Kerala, the “God‘s own country” has always fascinated me. The lush green landscape interspersed with brownish red laterite blocks, and the soothing calm the rivers and the backwaters infuse into the atmosphere has always seemed alluring and inviting. Add to this, the “skyline” predominantly dominated by lanky coconut trees, swaying lazily in the sea breeze, a gentle reminder that sometimes it is ok to take things slowly, relish every moment and not rush past every experience just to get to the “pot of gold at the end of the rainbow”. After all, life is but a collage of experiences gained in that wonderful journey, and as they say, it is sometimes the journey and not the destination that matters!
Conceived more than a year in advance, the trip materialised only in July 2013. A trip that started off with high hopes – the first solo trip spanning eight days covering the cities from Kasargode in the North of Kerala to Kochi in central Kerala.
Plans sometimes remain just that, plans! Despite browsing and making notes of routes, itineraries and calls through friends, Wayanad and Kasargod were not to materialise. So, the trip came down to 5 days. Kannur, Calicut, Thrissur, Kochi and surrounding villages. At least, that what was I had assumed while setting out of the home.
With a bare sketch of an itinerary in place, a couple of tickets in hand and a slight knot forming inside the stomach, I stood at Chennai Central, staring at Mangalore Mail, the train that would take me to Kannur on my first trip to Kerala! It was time……
DAY 0 – TRAIN
An hour into the journey, it struck me! I had no clue how big Kannur was!! I had no clue how the people were!! No information on transportation!! And worst of all, I know NO ONE in Kannur. What on earth was I thinking when I booked the tickets and what the hell was I thinking when I boarded the train!!!!!!!! With these on the side, I was hoping for the best at Kannur.
DAY 1 – KANNUR
Reached Kannur (Cannanore) at about 5.30 am on July 3. A cool, rain-drenched overcast morning was one of the best welcomes I could have expected to get! Thanks to Prashob, a fellow traveller on the train, I was now armed with the addresses of a couple of hotels/resorts that were reasonably good. He further warned me that the auto guys could fleece me early in the day, charging me 3o rupees for a rather short ride! And THAT is a steal by Chennai standards!!!!!
Anyway, thanks to a helpful traffic policeman, I could get an auto to check out the “Palmgrove resort” near the Cantonment area. Screw my luck, the gates were locked at 7 am!! A song playing on the local radio (from inside the watchman’s cabin) was the only sign of life in the place! Ten minutes of hollering out having yielded no result, I decided to take a walk, n look around a bit! With some helpful army jawans out on a jog there, I could locate “Mascot Hotel” overlooking Baby beach!
Before someone gets misled, “baby beach” is no beach! It is a rocky coast line with roads at about 15-20’ above the water! This, however, could provide a wonderful sunset view, and seems to be a local haunt, from the number of college-goers who seem to frequent the place in cars late in the evening!! (wink!)…!
The locality also has the Govt guest house quite close to the light house, a very nice place by the beach! This, however, has to be booked in advance from Trivandrum (a custom I could not understand why!!!), if you need a room there! This also implies that the place isn’t quite suited for an impulsive backpack trip!!!!
Having checked out the options, the rates inclusive, the Mascot seemed to be the most reasonable, a beach facing double bed room for Rs 1200/- (off season rates!) was a great way to start the trip! Having heard of the legendary monsoons of Kerala, I got to experience it first hand, where the climate, a nice relaxed morning with moist wind turned an ominous grey, with threatening dark clouds rumbling towards the hotel! This turned into a howling storm in no time! One of the scariest parts of the trip, to be honest!
For someone from Chennai, heavy rain is something where there is a continuous pitter patter, and the roads become canals, more because of the drainage issues than the volume of rain in itself! The monsoon is experienced at Kannur was a complete new! A howling storm which temporarily blacked out the 8 am sun so much that it seemed like 6 pm! Tired from the train ride, and distracted by tv, I was brought to reality by a chopper hovering very close!!! A chopper??!??! Well, that’s what I had though, until I saw the wind vane/wind mill/anemometer swirl at such a speed that I could not see the rudders and could hear the “chopper” din through the sealed glass windows!!!!!
That was a scary sight, to say the least! A tentative walk to into the hotel s restaurant revealed completely barren seats, save for a couple of guys, the only other guests staying at the hotel that time!I pretty much had the whole floor to myself!
Anyway, a light breakfast helped bide my time until the monster gusts let up, and fizzled into a drizzle I could walk out into! Kannur, the cantonment part I stayed at, is a nice, quiet place. An ideal location to escape the bustle and din, be it your own city, or that of the main Kannur town or the market street brimming with bakeries of all sizes!
The most famous attractions within the city, the St Angelo s Fort and the Palace lie less that 4 km from the fork which splits off to the cantonment. (The cantonment is about 2.5 km from the fork). Needless to mention, the walk in the drizzle was more than what I could ask for! Simply put, it was blissful. The first place on the itinerary was the St Angelo’s Fort. Located at about 4km from the afore mentioned fork, this place is walkable if you have the time for it! The buses on Kannur, actually all of Kerala are a scary lot!! So, if you are going to walk, you had better watch your back!
St Angelo’s Fort.
Situated at a rather isolated place, the entrance could be easily missed since the way to the entrance is a small lane that splits off from the main road. (The main road ends in Army grounds, something that is off limits to civilians, I suppose!) With an unhindered view of the Arabian Sea, this is a wonderful place to be during the monsoons. The small cliffs and the ramparts are breathtakingly beautiful, albeit a slightly scary place to be, especially when there are heavy gusts of wind threatening to blow you off! Maybe it was the rains, but the fort was a rather empty, but for a bunch of college kids working on a photography assignment! A nice place for photography, indeed!To anyone interested in visiting the place, do carry water with you. It is quite a walk since you end up walking on an uneven terrain! A little walk (read approx. 3km) from the Angelo s Fort leads one to the Arakkal Palace. This is supposed to be the Royal House of the erstwhile Arakkal Dynasty.An interesting point here is that the Arakkal Dynasty is a kingdom/dynasty with women rulers! The matriarch was called Arakkal Beevi.
A casual tourist might actually walk/drive past the palacewithout actually finding a hint of the same! The palace is a worn out looking building bang in the middle of the road, without any sort of signage or pomp one would associate with a Royal Palace. A slight hint, if at all is the presence of a bunch of foot wear outside the main door. The palace, like most buildings here, doesn’t quite have a boundary/compound wall and opens out to the street.
For markers sake, the palace is right opposite to the petrol bunk just after the curve in the road that leads away from the Angelo’s fort, and beyond the municipal hospital! The interior of the palace, however, will transport the visitor to a different world in a matter of minutes! All one would need are the royal costumes, and lo, you have travelled around 300 years into the by-gone era! Not many places can transport a clueless visitor! The board/trust maintaining the palace have done a good job of maintaining the artefacts in good shape! All the walk does make one hungry and I was no exception. Without a clue as to which restaurant to go to, and with rain pouring outside the palace, I was stuck in there with a growling stomach!
A couple of radio journalists doing a show on the palace dropped me off closer to the city junction and suggested I head to a restaurant called “oandhen’s”. Not very far from the junction and the cantonment, the restaurant is located in the intertwining gullies of the market district of Kannur! Despite the location, in a rather seedy by-lane, the hotel seemed to be teeming, with patrons patiently awaiting their turn at the tables!!! This was one of the most sumptuous meals I had in the entire trip! A meal of amazing Kerala rice, with fish curry and fish fry was just too good to be true.! This, and price was surreal!!! Anyone visiting Kannur should make it a point to visit Oandhen’s for lunch!
A lazy stroll through the market followed the lunch. The market has one dominant flavour, almost throughout the entire stretch – bakeries. The aroma of the baked goods assault your sense with such force that it is very hard to resist giving into guilty pleasures and stuff oneself with the amazing baked goodies! Pulling myself back from the market street, I headed to the hotel for some much-needed rest!
The evening post a quiet tea overlooking the rough beach was followed by a walk to the Payynapalam beach! This was a rather long and a lonely walk, something I wouldn’t suggest, more so on a rainy evening! The entrance to the beach is located at the end of a cul-de-sac road! What looks like a park s entrance actually leads to the beach as well, although across a cemetery!
The beach and another walk to the market ended the day at Kannur. The night at the mascot was quite unforgettable..! With just two guests including me, the entire place was empty. The lighthouse in the distance was casting a glow into the room at a regular interval worsened the atmosphere which already eerie thanks to the blackout. This, along with the incessant sound of the waves crashing into the rocks on the beach was a lullaby I wouldn’t forget! It was scary, soothing and a little weird, all at once! The next day would be a day of bus rides. One day, three cities, two bus rides and a beach!
Day 2: KANNUR – KOZHIKODE – KOCHI.
The start to the day was more than ideal. With the hotel sponsored breakfast coming in handy for the bus ride ahead, the sunny morning encouraged a walk across the mascot hotel property! Nice place indeed, with a small passage leading from the lawn to the pool a little away from the main hotel! This passage, however, was right on the cliff over-looking the crashing waves, a rather scary sight when the monsoon unleashes her fury!
With this little walk around, I left for the bus depot. Kannur, I must say has some really honest auto guys, and the bus depots was one of the cleanest I have seen! Boarding one of the many multi coloured private buses plying in the route, I set off for Calicut. Although the original plan was to get the passenger train that plies between the cities (to help photograph the rural areas of kerala), the maniacal bus rides was an altogether a different experience. Something that made up for the missed out train ride!
Leaving Kannur by about 1030-1100, the bus trundled along until out of the city, and then the drive anything but slow. The maniacal drive, while scary, was actually enjoyable especially with the intermittent showers, the lush vegetation, the muddy rivers, and red laterite blocks on the roads! An interesting palette of colours, but beautiful in their own right! The route passes through Mahe, one of the 4 parts of Pondicherry, and needless to mention, the boards of the bars and the booze outlets preceded the name board announcing the start of Mahe.!
Calicut was on the itinerary for just one reason – Hotel Paragon. One of their preparations, the kerala parotta – mango fish curry was something to die for, or so I was told! I had to find out for myself! Guess it would suffice to say that the four hour bus ride was worth the effort! Post lunch, without any agenda, the nearest place to head to, was the beach.
With a decent crowd of tourists and college goers, I suppose I was the joker there, with my attire in shorts and sneakers, a huge back pack along with a smaller laptop bag up front and a camera bag dangling down the side.! Having provided a few girls their amusement with my “costume”, I decided to head to kappad beach and beypore beach.
Kappad beach is apparently the place where Vasco-da-Gama landed at Calicut to meet and trade with the Zamorins. The rest, as all know, is history. The Beypore, on the other hand is a place where traditional wooden boat making happens to date! These two places are on the agenda for the next Calicut visit, whenever that is!!! The next part of the itinerary was not too clear. Having decided on Kochi after a long contemplation, the Volvo I boarded lumbered out of Calicut!
The second bus ride of the day was the most spontaneous one! With ETA at Kochi being 12 midnight, I had not a clue on where to get off from the bus, let alone find a place! This however was solved by a co-passenger in the bus! Roshan, as I later found his name to be, offered to help me find a place for the night! And, I did find a decent place to crash at, for just about Rs 400/- at Kakkanad area in Kochi!
Day 3 – KOCHI
Lazy morning was more than welcome, especially after the previous day’s travel. Three meals in three different towns. While being fun, it was a bit tiring. With breakfast done, the first plan of the day was to get to the famous Chotanikkara temple. A bus ride from where I had put was a rather easy one. With a change of buses at Thirpunthra, I was on my way to the famous temple.
Post the temple visit, the Hill museum was the next stop. The Hill Museum at Tripunithra which was Kerala’s first heritage museum for the royal collection of the erstwhile Maharaja of Kochi is now the largest archaeological museum in Kerala.
The sprawling complex has several buildings of the traditional Kerala Architecture housing some interesting artefacts ranging from those that were used by the Maharaja to historically significant ones. The one artefact that I would love to mention is a Bible that is supposedly written in Aramaic! However, photography was not allowed within the main exhibit area.
A good couple of hours later, I was off to the main part of Ernakulam town. A stroll on the main promenade, and I was on my way to the Ernakulam Boat Jetty. With my return ticket not due until a couple of days later, the tentative plan was to visit Fort Kochi the following morning, and head a little out of town the next morning to the nearby villages.
A relaxed evening at the marine drive was somewhat intruded upon by a phone call. A friend who had called to make sure I was ok, made sure that he informed me that my ticket was due a day earlier (the confusion in dates caused by the timings, since it was a midnight train). This also meant, I had cut short my trip by a day, and the plans to head into the rural areas around Kochi were down the drain! A back-up plan of trying to visit Fort Kochi that very evening failed since it was a little too late already. Shifting to a hotel much closer to the train station and relatively closer to Fort Kochi, the day came to a close with a sumptuous meal of parotta and traditional fish curry.
Day 4 – FORT KOCHI
Also, the technically the last day of the trip, since I had to get the midnight train to get back to Chennai. All attempts at rescheduling the return trip went naught since there was no tickets available, as expected.
Although there was an exhaustive list of things-to-do and places-to-visit in Kochi, the changes in plan made implied that there was time for no more than a fraction of the itinerary. Fort Kochi was on top, with the main attraction being the Chinese Fishing Nets.
Me being lazy as I am, I never managed to make it to Fort Kochi at 5 am to see the nets in action. The only hope was to see it in the evening against the setting western sun. But before that happens, I would have to cover the Fort Kochi and its yet another famous attraction, the Jewish Synagogue.
Fort Kochi is a 45 minute drive by bus from Ernakulam boat jetty, and at half way mark, I realised I was wearing shorts. With this being the last day of the trip, I dint want to miss out on seeing the Synagogue on account of being inadequately dressed. Got off the bus midway and rushed back to the hotel, to change and head out to Fort Kochi. However, this wasn’t going to be all.
Having reached the place at about 11, a little later than I had hoped, I walked a bit and reached the Jew Street. With no sign of a Synagogue, the locals pointed me to a small cul-de-sac. The end of which was supposed to be the destination. It wasn’t until I got there did I realise that they were closed to public on Sabbath, and Saturdays, incidentally was a Sabbath day. So, all my antics of running back to change was no more than a waste of time!!! Couldn’t have asked for a more awesome start to the last day of a truncated trip!!!!!! With a few parting shots at the outside of the Synagogue and the Jew Street, I headed off towards Mattancherry Palace.
Mattancherry Palace was a feast to the eyes.. The murals were amazing and worth the time spent there! Once out of the Palace, the famed Chinese fishing nets were visible from the boat jetty nearby. A little bit of a walk in Fort Kochi through led to the St Francis Church where Vasco da Gama was buried initially. A lazy stroll from there to the fort Kochi beach and then onto the Santa Cruz Bascilica later, I was back at Ernakulam jetty area for lunch and a bit of a rest back in the hotel room.
Another trip to the Fort Kochi, this time in the evening was the last bit of the itinerary before I set out to Chennai. This one, unlike the ride earlier in the day, was by the ferry, saving time. A pleasing walk along Fort Kochi beach and the Chinese nets were a fitting end finale to the trip. The setting sun with the purple horizon and the distant twinkling of lights were a sight! With the train scheduled at 12 midnight, I had about 6 hours to while away.
A walk toward the boat jetty led me Dosas and Pancakes. A sumptuous dinner of prawn puttu having gobbled down while being drowned in some lovely music played by a live band, I was back in a bus with a rather heavy heart to the hotel to pack my bags. A short chat with the hotel staff and I was on my way to the train station to board the train. Waiting for the train in the middle of the night, I couldn’t help but ruminate on the few days that rushed by.
The trip that was planned to span 8 days, shortened to 5, and barely lasting four days had its share of disappointments; not getting to roam around Calicut, not going to Kasargode or Wayanad; not having time to check out the famed backwaters of Kerala. It was, however a trip that made me realise, sometimes going out alone isn’t so bad either. From talking pathetic Malayalam to auto guys, to stopping over at a town just to have food at a particular restaurant, to making friends on totally unplanned bus rides, random hitch hikes, meeting a Tamil speaking family a little far from home, the trip did have its own share of quiet highlights..
Maybe, it is how trips are meant to be… To be incomplete; to leave the gnawing feeling of wanting to go again, to relish the aroma of the monsoon on the wet roads, yearn for the sounds of the waves crashing on the rocky beach, the beautiful voice of silence on the Marine drive late into the night. Maybe, I would get another chance to go to Kerala again, to experience these again and more new things for the first time.
This trip was originally published on thetransientsoul