Kerala : The first sight

Tripoto
4th Jun 2015

Neyyar Wildlife Sanctuary : Agasthyamalai Peak

Photo of Neyyar Wildlife Sanctuary, Mayam, Vazhichal, Kerala, India by Salim Islam

Ponmudi

Photo of Ponmudi, Kerala, India by Salim Islam

Ponmudi Golden Hill

Photo of Ponmudi, Kerala, India by Salim Islam

Varkala: Fishing with a single line

Photo of Varkala, Kerala, India by Salim Islam

Varkala Pathway

Photo of Varkala, Kerala, India by Salim Islam

Black Beach at Varkala

Photo of Varkala, Kerala, India by Salim Islam

Sunset at Varkala

Photo of Varkala, Kerala, India by Salim Islam

Tharavadu

Photo of Tharavadu, Bekal, Kerala, India by Salim Islam

Tharavadu

Photo of Tharavadu, Bekal, Kerala, India by Salim Islam

Elephant Rehabilitation Centre at Neyyar

Photo of Neyyar, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India by Salim Islam

Kumarakom. Lake Vembanad

Photo of Kumarakom, Kerala, India by Salim Islam

Lake Vembanad

Photo of Vembanad Lake, Kerala, India by Salim Islam

Sunset at Lake Vembanad

Photo of Vembanad Lake, Kerala, India by Salim Islam

Tharavadu Heritage Home

Photo of Tharavadu, Bekal, Kerala, India by Salim Islam

(Read about the next two parts of Kerala here : Kerala : The second desire and Kerala : The Finale)

Oh! Before I begin, I would like to point out that none of the photos here are shot on a DSLR but on a small Sony RX100 MIII. 2 reasons for this; a) On a month-long tour DSLR becomes cumbersome and b) I wanted to check if people still believe in the frame and not just the blurry backgrounds.

Most people warned me against gong to Kerala during the monsoons. The uninformed ones said that it would be too hot and the informed ones warned me against the incessant rains. They said that I would not be able to travel or see anything and I would have to spend most of my time in my hotel room. I had my share of apprehensions but I have this insatiable love for rains that I can’t describe. As a child I used to slide my bed next to the window at night to enjoy the tiny rain droplets that managed to get past the window net and onto my face. When I look back, I realise how small pleasures drove my day.

Photo of Kerala : The first sight by Salim Islam

Travel stories are incomplete without some great people that you meet along the way. I decided to couchsurf for the first 2 days of my trip. Jayakrishnan ("JK" as his loved ones call him) accepted my request and I landed at his house in Trivandrum. Rahul was already there. He was the other guy who was couchsurfing at JK's. Rahul has been into wildlife conservation since the age of 16. He took it up formally and now works with the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) and it's truly astonishing what he has accomplished at the age of 22. He has dedicated his entire focus on otters and their conservation in India. Once he spent 3 months in solitude in a tent on an island in the Ganges (Gangetic floodpain) to study the behaviour of otters and educating the villagers about their conservation.

JK and his cousins, who I must add are absolutely fantastic hosts, took us out to, Sri Mulam Club, one of the oldest clubs in Trivandrum, where we met Balan Madhavan. He is a member of the International League of Conservation Photographers (ILCP) and an acclaimed wildlife photographer. He spoke at length to us and spoke his heart out; about elephants, about conservation, about photography, about humanitarian causes and about life. We discussed about the loss of habitat and nomadic routes of the elephants. He said, "If today an elephant wants to kill human beings, he has every right to do so for all the cruel things we have ever done." We sat in silence for a while, had our drinks and parted after exchanging phone numbers.

Kerala is unlike any state I had visited. It is crazy green and there's abundant water everywhere. It has mountains, it has beaches, it has lakes, it has backwaters, it has thick forests, it is very clean, offers lip-smacking food; truly God's Own Country. The people are calmer and mindful of the fact that public spaces are truly public. I visited the Trivandrum and the Cochin railway stations and there wasn't any clamour or shouting. People were disciplined and the stations were very clean. some things else; jackfruits, coconuts, fish and beef are ample.

Trivandrum, as a city, seemed very royally humble; green overlay, clean roads, vintage buildings in white, windowless buses and a knack for rains. It's neither crowded like the metros, nor are the roads crammed with cars. Public transportation is great and the buses are not overcrowded. In fact, I travelled extensively in KSRTC buses and never faced any issue of delay or discomfort. Moreover, there are a considerable number of food-joints that offer you brilliant food 24X7.

I get up early when I am travelling. It gives me a headstart and I have all the time in my hand. However, I fail at it sometimes. Today was one of those days. In my defence, it was my birthday, the monsoons had just arrived and it was raining heavily (it was heavier than a drizzle) when my alarm rang at 5:45 am. Rahul and I had some vadas (if you can't seem to find the right snack, go for the vadas at any shop) and hopped on to a KSRTC bus to Kattakkada and from there on to the Neyyar Dam. It was a little uphill hike to the forest department's office. A guy offered us a ride in his motor cycle (Swades mode on). Eyes on the right; green hills submerged in the reservoir water, dreaming tourists sitting by the road and gazing at the horizon, local people going about their daily chores and a whole lot of preserved citrus fruits. We reach the office of the Assistant Wildlife Warden and there I learnt how much the WTI was loved across ranks at a forest department office. WTI had just distributed sleeping bags and tents for the forest guards.

Photo of Kattakkada, Kerala, India by Salim Islam

Of otters and conservation, we conversed at length. He then offered to take us with him for the regular run of the sanctuary. It was lovely day and we could clearly see the Agasthyamalai peak and its adjacent peaks. First we visited the Elephant Rehabilitation Centre and were enthralled by the training process and the dedicated forest officials. They bring home elephants who are mishandled by their mahouts and elephants who are disbanded from a herd. We took a tour through the waterways of the Sanctuary on the speedboat.

We halted at the starting point of the trek that leads to some of the interiors of the Neyyar Wildlife Sanctuary. All around the resthouse was a deep pit, constructed so as to deter elephants from entering into the area. The warden came to know it was my birthday and we celebrated with a cup of tea and some Lay's Magic Masala.

Photo of Neyyar Wildlife Sanctuary, Mayam, Vazhichal, Kerala, India by Salim Islam

We headed back to Trivandrum after sun down. Rahul, along with is friend, was waiting so that we could book the same hotel. I don't know why but we asked around 15 hotels but they refused to let out a room to us on the pretext of either being full or being a family only hotel. When at last we managed to find one, we had a choice of either letting Rahul's Guatemalan friend go back to her hostel as she wasn't carrying her passport or what we actually did. I called up JK and asked for his help in looking for a hotel, but JK, as generous as he is, invited the 5 of us to his home. We ended up spending 2 more days at JK's.

Next on our list was a hike to Meenmutty waterfalls and from thereon to Ponmudi. Got off the KSRTC bus at Kallar and hikes for around 2-2.5 kms through a well guided trail through a forest and alongside the Kallar river. It was a decent hike coupled with scenic surroundings, however, I would suggest that one should avoid it during the weekends. Buses on this route are not as frequent as you would like them to be, more so when you are hard pressed for time. We waited for quite some time and we finally struck a deal with a taxi to take us and drop us back. Little did we know the driver was still under training and probably had never driven in the hills. You can imagine our condition on the 22 hair-pin turns that the taxi had to take to reach Ponmudi.

Photo of Ponmudi, Kerala, India by Salim Islam

Surrounded by dense forest and tea plantations, the sights from the Golden Peak at Ponmudi are astonishing. Long grass and small protruding rocks add to the beauty of the peak. The clouds swoop in and out in quick succession leaving you content and in awe. We spent some time until the peak was closed for the day and we were driven back to Trivandrum. We had some beers at a bar and ate some lovely chicken and mutton dishes at the famous Buhari hotel well past midnight.

We bade farewell to the brilliant JK and took a general-ticket train ride to Varkala. An hour-long train ride we hired an auto and it took us to Kerala Bamboo House on the northern-cliff of Varkala. Since it was off-season, we got a large room for 4 at INR 1000 a night. In the course of our stay at Varkala we came across only a handful of tourists and the whole cliff-edge wore a deserted look. And that's where the fun lies.

The dark clouds were nearing the cliffs, engulfing the blue sky bit by bit. Overcast and beautiful, we walked along the cliff towards the northern end, stopping at small beaches rocky shores to feed our insatiable need to marvel at the unruly sea. I saw a couple of men from afar, near the palm trees, throwing baits into water. On closer inspection, I realised they were fishing, with a single line, judging only by the vibration in their hands. He told me that he and his friend are welders and they come here twice a day to catch some fish. A sincere hobby for the past 15 years. He asked me to come over at noon the next day so that he could teach me how to fish like them.

Shikha had joined us the earlier night. Next morning we strolled along the cliff-line and the shore-line of Varkala and as far as we could. Had our breakfast of set-dosas and banana fry (try only if you are a fan of bananas) and hopped on a bus to our cottage. Bought some coconut water to the dismay of Shikha as she was expecting rock bottom prices (INR 30 apiece). Lazed around for the day overlooking the sea over and some savoury dishes. I went to learn the art of line-fishing but didn't manage to catch one. Though it was an experience I shall not forget. Just before the sunset we let the sea soak our skin and enjoyed every bit of its salty Furore.

Photo of Varkala, Kerala, India by Salim Islam
Photo of Varkala, Kerala, India by Salim Islam
Photo of Varkala, Kerala, India by Salim Islam
Photo of Varkala, Kerala, India by Salim Islam

We decided to give Alleppey a skip as it was too touristy and focussed on the lesser-known Kumarakom instead. We took a bus to Alleppey and from thereon to Kumarakom. We put at a heritage residency Tharavadu. Though we asked for the cheapest rooms in the annexe, The owner asked the manager to give us a four-bedded room inside the main complex at a heavily discounted rate. Tharavadu is a destination in itself. More than 200 years old, the walls and the floors reek of heritage; the gravel layered courtyard, the finely trimmed climbers, waterways running along the boundary walls and a set of nice hammocks to fulfill your lust for leisure.

Photo of THARAVADU HERITAGE HOME, Kottayam, Kerala, India by Salim Islam

Houseboats were a strict no-no for us. We planned on hiring a canoe to ply through the channels but we discovered that to have a feel of the backwaters one doesn't need to have a private ride. The government boat jetty was just 100 metres from Thadavadu and we boarded the passenger ferry to Muhamma. The ride was INR 10/person and it took us on a 40 minute long ride through the small canals and then through the widest length of the Vembanad lake to the Muhamma jetty. A feeling like this can only be experienced; the wide glassless windows, the wooden seats, the flavour of travelling with the locals in a rusty boat with the sight of fisherman on the lake casting their nets while the sun set over the tree-line on the edge of the lake. We strolled for a bit in Muhamma and caught the last ferry back to Kumarakom and we experienced the waters again, but this time, in complete darkness.

Photo of Muhamma, Kerala, India by Salim Islam

Next I moved upwards towards Munnar and other places. Till my next post......

2 Comment(s)
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nice place to visit... Visit : hairandbeyond2016.blogspot.com/
Thu 09 15 16, 04:55 · Reply · Report
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Juliet Kilo
Well written!!
Sun 08 09 15, 02:36 · Reply · Edit · Delete ·
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