Introduction to Kerala (God’s own Country)
Kerala is aptly named God’s own Country and for a good reason too. Kerala is a state in South-Western India and houses close to 3% of India’s population. Majority of the people are of Malayali ethnicity with Malayalam being the official language in the state. Kerala ranks highest in India in the Social Development index in terms of literacy (94%) and life expectancy (81 years). It also boasts of a higher female to male sex ratio 1084:1000 (Source Wikipedia). The state is famously known for Ayurveda, which draws an increasing number of medical tourists every year.
“Kera” in Malayalam means coconut. The story book meaning of Kerala is “the land of coconuts”. As Kerala is plentiful with coconut trees, it expectedly got the name Kerala. Since Kerala is a coastal area, the best time to visit it is between November to February.
What makes Kerala God’s own Country is its blessed location. It is nestled between the pristine waters of the Arabian Sea on the west and the lush Western Ghat Mountains on the east. Its intense network of rivers, thick forests, emerald backwaters and long stretches of serene beaches make it a traveler’s paradise.
Places to See in Kerala (God’s own Country)
I’ve visited God’s own Country twice (for long vacations) and have toured the significant tourist spots in the state. As a tourist state it offers everything; from the cool hills and forest trails to the pristine beaches and calm backwaters. The sheer beauty of this state left a lasting impression on me. During my tour, I visited the following places.
Cochin/ Kochi is the gateway to God’s own Country. It mainly serves as a stopover destination in Kerala. Cochin is a busy thriving city and a day’s trip is sufficient to cover the touristy spots here. It is easy to get to Cochin as there are a lot of flights and trains that cater to the city. Most of the tourists who want to explore Cochin prefer to stay around Fort Kochi area. Please note that Fort Kochi is around 40 km away from the airport so it takes roughly around two hours to reach over here. Likewise, it takes 45 minutes to travel the 15 km distance from Ernakulam Railway Station to Fort Kochi.
As mentioned above, tourists prefer to stay around Fort Kochi for sightseeing. If you are in Fort Kochi, here are a few things that you can do.
Dutch Palace, Fort Emmanuel, Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica, St. Francis Church and The Jewish Synagogue are some of the areas around Fort Kochi that can be explored. After a whole day spent walking around Fort Kochi, the best way to unwind is by attending a local performance at Kerala Kathakali Centre, located near the Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica. You will get to see not only Kathakali (the ancient dance form of the region) but also Kalaripayattu, (an ancient form of Indian martial arts).
Take a stroll along the Fort Kochi Beach in the evening and have a look at the Chinese fishing nets. They are an elaborate mechanism towering over a wooden board covered with massive nets. It is quite interesting to see the fishermen raising these nets to haul the catch of the day.
While in God’s own Country, I was mainly interested in sea food. For eating out in Cochin, I will recommend the Fort House Restaurant and Mary’s Kitchen. Both are located around Fort Kochi. Please note that Fort Kochi is a huge area and you will need to have a pre-booked taxi or a local auto to cover the sights.
Munnar in God’s own Country is a hill station located in the Idukki district of Kerala. It is situated at a height of 5200 feet above sea level. The climate remains pleasant throughout the year but it can get cold during winter. The hill station hardly witnesses any snowfall and tourists throng Munnar in December during Christmas and New Year. The only way to get to Munnar is by road. It is approximately 130 km away from Cochin and takes around 4-5 hours on road to reach there.
There are a lot of sights to see in Munnar. It is not possible to see all of them in 2-3 days as it can take a couple of hours drive to reach these places. When I visited Munnar I stayed at central location next to the town. The best hotel to stay in Munnar is the KTDC Tea County Resort. Though a little expensive, it is worth it because of its location and accessibility. During my two day stay in Munnar, I visited the following places:
a.) Tata Tea or KDHP Museum:
This museum is located in the Nallathanni Estate of Tata Tea and is 2 km from away Munnar. It showcases a 30 minute documentary of the museum to take you through a historical sojourn of the place. Tourists then proceed to the factory to understand how tea is processed.
b.) Blossom Park:
At a location of 3km distance from Munnar, Blossom Park is spread across an area of 18 acres. This place is famous for water cycling, boating and skating. It is abundant with a wide variety of flora. You will also be able to sport tree houses and ropeways in some areas of the park.
c.) Atukkad Waterfalls:
About 2 km away from Munnar, the road to Atukkad is very narrow and will require the services of an experienced driver. However, the journey is worth it and once you reach the place you will be awestruck by the pristine waterfall and scenic beauty.
d.) Top Station:
The location of Top Station is 32 kilometers away from the city center. This is the highest point in Munnar and also one of its most beautiful destinations in the hill station of God’s own Country. You can enjoy the panoramic view of the majestic Western Ghats and the tea gardens from here. With its low-lying clouds and rich foliage, Top Station is a sensory experience in itself.
e.) Mattupetti Dam:
Location of Mattupetti Dam 13 km off Munnar at 1700m above the sea level. It is a photographer’s paradise and very popular with tourists and locals for activities like speed boating and horse riding.
I visited only five places in Munnar to avoid rushing through all the sites. Plan properly to cover all these places at leisure without fatigue. Amongst the restaurants in Munnar, I will only recommend a vegetarian restaurant called Saravana Bhavan. The food in the other restaurants was okay and nothing special.
Thekkady is a distance of 91 km from Munnar and it takes 3-4 hours to reach here. This area in God’s own Country is also known as Periyar and sometimes called Kumily too.
This place is famous for its wildlife sanctuary. The Tiger Periyar Reserve is located here. There are three hotels located inside this reserve i.e. KTDC Aranya Nivas, KTDC Lake Palace and a budget accommodation KTDC Periyar House. I strongly recommend any of these hotels for their location and accessibility. Make sure you reach hotel before 5 PM as entrance will be closed after this.
There is not much to do here except explore the wildlife sanctuary. Most of areas around the sanctuary are restricted. I am not really a fan of long hot and humid walks. So the best way to explore the area is to go on a boat. The boat will explore the Wildlife Sanctuary all the way through the Periyar Lake. One can see wild animals along the banks of the lake bathing, drinking and taking a rest. You may also spot wild elephants playing with their calves in the lake. Mullapperiyar dam can also be seen during this boat ride. Please note that you can see Mullapperiyar dam and the Periyar wildlife sanctuary only during boating as these places cannot be accessed by road.
KTDC is operating the boat service. There are five trips with duration of one and a half hours each. The timings are 7.30 a.m. to 9 a.m., 9.30 a.m. to 11 a.m., 11.15 a.m. to 12.45 p.m., 1.45 p.m. to 3.15 p.m. and 3.30 p.m. to 5 p.m. Getting the ticket for the boat service is a major pain. The ticket cost is Rs. 150 per person. However, you will find long serpentine queues at the boating area. By the time, you are done with the trip; half the day is gone.
You have the option to buy a ticket in advance at the KTDC Lake Palace Hotel. However, the same ticket will cost you Rs. 500/-. Yeah, I am not kidding. I bought my tickets in advance and felt it was worth it because I practically saved half my day. However, when you are paying three times the extra fare, it does pinch you. Nowadays there is a website called http://www.periyarfoundation.org/ where you can do online booking of tickets. The ticket here costs Rs. 225 per adult.
The other place that we visited here was the Elephant Park. We had a delightful afternoon taking the elephant ride. They also allow you to bathe the elephant and take an elephant shower. However, we did not have the courage to do it because the water was very dirty. Surprisingly, a lot of tourists were indulging in it.
Amongst the restaurants in Thekkady, I will recommend “Our Place”. Over our two-three days travel across God’s own Country, we were totally “curried” out and wanted something different. This restaurant offers British/ European style food. The portions are great although a little pricey and the food is prepared by the owner himself. Another restaurant that I can recommend is “Ambadi” Over here I stuck with South-Indian cuisine and the food was mouth-wateringly delicious.
Kerala is famous for its backwaters. Popular places like Kumarakom and Alleppey are the main reason why tourists flock to God’s own Country. I did not get a chance to stay in Alleppey as I chose Kumarakom. This sleepy little village is thriving with luxurious resorts and five star hotels. The idea behind visiting this place is to enjoy a relaxed luxurious vacation with no sense of time.
Kumarakom is located 16 km away from the city of Kottayam. It is set in the backdrop of Vembanad lake, the largest lake in God’s own Country. It takes about two hours on the road (80 kms) to reach here from Cochin International Airport. From Thekkady it takes around 3-4 hours on road (132 kms) to get here.
We stayed at the Manor Backwaters Resort in Kumarakom. Not a very high end luxurious hotel, but it’s a decent resort with a swimming pool and lovely views of the Vembanad Lake. At the time of booking, make sure you specifically book rooms with a lake facing view. Catch the sparkling views of the lake during sunrise and sunset.
Vembanad Lake is the main reason why people tourists flock to Kumarakom. Most hotels are built around it giving a perfect view of this rippling water throughout the day. Lot of these hotels has their own jetty to cater to tourist houseboats. Branches of backwater run from Vembanad lake further inside the villages. These backwaters can be enjoyed by taking a boat ride which is available at the boat jetty near KTDC resort. There are travel agencies across the main road to help with the booking. Most hotels have their own tie-ups and can arrange the booking for you if requested.
a.) House Boat:
House boats are a major attraction in any Kerala trip. One should experience the luxury of a hotel room on a boat while traversing the serene Vembanad lake or the canal like backwaters linking the lake. The houseboat can be rented for a full day, half day or even for few hours but there will not be much difference in the charges. However, I strongly advise the readers to rent the houseboat only for half day and avoid an overnight stay.
It’s a bad idea to stay in a houseboat overnight. Out of the 21 hours, the houseboat sails for around 5 hours and the rest of the evening/ night it is docked at the banks. The houseboats are not allowed to venture into the lake at night. There is no view to watch at night. You will be wondering what to do the entire evening and night sitting in the boat’s room. With the boatman and helper on board, there will hardly be any privacy as well.
It will be a little tedious but make sure to check the quality of the houseboat before booking it. Avoid online booking of houseboats. Take your time, explore around Kumarakom and then book a houseboat. You will need to haggle a bit for the right price. We hired a one bedroom houseboat for Rs. 6000/- for day trip of four hours inclusive of lunch for four adults. As a thumb rule, if you are staying in a luxury resort, try booking the houseboat through them. Even though you will pay extra, the quality of the houseboat will be good.
b.) Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary:
The bird sanctuary is located adjacent to KTDC resort. It is spread across 14 acres and is home to different varieties of bird. If you want to spot birds, try visiting the sanctuary early morning. One is free to walk alone to explore the sanctuary. However, guided tours are also available during early mornings.
In Kumarakom, we dined at two places. One is “The Waterside” at Karma Chakra Resort and the other is “Grannery” at the Whispering Palms Resort. We stuck with the local Keralan cuisine and it was by far the best that we ate. The ambience and view of both these places also add value to the dining atmosphere.
During our repeated visits to God’s own Country we also happened to stay in Kollam which is a famous sea port on the Laccadive sea cost of Kerala. Kollam city is situated on the banks of Ashtamudi lake. This lake is also very famous for its backwaters and houseboat cruises.
The distance between Cochin and Kollam is 140 km (4 hours drive). The nearest airport to Kollam is the Trivandrum airport which is around 80 km (two hours drive). In Kollam, we stayed at Club Mahindra Resort situated at the banks of Lake Ashtamudi.
Kollam is an ideal destination for tourists who only want to enjoy the backwaters and beaches in God’s own Country. Its proximity to Trivandrum city and the beaches of Varkala (40 km) and Kovalam (91 km) gives it an advantage for tourists to put up at one point without changing hotels. We tried that by staying in Club Mahindra Ashtamudi for five nights. During our stay, we spent one day visiting Varkala beach and the other day visiting Kovalam beach while also enjoying the backwaters at Ashtamudi.
a.) Canoe Trip:
The best way to explore the shady inland waterways in the backwaters of Kollam is to do a Munroe Island Country Craft cruise. The eight arms or channels of the Ashtamudi Lake are a gateway to the backwaters. We did the backwater cruise booking through DTPC (DISTRICT TOURISM PROMOTION COUNCIL KOLLAM). Their office is located on Jetty Road, Kollam and is quite easy to find. We paid Rs. 1200/- for two people and had a whole canoe to ourselves with the boatman doubling up as a guide.
The cruise is nice and in some places the sites are breathtakingly beautiful. You are once again reminded why Kerala is called God’s own Country. The cruise lasts over 2.5 hours. The Canoe is small and can go down all the tiny canals where the other boats cannot go. It moves along at a quiet, leisurely pace. You get to meet local people and see everyday life close up. Remember to duck when you float under bridges. We visited a local tea shop and a coir rope making workshop. We enjoyed many sights of the backwaters including rice paddies, prawn farms, cashew plants and more.
6.) Kovalam and Varkala beaches
No trip to Kerala is complete without visiting the beaches of God’s own Country. The beaches of Kovalam and Varkala are famous in Kerala although they will pale in comparison with the never ending beaches of Goa. Kovalam is more popular amongst tourists. You will see a row of hotels, ayurvedic salons and eateries lined along the beach front. To stay in Kovalam, I will recommend Hotel Samudra KTDC. Although the rooms look a little dated for the price you pay, it is dot on the money as far as location and comfort is concerned.
Kovalam is about 10 km away from Trivandrum International Airport. Its 17 km coastline comprises three beaches; Lighthouse beach, Hawah beach and Samudra beach.
The Lighthouse beach is very popular with tourists but also very crowded. To capture spectacular views of the Arabian Sea and the beach you can visit the 30 meter tall Vizhinjam Lighthouse situated here. The lighthouse is open from 10am to 5 pm on all days except Monday.
Hawah Beach also known as Eve’s beach derives its name from topless European women who used to sun bathe here. Although topless sun bathing is no longer allowed, there are resorts that offer their customers private areas for the same. The beach otherwise is quite nice and serene with relatively lesser crowd as compared to Lighthouse beach.
Samudra beach lies on the northern side of the beach stretch. A large promontory seperates this beach from the above two beaches. Since the beach is a little cut off it is more secluded. I found myself enjoying more on this beach as compared to the other two beaches. However, be mindful of the sea waves because they can get quite rough. The sea waves on the other two beaches are relatively much gentler.
Varkala is about 1.5 hours (42 km) away from Trivandrum airport. It is essentially a back-packer’s paradise and a hippy haven in God’s own Country. Papanasm is the name of the beach in Varkala. Papanasm means washing away your sins. So essentially of you want to do away with all the evil in your life, go take a dip in the sea around Varkala beach ;-).
The beach is unique for its the red sand stone cliffs adjacent to the Arabian Sea. These cliffs offer the best sunset view in Kerala. Shops, restaurants and hotels dot the cliffs’ edge along with numerous water spouts and spas.
You cannot escape the hippie vibe here with dreadlocks and Bob Marley all over the place. This beach is quite popular with yogis. You’ll get to see lot of tourists practicing yoga on the beach during sunrise and sunset.
I personally loved the beach. In fact, I was ruing my decision to stay in Kovalam rather than Varkala. The sand is white, the vibe is chilled out and there is less intrusion. Swimming in the sea is quite an adventure as the waves are high and strong especially during sunset. However, it is perfect for tourists who are into surfing and body boarding. I enjoyed watching the surfers’ constant tug of war with the waves. I also saw some tourists doing paragliding from the edge of the cliffs.
While in God’s own Country, take your time to settle down in Kovalam and Varkala. Enjoy the rhythmic tone of the sea waves. Feel the flapping of the cold breeze of Arabian Sea against your skin. Rent a sun bed and lie down to watch people surfing, sunbathing, swimming and doing yoga on the beach. Treat yourself to an affordable Ayurvedic massage in one of the many salons around Kovalam and Varkala. Indulge your appetite with a cold beer and a variety of freshly cooked sea food in the open bar restaurants dotted along the Kovalam and Varkala beach stretch.
Trivandrum, also known as Thiruvananthapuram is the capital and largest city of Kerala. It is one of the IT hubs in India and a major source of employment to IT professionals. Trivandrum serves as a major tourist center because of its proximity to the beaches of Kovalam and Varkala and the backwaters of Poovar. This city in God’s own Country ranks among the best cities to stay in India. I did not stay in Trivandrum during my trip to Kerala but I took a day tour of the city from Kovalam before boarding my flight in the evening.
During the day trip I visited Veli Tourist Village before stopping over at Shanghumugham beach. Veli Tourist Village is a nice park with an inland lake. There is a floating KTDC restaurant on the lake where you can have lunch. There is an abundance of butterflies in this park and its good fun to watch them fly and settle on your body. This place is also teeming with swans and there was a family of them that kept on following my wife throughout the park. Within the park there is a bridge. If you cross it, you will get to see the view of the Arabian sea.
Padmanabhaswamy Temple is another place to be seen in Trivandrum. Located inside the East Fort in Trivandrum, this temple is a blend of the Kerala and Dravidian styles of architecture. It is one of the richest temples of South India and an architectural marvel. Unfortunately, I did not visit this place because of its strict dress code. Males can only wear “lungi (a sarong-like garment wrapped around the waist and extending to the ankles)” and they have to be shirtless. For women, sari is compulsory, no other option. My wife and I did not have the time and inclination for a dress change. In hindsight, I regret not going through with it because it’s not every day that you get to see such historical landmarks. Hence, I advise the readers to definitely consider visiting this temple if they are stopping over at Trivandrum.
is very close to the Trivandrum airport. This beach has red sand and is very different from the beaches of Kovalam and Varkala which have black and white sands. The waves were surprisingly gentle even though it was a cloudy day. I took a nice long stroll along this beach before bidding farewell to Kerala God’s own Country.
Transportation in kerala:
Kerala has a fairly robust transportation system. There are a host of cabs, autos and buses plying within the state. A single lone tourist will not face much problem using the local transportation at Kerala. However, if tourists visiting with families want to cover multiple destinations in God’s own Country over a certain timeline, they should always hire a private cab for the duration of the stay. Not only is it convenient for the tourist, but is a more viable option economically. Hiring a private cab in Kerala is quite convenient and affordable unlike Goa.
During my two trips to Kerala, I hired a TATA Indica AC for two people at Rs. 1100/- per day and Toyota Innova AC for four people at Rs. 1500/- per day. Both the cabs covered 100 km per day within the fare. So let’s say, if you were to hire a TATA Indica AC for ten days, you would be paying Rs. 11000/- for a total of 1000 km. In these ten days, with Kochi as your starting point, you can easily cover Munnar, Thekkady, Kumarakom and Kovalam.
There are a lot of online portals offering cab services in God’s own Country. You can also visit https://www.keralatourism.org/traveller-forum/ to get competitive quotes from taxi operators. Post your itinerary on the message board and the cab operators will reply to you.
I hope you found this article helpful in planning your Kerala trip. If you liked this article, share it with the people you know and post your valued thoughts in the comments section below.