COCONUT LAND | 'KERA ALAM' - KERALA, INDIA

Tripoto
12th Sep 2019
Photo of COCONUT LAND | 'KERA ALAM' - KERALA, INDIA by Mallika Rohatgi

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. While you're on a houseboat or a shikara, you'll see how the village kids still go to school in boats. Early morning, the men clean their nets and go onto fish. Most of the houses in between the paddy fields of Kuttanad village are quarterly immersed in water. Some of them are on stilts but the rest, people wake up and the moment they step out of their main doors, it's all water beneath and pouring rain from above. You can probably visualize as I write this but my friend, see it for yourself once, it will move you. A lot of us have heard that our grandparents used to travel in boats and it was an everyday hassle to go to school and we hysterically laughed about it. Well, this place is still a true example of that. Although I didn't see it for myself but I wouldn't be surprised if somebody told me that they study with a candle by their side when there's no electricity. The irony is, you watch all this from a very comfortable seat of your houseboat with luxury rooms and bathrooms.

Photo of COCONUT LAND | 'KERA ALAM' - KERALA, INDIA 1/1 by Mallika Rohatgi

This was just a brief of one of my experiences. With all the memories and learning, I believe, just one article will not be enough. Hence, this one's for y'all to be able to plan a trip to places worth visiting and the next would be about some particular events that incited an emotion of wonder and gratitude within me.

For the itinerary, although the winter months are supposed to be the perfect time for Kerala but I preferred a little less touristy period and hence, took a trip in September. Well, all was fortunately good in terms of weather, a little drizzle during the day only made the view more enjoyable.

Even before landing at Kochi, that's the closest airport to most places to see, it felt like I was seeing a map from the top. In ICSE grade 10, we had studied topography, and I instantly connected to it - with all the greenery, some scattered habitats around and rivers flowing by, it felt as if I was viewing my old school books live. Remember how we made hills, the sun peeping out in between two hills, a river (with fishes) and a small hut next to it? Every village I went to, it was very much similar to how we were 'taught' to draw a village.

A little history and geography before we dive into the places, the hills of Kerala are the ending of the Western Ghats of India. The highest peak of these ghats is that of Anamudi, which shall be visible from a couple of places while you tour. Kerala has been a massive land for the tea estates mostly bought by Tata's. The history suggests that Vasco Da Gama first arrived in Calicut (Kozhikode), a town in Kerala while exploring the land of India. Interesting to know, he died in Kochi and he is said to have been buried in Kochi until his remains were sent to Lisbon after fourteen years. The gravestone can be seen at St. Francis Church, Kochi.

The Portuguese, Dutch, Chinese, to name a few, came to India for trade and the spices of Kerala were invariably the most traded commodity. Black pepper is called 'Black Gold' which is extensively cultivated in Kerala, is still the most traded spice in the world. Agriculture, hills, rivers, well, Kerala is a treasure state of India.

After my experience in Kerala, I'd say, prefer staying at a home-stay than a hotel for comfort, great hospitality and lip-smacking food. Just keep your Google-translator ready! It doesn't have proper structures to be seen or even specific places to visit, it's more like you explore the place and find your own wandering paths. Here is my culmination of the same.

Day 1

ADIMALI

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.

Photo of Adimali, Kerala, India by Mallika Rohatgi

Personally, I loved staying at Adimali. Best mornings were when we woke up and went to a nearby stream to hear the sound of water flowing by. Catching fireflies was on my bucket-list and it was checked here. Although you may not see them all throughout the year but I was lucky enough and was quite fascinated to see such small yet glowing and friendly (thank god, they don't bite) creatures. It was although we were kids again, stepping on puddles and hitting the wall just to catch those pretty insects. The moment I caught the first one, I wanted to run back home and not let it fly away, but I realized that letting them fly also gives you pleasure.

The food: If you're a non-vegetarian, this place is for all types of amazing sea-food. Most of them, I had never tried before and it felt like I was missing out on something really good. Although all places have similar food, Kerala home-made food items are the best (I should probably learn food photography).

Photo of COCONUT LAND | 'KERA ALAM' - KERALA, INDIA by Mallika Rohatgi

If you're interested in fishing, Adimali has a lot of areas where you can fish. Most locals would be able to help you with the nearest place. We went to a nearby pond and dam and for the first time I learnt how to fish. It requires great patience and agility. Of course, I had a great experience putting in the earthworm with my bare hands into the fish hook (not really, yikes!). The truth be told, sadly, we had no luck that day.

Photo of COCONUT LAND | 'KERA ALAM' - KERALA, INDIA by Mallika Rohatgi
Day 2

MUNNAR

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.

Photo of Munnar, Kerala, India by Mallika Rohatgi

Some people admit that they've seen some rare birds and wild elephants on the way. If you're interested in the wildlife of Kerala, Eravikulam National Park has endangered wild goats, champak squirrels, spotted deer to name a few. In order to go there, one must hire wildlife safari as private vehicles are not allowed.

We couldn't find a lot of people plucking the leaves but were fortunate enough to see a group of workers at an estate. As it is rightly said, 'ask and you shall receive'. We asked if they could teach us how it's done and they were kind enough to even let us try plucking the leaves.

Photo of COCONUT LAND | 'KERA ALAM' - KERALA, INDIA by Mallika Rohatgi
Day 3

MARAYOOR

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.

Photo of Marayoor, Kerala, India by Mallika Rohatgi

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.

Photo of COCONUT LAND | 'KERA ALAM' - KERALA, INDIA by Mallika Rohatgi

This wasn't it. I was able to chop off fresh sugarcane and eat it the way it should be eaten. However, I got too excited and we ended up going to the hospital (My teeth are fine now though). So the possibility of that always exists but I'd still encourage you to try it, don't worry, the hospital is close-by.

A few kilometers from Marayoor is a small village turned into a tourist destination: Kanthaloor. With varieties of fruit orchards, this attracts tourists. There are farms one can go and with a humble request, can indulge in flower picking too.

Photo of COCONUT LAND | 'KERA ALAM' - KERALA, INDIA by Mallika Rohatgi
Day 4

THODUPUZHA

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.

Photo of Thodupuzha, Kerala, India by Mallika Rohatgi
Day 5

ALLAPUZHA/ALLEPPEY

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.

Photo of Alleppey, Kerala, India by Mallika Rohatgi

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.

The coir museum in Allapuzha exhibits the process of coir making. Coconut is abundantly found in Kerala. It comes from the family of palm trees and none of the parts of coconut are wasted. There's water inside that is natural water and can be drunk. If it's too ripe, it dries and becomes dry coconut which is used in food. The outer thick shell is then dried and the fibers are put together to make coir. The museum explains the entire process beautifully and one can even view the basic factory as students of the coir industry try their hands on the machine experience.

Photo of COCONUT LAND | 'KERA ALAM' - KERALA, INDIA by Mallika Rohatgi

A house to a lot of beaches, Allapuzha has a lot of water bodies. Vembanad is India's longest lake and great for spotting unique birds. On the other hand, Marari beach is a sandy beach with waves. Surfing is also possible at Marari during season. Out of all, Allapuzha beach is the most famous and sitting at the shore to watch the sunset is pretty satisfying here.

Photo of COCONUT LAND | 'KERA ALAM' - KERALA, INDIA by Mallika Rohatgi

Stay: We stayed at Zostel, Allapuzha. It seems to have the perfect location as well the vibe. 50m from the beach and affordable rates with the quality makes it the best possible option to stay at. Here's the link: https://www.zostel.com/zostel/alleppey/?type=amp

Food: You shall find a lot of South Indian food places for all your meals. I would recommend The Harbour Restaurant, situated right across the Allapuzha beach. People generally eat and sleep early in Kerala and hence, restaurants shut by 10pm. Make sure your tummy's full by then.

Day 6

KUTTANAD

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.

Other than farming and boating, the people of Kuttanad spend their time fishing. Along the backwaters, you might find people fishing depending upon the time of the day but if not, you can request a local to show you how they do it with the traditional fish nets.

Photo of Kuttanad, Kuttanad Taluk, Kerala by Mallika Rohatgi
Day 7

KOCHI/COCHIN

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.

Photo of Kochi, Kerala, India by Mallika Rohatgi

Touring the city especially the local areas would make you understand that it's a city with a lot of foreign invasions. Whether they are buildings or the type of work people are still continuing as per their tradition. Fishing using Chinese fishing nets is one of them.

Chinese fishing net system: They're called the Chinese fishing nets, the irony is, it was not discovered by the Chinese. Locals say this system of fishing was brought by the Portuguese, however, the fish nets were Chinese and hence the name. This manual mechanism is a very unique style of fishing; one must have a look at it while in Kochi.

Photo of COCONUT LAND | 'KERA ALAM' - KERALA, INDIA by Mallika Rohatgi

Food: Fort Kochi is the best place for foodies when in Kochi. Some really delicious yet healthy preparations of food can be found in the narrow lanes. Kashi Art Café being the most famous one in the vicinity, we tried the Mocha Art Café and were pretty satisfied with the food. Recommendation: for the seafood lovers, try out their seafood salad and any flavored lime water.

Photo of COCONUT LAND | 'KERA ALAM' - KERALA, INDIA by Mallika Rohatgi

This article couldn't have ended without telling y'all about Kathakali. Traditional dance-drama of Kerala. It takes tremendous practice, sacrifice and patience to be a Kathakali performer.

Photo of COCONUT LAND | 'KERA ALAM' - KERALA, INDIA by Mallika Rohatgi

One should definitely take out some time and go for a live performance. It happens 365 days a year. And the best part is you can also see them get ready and paint their faces. You can check out the ticket price, availability and timings here: http://greenix.asia/

TIPS FOR TRAVELLING IN KERALA

Language: Unfortunately, one of the major barriers while travelling to Kerala can be the Language. Most people try to understand Basic English words but it is not sufficient for a proper conversation. I had Greeshma with me and it felt as if half the battle was won because of her as she is a localite. For the ones without the local friend, I would suggest, hire a local tour guide who knows English.

Food: South Indian food is not only Idli and Dosa. You can probably get a new traditional dish for every meal for a week. Although I cannot comment much on vegetarian food but I relished the non-vegetarian dishes completely. The food is really inexpensive in comparison to other places in India.

Travel: Hiring a cab is always a better decision but can be heavy on the pocket. For solo and young travelers, Kerala bus connectivity is to be appreciated. Various buses, various timings and if you get a seat, pretty much comfortable, inexpensive and fast. For any further specific details, you can send a direct message at : https://www.instagram.com/one.mile.away/

Backpack: Well, first of all from my experience, you might not get all the medicines in medical shops. You might as well carry precautionary basic medicines other than your prescribed ones than to struggle finding them. Umbrellas are a must, helps you in the pouring rain as well as the sun. Don't forget to carry you cameras, you'd regret that!

'Stories from Kerala' article is on it's way. Till then, happy and safe journeys!

Pictures & write up by: Mallika Rohatgi | Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/one.mile.away/

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