) and got ourselves a drink. It was quiet at first but the bar soon filled up, and it was then that I realised just how much I stood out as a woman…me being the only one there!

Thankfully a couple of Californian girls (sisters names Hilary & Alexis) came in which evened up the male to female ratio a little (they too had found about the one and only bar in town!) and joined our table. The drinks flowed and the laughs soon followed. We were having a really good time and getting along great with our new found friends, though we soon became aware that we were getting funny looks from the local Indian men who seemed to be somewhat unhappy that a table full of westerners (and I suspect in particular women) were having a good old drink and a laugh. We were approached by the bar manager and told that he had received a complaint about the loudness of our voices from one of the local men drinking at the bar (who was giving us very disapproving looks). We found this odd as there was a group of about 8 young Indian guys who were drinking and laughing much louder than anyone including us! I started to get the feeling that not everyone in the bar was so keen to see us in there and suspected the new influx of women didn’t help matters!

We finished up and headed back to our homestay named (Johns Homestay) where we got chatting to the owner, John who was a very gentile older Indian man who spoke the queens English perfectly and who was really welcoming. We got talking about the history of the area and asked him about how the local people felt about the British rule before India gained its independence in 1947. He recommended that we visit the local tea museum to learn about the history of the plantations to gain a good understanding of this. We took his good advice the very next day and learned that the Scottish pioneers in the 1870’s had discovered the climate was perfect for growing tea so began to turn the whole area into the tea plantations that still exist today. It seemed from what we were told the people of Munnar saw positive change that resulted in the foundation of the plantations. Schools, hospitals, roads and trains amongst other essential facilities were introduced for the workers and their families during this time as well as more work opportunities than the local population could cater for (and as such people were recruited from Tamil Nadu to fill all the jobs). After independence in 1947, the plantations were transferred into Indian hands and since then, it has given shares to each and every member of staff that works in the fields every day. We had come to Munnar expecting to hear stories of British rule in a negative light but it turned out to be the opposite.

Our short stay had come to an end and it was time move on to our next stop Periyar, a few hours drive away where there is a big national park and we made our way there hopeful to spend time seeing some of the amazing wild animals India boasts such as tigers, elephants etc. The drive there through the beautiful green hills was as stunning as the approach into Munnar. As the tea plantations started to tail off, we saw other plantations of cardamom and rubber. We climbed higher and higher and the mist was so thick we could barely see a few meters in front of us. Despite the thoughts of us inadvertently missing the bends on the narrow roads high up on the hill and plunging to our untimely deaths, we pushed on slowly through the mist until we descended once more, eventually dipping underneath the thick blanket and regained our visibility. We got to Periyar with hopeful expectation of wildlife trekking though unfortunately the weather being so wet there (we discovered that they have a second mini monsoon at that time) this was less than ideal for trekking and the odds of seeing wildlife were pretty remote. We heard reports from other trekkers that the most wildlife they’d seen was the leeches that had attached themselves to their ankles during their trek! So accepting the soggy situation we opted instead for the more sedate and certainly dryer option of a Keralan cooking lesson. We went to a very modest local home (and gathered round the very modest and small kitchen) to see how they make a typical Kerala chicken curry, a bean curry and poratta (a very tasty layered south Indian bread).

The next day we headed to Alleppey, about a 4 hour drive and immediately booked an overnight houseboat trip on the famous Kerala backwaters for the following day. A one bedroomed houseboat made with beautiful woven wicker roofs set us back Rs.3500 for one night including meals (which was about 50 GBP). A bit of a treat on a backpacking budget but we had heard good things about it so we had to do it! We had one night to kill before the trip so we headed into Alleppey town to find somewhere to stay. We found a heritage home stay called ‘Tharavad’ which had been built for a well off Indian doctor over 100 years ago and had been owned by the same family ever since. The house, still preserved in its original traditional setting felt like we stepped back in time as we arrived. The bedrooms were simple but comfortable and a nice place to rest for the night.

Kerala backwaters

Kerala backwaters

The next day, we headed out onto the backwaters of Allepey on our house boat. The weather was perfect and as we cruised along the water ways, we discovered that along the narrow but long banks which separated the sectioned off backwaters were whole communities with small houses and even schools doted along the banks. Small one man boats paddled up and down, women stood on the banks washing clothes, thrashing the dirt from them. Aside from the many tourists’ house boats, it struck me as a peaceful place to live and one that was so different from the hustle and bustle of typical Indian life.

Locals living in villages in the Kerala backwaters

Locals living in villages in the Kerala backwaters

We had two staff working on our boat, one steering the boat and the other cooking up feasts for us. When I say feasts, I really mean it! When lunch came out, there was enough food for 6 people! And when dinner came out, I’m sure there was enough for 8 or more! It was impossible to even make a dent on what was presented to us but the flavours and quality of the food was out of this world! During the day while we were docked up for lunch, a man in a little wooden boat paddled over to us. He was selling fish from his little boat and we bought some big tiger prawns for our dinner that night, which our expert cook coated in masala (yum!).

large_IMG_0786.jpg

We sat out on the deck as we watched the beautiful sun set over the back waters and I hate to say that it was at this point that the swarm of insects started to swarm around us. We did our best to ignore them but though we covered up to escape mosquito bites, we found our bodies covered in bites the following day (having bitten through our clothes!). It was the only drawback to the boat trip; such a shame really.

The next day we headed to Varkala, a well known beach on the coast of Kerala, with restaurants and guest houses set up on the cliff top with great views of the sea, we were looking forward to some beach time! Varkala was lovely, very peaceful and laid back. The beach was small and shallow but was pleasant though as we had found the changeable weather in Kerala due to their mini monsoon most afternoons had showers so chilling in a restaurant on the cliff side was the norm. We only stayed for a few days but while we were there we bumped into a couple that we had met when we were on holiday in Cuba 3 years ago! It was their first holiday since Cuba and somehow we had all ended up there at the same time! Strange but true! All in all, Kerala was a relaxed and very enjoyable part to our trip!

It was time to decide on our next location and it was going to be Tamil Nadu and possibly Sri Lanka but a cyclone hit the south east coast of India along the Bay of Bengal and that would have made for a miserable route so we decided on coming back towards Goa ahead of plan (we had planned to go there for Christmas & NYE anyway). The route we took from Varkala was the coastal rail route via Manglaore and then Gokarna (Kudley Beach & Om beach) which is in the state of Karnataka and inbetween Kerala and Goa.

We had heard that Gokarna had a beach not far from its town centre though this was mainly used by local Indians and was not as nice as some of the neighbouring beaches. So we were happy to look to go to Kudley beach which is a few kilometres from the town and train station we were due to arrive at. It must have been about 8pm by the time we arrived into Gokarna and after some humourous auction style bartering headed by J, we managed to get ourselves a rickshaw to Kudley beach. It was already dark by this time and though we had heard that some of the other beaches did not have any road access to them, we heard that Kudley was accessible so we had no cause for concern. That said, as we went along the concrete roads started to look more disheveled and before long we were on an extremely rough and narrow dirt track climbing up a hill. No easy task for a rickshaw with two passengers and two heavy rucksacks! Vaguely amused by the novelty but growing in concern, we soon realised that the road was becoming more and more difficult to climb and the rickshaw was now moving very slowly as it was bumping around the loose rocks and holes in the ground.

Hanging on for dear life, we were looking forward to seeing the beach and getting off this bumpy ride! The journey did end though sooner than we expected! The rickshaw driver got us to a high point on the dirt track (which is odd as beaches are not normally found at the top of a hill!) and then told us that he could take us no further. Confused we asked him to explain what he meant. It turns out that the way onto Kudley beach was indeed via this rocky road up hill, however the way down to the beachside was through a steep and very rough and rocky pathway which our driver said to head down for about 10 minutes. That wouldn’t have fazed us had it been in daylight but at this time; there was no lighting what so ever! All we could see was what looked like a dark hole!

IMG_0797

IMG_0797

With the rickshaw diver about to bid his farewell we would be completely alone and unfamiliar with the pathway, we had visions of taking a wrong turning and ending up falling down a steep cliff never to be seen again! With much persuasion (and an offer of a generous tip) the driver eventually agreed to escort us down the difficult path using his mobile phone and our head torch to light the way. We did make it down there alive but it was no walk in the park that’s for sure!

The next morning, seeing Kudely beach in daylight it was easy to see why young travellers opted for this spot.

IMG_0807

IMG_0807

IMG_0800

IMG_0800

IMG_0808

IMG_0808

It was a very laid back and simple beach place with nearly all of the accommodation very cheap and very basic. We managed to find a hotel with proper beds but we paid well over the odds compared to the other accommodation and the bathroom wasn’t exactly clean but we decided that this was preferable to the other, much cheaper places which closely resembled prison cells (concrete beds with thin stuffed mattresses and no windows, just an air brick or two). It was here that we met fellow back packers (Georgi & Lizzie) and over a few evening beers we would put the world to rights and laugh about the craziness things we find when travelling around India! We explored a little while we were there, taking that walk back up the steep pathway and then taking another path down to the neighbouring beach (Om beach). This beach had a lovely crescent shape (named Om due to the similarity in shape to the OM symbol) and the waves more boisterous (which J loved!) and all in all had a nice feel. Again, pretty basic accommodation in the most part but a good backpacker vibe and the beach was peaceful. Our few days in Gokarna passed quickly and it was soon time to hit the road again onwards back to Goa!

Posted by Eveness 04:27 Archived in India Tagged beach fort kerala munnar periyar karnataka varkala cochin ernakulam allepey gokarna kudley om Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 1 of 1) Page [1]