In God’s own country is the relatively larger city of Kottayam, famous for being the trade centre of rubber, commercial crops and spices. More than being a tourist attraction, this city is the gateway to the high ranges of central Kerala, Wagamon and Elaveezha Poonchira. It is also conveniently located between the ghats and the backwaters, providing easy access to both as well as the best of both worlds! Among the many places to visit here, Marmala is a wonderful option for its magnificent waterfalls and absolutely breathtaking beauty. The Poonjar Palace, on the other hand, is a testimony to the glorious past of Kottayam. From an enormous collection of antiques to exquisite furniture, everything is preserved in this former home of the royal family. The palace protects even the tiniest of items such as jewel boxes, lamps, sculptures of Nataraja, palm-leaf engravings and grain measures. Pathiramanal, fondly known as the 'sands of midnight' is small island on the backwaters of Alappuzha. Sparking in natural beauty, the reflection of the moonlight on the white sand of the island is a sight to behold. Vembanad Lake is also a good option to spend a day on the coconut-fringed backwaters enjoying a leisurely meal!
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Vaikom Mahadeva Temple
An idyllic getaway and one of Kerala’s better homestays, I would recommend VLV to travellers seeking unadulterated space and time. Capturing fond memories of Kumarakom, we headed towards the second leg of our trip- Thekkady. Stopping for a Darshan at the Vaikom Mahadeva Temple, I was thrilled by the play of lighting- a thousand lamps radiating resplendence inside the ‘Gaabharam’.Next, to matters of the stomach, we stocked fresh yellow ‘Nendranga’ – raw banana chips for the 3 hour journey. Breakfast was light as it was a winding ride up and down the hills. As the sedan traversed nooks and bends, we observed rubber plantations and homes in the middle of green land. Surprisingly, there was not one hutment along the 120 odd km stretch.Getting there-By Air– VLV is 60 km from Kochi Airport.By Rail– Ernakulam at 35 km is the nearest station. Alleppey (40 km), Kottayam (40 km)Now, this is what we were waiting for. With much expectation about Thekkady and its Tuskers, we thumped into Elephant land on a Sunday morning.Reservations were in place at Club Mahindra. We were shown our suite in about 20 minutes. The suite showed signs of ageing and neglect, paint had peeled off the walls as a couple of broken pelmets dangled. This was not quite envisaged at a Club Mahindra resort. We called in room service for the food. The blues of the warm homestay were creeping in over us all. We wondered if we should have chosen a homestay in Thekkady as well. Activity rooms and evening games were the only saving grace at the resort. That evening, we participated in most family games and the husband even shook a leg with the kids. Dining in their restaurant, we retired to our rooms early for we had an action packed day ahead of us. All enthused about elephant encounters!Vacationing on a Monday morning gives one a nice little high. Not that I disliked going to work but there is always a sweet zing in taking a Monday holiday. We had called in for a local tour cab from the Club Mahindra desk and it arrived at 10.00 a.m. Most houses in Thekkady have a spice garden and we saw many stores selling spices in the market area. Imagine having a spice in your home and plucking them when you needed it! Wow.We were on our way to the day’s first destination – The Elephant farm. The excitement in the tots was electrifying. The Elephant farm was a non-descript little place. With a spice garden in the front, we were shown around by our driver who had doubled up as the guide. The garden was home to cinnamon, cardamom and pepper.We stood by for our turn to don the younger looking pachyderm. Asked if we would like to feed pineapples to the tusker (for a cost), the kids responded in unison. Gobble gobble, disappeared the pineapple laden basket in 2 seconds flat. Some appetite that! Up next, was to climb the machan and plonk oneself on the tusker. The mahout wound through the garden and checked if we wanted a short ride or a long one (for a cost). We chose the latter and he strayed away towards the road. Proficient is the word to describe his photography skills! He took a leaf, held it between the camera and us and clicked (for a cost) – special effects it seems! The husband and I exchanged glances and couldn’t snub a smile at his antics.Everything in this place came at a cost – right from pineapple feeding, photo sessions, ride length, hair plucking from the elephant’s tail for warding off evil eye (by the mahout). The commercialisation was appalling; however, the look on the little angels’ faces quashed all grumbles. To be fair, the experience at an elephant farm is worth the commercialisation. It’s a must do if you are visiting Thekkady.An hour at the farm and we proceeded towards Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary (PWS). The sanctuary is notable as an elephant reserve and a tiger reserve. The parking lot is at a good distance from the ticketing area. Greeting us were families and families of monkeys. Especially heart-warming was a new born clinging to its mom with a stunned look on its face. As we were admiring the benign gentler ones, out sprang a little ‘vanar’ that dashed away with a Soft drink bottle from an unsuspecting human towards the trees. Our encounters with the animal kingdom was just beginning.