How I enjoyed my perfect long weekend in Kerala...

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Photo of How I enjoyed my perfect long weekend in Kerala... by Debadrita Jana

Long weekends are the hope and joy in the lives of all leave-strapped working professionals. When you take just a day off and yet manage a four-day vacation, or a holiday falls on a Friday and you get three days' time to go for that road trip you always wanted-yes, that's the stuff dreams are made of. With a regular 9-5 job, I too am always on the lookout for breaks like these... and behold! I used the Republic Day weekend to plan a lovely 4-day trip to Kerala!

Now, Kerala as a state certainly can NOT be covered in 4 days, but if you pick and choose the places that you want to go, it is quite easily manageable. So here's how I made it possible...

Day 1

I had taken an evening flight from Chennai to Kochi the day before I wanted to officially start touring. I must say that prices along this route are quite reasonable, especially when booked in advance. My AirBnB accommodation was near the historic Fort Kochi area, and it was at a walking distance from the Maritime Museum (the museum itself is okay for a quick visit). Old Kochi is very relaxed and beautiful, its numerous cafes, old-fashioned streets(Kashi Art Cafe and Princess Street being notable examples) and art galleries gives off a distinct European vibe. Kochi is a melting pot of various culturess-it was under the Dutch, Portuguese and British in addition to the Cochin Royal Family and Hyder Ali. I started my day with Mattancherry Palace-beautiful wall paintings-and then went crazy exploring the old synagogues, antique/perfume/garment shops in Jew Town. The Kochi-Muzhiris Biennale was going on at that time and the whole area was transformed into a lovely open museum. I also walked around a lot, to the churches and the Chinese Fishing Nets at the main beach. Kochi has numerous beaches and islands, and you can choose one to visit depending on the length of your itinerary. The highlight of the day was a Kathakali performance at the Kerala Kathakali Centre (tickets available from the Tourist office near Princess Street). TIP: Go in 1 hour before the actual performance starts to see the artists put on their elaborate makeup, and click pictures!

The colourful shops

Photo of Kochi, Kerala, India by Debadrita Jana

Trying to capture the church tower!!

Photo of Kochi, Kerala, India by Debadrita Jana

Kathakali-an explosion of colours, music and dance

Photo of Kochi, Kerala, India by Debadrita Jana

Kochi's famous Chinese fishing nets- these aren't used in China any more, but have somwhow survived here

Photo of Kochi, Kerala, India by Debadrita Jana

Exploring Kochi becomes a lot easier if you have a two-wheeler. Parking cars may be difficult in the narrow streets, and sometimes walking takes just too long! (P.S. It's not mine)

Photo of Kochi, Kerala, India by Debadrita Jana

Scenes from the Kochi-Muzhiris Biennale. It's one of the most important modern art festivals in the country, and certainly worth a visit.

Photo of Kochi, Kerala, India by Debadrita Jana
Day 2

Day 2 of my journey, and Google Maps showed me two routes from Kochi to Alleppey. I chose the more scenic one, that passed almost next to the sea. On the way, I explored many interesting, almost deserted beaches such as the Thumpoly Beach or Andhakaranazhi Beach. I also passed by the Arthunkal Basilica, where the Arthunkal Perunnal (feast)was going on, in the honour of St. Sebastian. This is a 10-day feast t honour the patron saint, and I just happened to visit during that time. The roads were packed with colourful processions carrying the statue of St. Sebastian, lots of music and devotees, and it gave me a glimpse into the culture of the region!

I finally reached Alleppey in the afternoon, after driving through lush paddy fields and canals. My AirBnB was on an island far from the madding crowd of Alleppey proper, right in the middle of the backwaters. The from my window, I could see the still waters of the lake, and houseboats passing by. This was as calm and serene as it gets, and I truly understood why Kerala is called God's Own Country. Of course, I went for boat rides (twice!), and on one of the rides, I saw the sun set in the midst of storm clouds; painting the landscape golden. The backwaters are a birdwatchers' paradise, and I lost count of the number of different water birds that I tried to photograph (but they were too fast for me). TIP: Try the eating from the roadside shops for some real authentic cuisine. Even the smallest of eateries are spotless! Fish dishes, appam and a sip or two of the local toddy are just what you need to "discover" the local flavours!

Thumpoly beach, en route to Alleppey

Photo of Alleppey, Kerala, India by Debadrita Jana

The backwaters in a cloudy evening... There's nothing more romantic than this!

Photo of Alleppey, Kerala, India by Debadrita Jana

And on a cloudless morning, the surroundings change dramatically...

Photo of Alleppey, Kerala, India by Debadrita Jana

The road to my AirBnB passed by lush paddy fields and canals

Photo of Alleppey, Kerala, India by Debadrita Jana

A boatman hurrying home as a storm gathers

Photo of Alleppey, Kerala, India by Debadrita Jana
Day 3

I checked out of my accommodation a little late- reluctant to leave the backwaters. But it was time to go up to the hills, and into Thekkady, at the TN-Kerala Border. The Alleppey-Thekkady drive is to die for: it will take you past other tourist hotspots like Kottayam, more lakes, lush green forests and tea gardens. Be sure to stop for coffee and some local jackfruit! One word of caution- the roads are mountainous and winding, so it may take a little longer that the 3.5-ish hours as shown by Google. My stay in Thekkady began with a spellbinding Kalaripayattu show. It was great to see so much effort being taken to preserve the traditional form of the martial arts. I also explored the main town of Thekkady, and visited a very interesting antique shop run by an engineer-turned-numismatician-turned antique dealer. I saw a first edition Call of the Wild, worth Rs 35k at his shop! (appropriate, perhaps, because the area on the edge of a national park?) The main town also had plenty of restaurants, many of which had recommendations from Lonely Planet or TripAdvisor (I tried the Bamboo Cafe and Ambadi). As always, I stayed at an AirBnB  close to the main street in Thekkady, hosted by a very generous family.

I spotter SO MANY different kinds of birds on the way to Thekkady.

Photo of Thekkady, Kerala, India by Debadrita Jana

Beautiful views such as this gave me company, all along!

Photo of Thekkady, Kerala, India by Debadrita Jana

These are the undead zombie-trees sticking out of the reservoir

Photo of Thekkady, Kerala, India by Debadrita Jana

The Mulliperiyar reservoir...it's not uncommon to see elephants making their way from the forest to the water's edge... Book tickets in advance, either online or from the Forest Office at Thekkady. They sell out pretty soon!

Photo of Thekkady, Kerala, India by Debadrita Jana

The surreal views of the lake had me fascinated

Photo of Thekkady, Kerala, India by Debadrita Jana

Idukki dam, from afar

Photo of Thekkady, Kerala, India by Debadrita Jana
Day 4

The most famous attraction in Thekkady is the Mulliperiyar reservoir. It is an artificial reservoir that was formed when the British constructed a dam across the Periyar river in the late 1800's. Formerly a forested area, the dead trunk of hardwood trees still stick out of the water like sentinels. The water body attracts a variety of wild animals, most commonly elephants, gaur and even tigers,. The best way to visit this protected area is by boat, and the local government has several excellent eco-tourism drives (check it out-for tickets, information and more: here). It is best to buy tickets in advance and queue up at the entrance of the Periyar Tiger Reserve at the crack of dawn. Mind you-there is a huge rush and some people seem to forget that they are in a nature reserve! 

I got the chance to see several kinds of animals and birds from the boat. The lake itself is stunning. After this, I had an amazing breakfast provided by my very kind hosts and set off for Kochi via the cardamom hills and Idukki. The drive, again, was marvellous. The vegetation clearly changed with altitude, and the view of the gigantic Idukki dam and reservoir was quite impressive. The area is restricted though, and photorgraphy of the dam is not allowed. From Idukki, it is also possible to take a diversion and go to Munnar, if you have more time!

So, it is quite possible to get a flavour of Kerala over a long weekend (there are quite a few coming up in 2018, BTW). Does this mean that I would not like to sit in a houseboat for 3 days and just drink in the beauty of nature, spend an entire afternoon in an Ayurvedic spa or spend several more hours relaxing in the chic cafes of Kochi? OF COURSE NOT! But with limited time and a busy work schedule, this long weekend was the perfect way to experience the fascinating sights, sounds and tastes of God's Own Country.

I'll cherish the memories forever!

Photo of Thekkady, Kerala, India by Debadrita Jana
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