Hubby and I were on a much-needed, much-awaited 6-day leisure trip to what the “Incredible India” advertisement portrays as the “Beaches and Backwaters” in “God’s Own Country”. There is much to write about our trip to Coastal Kerala but to do justice to what I saw, experienced and wish to share, I intend to distribute my writings over logical pieces.
To view other related writings, watch out for:
• Touched by the high tide and kissed by the sunset – on three different beaches in Coastal Kerala
• King and Queen of a Houseboat – 22 hrs on the backwaters of Alleppey
• A mix of religion, history and an incomplete wild-life safari – a day in Trivandurum
Day 1 (Saturday): Indigo 11:45 am flight from New Delhi to Kochi (Cochin), via Hyderabad. Economical and professional airlines. We checked into Hotel Excellency, M.G. Road and really loved the food that they offered. There buffet comprising of three non-vegetarian dishes for Rs. 99/- + taxes was an ultimate epicurean treat to my carnivorous taste buds.Another benefit of selecting this hotel was that we were at stone’s throw away from all prime places like the boat jetty managed by KTDC, the railway station, Marine Drive and the main market area on M.G. Road. The hotel is, however 35 kms away from the airport and we dished out a neat Rs. 465/- for a pre-paid cab to the hotel from the airport.
Day 3 (Monday): We took a 1.5 hrs train journey from Kochi (Ernakulum junction) to Allepey at 11:30 am. A good part of the morning was wasted as hubby had to rush to the Indian Airlines office to pre-pone our return air-ticket from Trivandurum to New Delhi. Indian Airlines had changed its schedule and had shifted our 2:55 pm ticket on Day 6, to a 6:15 am slot on Day 7. We didn’t want unnecessarily spend a night at Trivandurum, so we decided to cut short our trip by half a day and take the 6:15 am flight back home on Day 6. At Alleppey, we checked into the Arcadia Regency, a three-star business hotel with a rooftop swimming pool (max water level is 5.5 feet). A tidy place with complimentary buffet breakfast. We spent the evening at the Alleppey beach.
Day 4 (Tuesday): We wanted to catch the sunrise at Alleppey so we got up early and spent a good one hour admiring the beach. We came back to Arcadia Regency and had a quick buffet breakfast. And then we were all set for the highlight of our trip – the houseboat tour of Allepey backwaters. We booked a standard houseboat for Rs. 4000/- for two people with Gwyns Holidays and we had nothing to complain about during these 22 hrs.
Day 5 (Wednesday): Our houseboat trip culminated at Alleppey Finishing Point jetty at 9:30 am and we took a 4.5 hrs bus journey to Trivandurum. We didn’t have much choice of the mode of transport – the two available trains left at inconvenient hours (as per our schedule) – 7:00 am and 2:30 pm. A hired cab would have been an unnecessary expenditure, so we took the local Kerala state roadways bus, as no luxury buses plied on this route. Buses are also available directly to Kovalam.We reached Trivandurum by 2:30 pm and checked into a “suggested” hotel – Ariya Niwas. I personally developed an aversion to this hotel, because of poor service and insipid food. Hubby liked their South Indian thali served at lunch, and I could only like their mint-lime cooler.However, it was an economical hotel in a very central and well-connected location, walking distance from the bus-stop and railway station, and two major sight-seeing attractions. It is also only 9 kms from the airport and 16 kms from the Kovalam beach. We spent the evening at Velli Tourist village and the Shanghumugham beach.
Day 6 (Thursday): The last day of our trip was hectic, as we did covered local sight-seeing in Trivandurum till 3:00 pm, and then rushed to watch the sunset at Kovalam beach. In the morning we visited Padmanabha Swamy temple and the adjacent Padmabhapuram palace and then we took a 35 km tiring drive to Neyyar dam.
While we liked the view and visited a not-so-well-managed Crocodile farm, we were more disappointed with the lack of management of the wild-life safari tour planning that this area offers. And we were not alone in our disappointment; a big group of foreign tourists also were let down by larger than life tourism advertisments and lowly managed tourism services.
Day 7 (Friday): We took the 6:15 am Indian Airlines flight from Trivandurum to New Delhi via Kochi.
City auto drivers and their tricks: Unlike the Cochin and Alleppey, where the auto drivers were reasonable in their fare demands, Trivandarum like most big cities, have clever auto drivers, who know how to make money from travelers. As soon as we reached, Trivandurum, we asked the auto-walla to take as to Ariyan Niwas but he insisted that the hotel was expensive and he could get us a better deal at another hotel. The lure of saving on a trip got the better of us and we agreed to see the other hotel he mentioned. As we had suspected the hotel was reasonable because it was unhygienic, and smelly. When we asked the auto driver to take us back to Ariya Niwas he again offered to take us to another good place, but this time we refused to fall into the trap. Back at Ariya Niwas, the auto driver insisted on three-times the settled fare, quoting waiting charges and the extra distance covered as the reason for the elevated fare.
Auto drivers also become your local tour guides and try to settle a half-day or full-day tour deal. There is no problem in striking such a deal, especially if you are new to the city, but then you have time-constraints as well as pay a little bit more as “waiting” charges to the auto-driver. You can get a better deal on a one-way trip also instead of obliging the auto-drivers with “round-trip” deals.
Weather-watch: April was not the best season to venture into Coastal Kerela and the only reason hubby and I took up this trip in April was that we were had-pressed for time during prior months. Trivandarum was extremely humid and I was pestered by recurring headaches due to the stuffy heat. It was impossible to go outside during the day time and our trips to the beaches were reserved for early mornings or nearing sundown. Even in Cochin and Allepey the morning sun accompanied by the humidity was vehemently pestering. Our only respite was shady areas, boat tours and lots of fluid. Hotel rooms were still comfortable and we didn’t need the air-conditioner, except for in Trivandurum. But in the true spirit of travelers, we braved the oddity of the weather to make it a memorable trip.
Afterthought: My only regret in this entire trip is that we didn’t book a hotel by the Kovalam beach-side, because I wanted to spend a leisurely day sprawled by the beach-side. I still don’t feel cheated-out of the beach-side experience, because we were actually on the tale-end of the beach-season. The lifeguards at the Kovalam beach suggested that the best time to visit this area and enjoy its full-blown beauty is during December and January. So, I am hopeful that God’s Own Country will beckon me again.