Kerala has been ranked among the top places to travel not just in India but in the world. Statistics suggest that there were around 10 million visitors in 2011. Read that again. I'd planned to see what people call the 'God's Own Country' in 2018 but unfortunately, the floods hit the beautiful land of this Malabar region. Well, when I recently went there this year, I wondered that if it's so beautiful this day, imagine how perfect it would have been before the massive floods just the previous year. A place one must visit. Most of us have seen houseboats and the tea estate gardens of Munnar in wallpapers, calendars and paintings and they're all very scenic. But that's not it. There's a lot more to see even from those comfortable boats and scenic-hilly roads. And you'll only know the difference once you experience it for yourself.
From Kochi airport, it takes around 2 hours to reach a small town of Adimali. This was my base because my dear friend, Greeshma lives here. Well, a little brief, she was my guide, translator and an amazing host. The picturesque landscape begins from the route from the airport to this town but wait for the actual scenery till you reach Munnar. Adimali is one of the perfect places to stay at if you do not want to keep changing hotels as it is almost in the center, helping you cover smaller distances to reach a place in comparison to the rest. Although, be ready to be driven on winding roads of the hills and pretty much far distances but the breathtaking views on the drive makes it all worth it.
It ranks number one when you Google 'thing to do in Kerala'. It is rightfully so. Beautiful landscapes, roads and trees with fruits and exotic flowers to spot on the way. 'Munnar' actually means three rivers in Malayalam as this is a point of convergence for three river streams. The moment you enter Munnar, you can sense the difference in the air. It's not just the tea plantations that start but the view of the hills become greener, lusher and more welcoming. As clichéd as it gets, the camera cannot capture the beauty that the eyes can see. Although, I have tried to bring back a little resemblance for you. It was as if the sun rays fell where they should, not blinding, but perfect golden. A couple of Gulmohur trees in the middle just made it better. There is a functional design pattern in the tea garden for people to move around, and it manages to be aesthetic as well. A 360 degree panoramic view from the naked eyes will show you some great colors of nature whether it's the sky, far away hills or the greenery.
Around 30 miles ahead of Munnar is a small town of Marayoor which was personally my favorite. It is the kind of place where you can just be and enjoy, without doing much. It is the only place in Kerala with natural Sandalwood forests which is mostly under the government area. Other than that, a couple of dolmen structures for burials are said to be of the Stone Age civilization. Talking about the earlier eras, ancient rock paintings are also found in parts of Marayoor. It is a gem of a place, with around 1000 species of flowering plants, medicinal plants and 200 species of birds, it's a paradise of nature lovers as well as a sight for photographers. Luckily, it is Greeshma's maternal village and as always, she knew the most scenic points. We sat on a rock near the dolmen structures, felt the breeze and etched the memory of the village in our heart and phones.
The entire route has a lot of waterfalls on the way but due to safety reasons, most of them have been fenced. I had the opportunity to experience a fresh, clean cold water shower under a waterfall. There are a couple of them in the interiors namely Aanachadi Kuth, Thomman Kuth and we went to Njandirukki waterfalls. Being in interiors, they're not very crowded and one can have little privacy too. The below picture is at one of the lower levels of the waterfall.
A 2 hour drive from the Kochi/Cochin airport, it's a city built along the Laccadive sea. This small city is also one of the most famous places of Kerala due to the backwaters. Technically, it's called the backwaters because it's a stream without current and hence does not flow. The backwaters are a network in themselves that merge with canals and lagoons. The houseboat cruises are one of the specialties of the backwaters. Starting from a minimum of Rs.5000 a day and then depending upon your demand of luxury, the houseboats have everything that one would want while on a nature spree. Lesser people know about the fact that this town is called the 'Venice of the East'. The canals allow a major inland waterway system for transportation. Very interesting to see how usually we have petrol pumps, train stations and a parking area for our cars, along canal, there are all these specially for the boats. With police, ambulance and fire marshals on speed boats, it's a fascinating experience to see their roles on water. Similar to the National Highways, these waterways are amongst the National Waterways of India.
While you cruise on your boat, they take a route along the Kuttanad village that is built in between the paddy fields on one side and the backwaters on the other. A very different environment to that of any other picture of an Indian village, Kuttanad is said to have the lowest altitude in India. One interesting thing about the farms of this area, they are below the sea level. Well, when I heard this, I was pretty curious to know how that's possible. Netherlands and Kuttanad are the only two places in the world wherein the technique of farming under the sea level is possible. While Netherlands is a miracle of human engineering skills, Kuttanad is a miracle of nature. Although it is good for the rice cultivation, a lot of houses in Kuttanad are made on stilts to stay above the water level. The locals say that the houses that are not on stilt tend to tilt a bit in a way that one side of the house goes down with time.
The clarification on the name of this city- Cochin was the colonial name but Keralites localized it to Kochi. Being a port city, one would find ships and cruises sailing across the waterways of Kochi. One of the major sites was Fort Kochi. It has a very different energy from the rest of the state. With colonial bungalows, houses of warship and a synagogue situated in the Jew town, Fort Kochi brings out the artist in you. I say that because even though the place has become touristy, some houses have stories that would come out as a different person altogether. However, the stories are not written on the walls, one would have to go and speak to the locals and bring it out from them. The paintings and graffiti on the wall are not merely colors but have a historical context within them.