It was the long weekend during Gandhi Jayanti of 2014. We had four off-days from office in our hand and were a group of four people to travel to a tourist destination around Bangalore. We decided to visit Kerala for a vacation and planned to visit Kochi, Allepy and Munnar on a road trip. We started from Bangalore late night at 11 pm of Wednesday and planned to reach Allepy by 11 am the next morning. We had booked a two bedroom house boat for a day. It cost us around 13k as it was a long weekend. On any normal weekend the price for a two bedroom house boat was around 10k in 2014.
The road till Coimbatore was awesome with wide and cleanly built highways. From Coimbatore till Palakkad the road condition is average and from Palakkad till Thrissur, the road is awful. As You cross Thrissur, the highway state improves and is a lot better till Kochi. One thing that you can notice as you drive across the roads of Kerala is the cultural difference of the villages of the state from other states. The villages and small cities that you pass along the highway are all very clean, colourful and well decorated which will remind of villages of the US in festive mood. There is discipline yet celebration tattooed on the skin of all the villages as if they were waiting just to welcome you to “God’s Own Country”.
You have to travel about 60 km from Kochi to reach Allepy (or Alappuzha as they call it). Allepy is a small and beautiful town with quite a number of tourists visiting the place mainly for the houseboats. We checked in our boat and were quite awe-struck looking at the well maintained and beautifully decorated house boat. The rooms were pretty clean and the houseboat had a good terrace area, spacious dining area and comfortable front porch of the boat where you can watch TV, Play Games or just get lost in the beauty of the backwaters of Kerala. They had three maintenance guys who took care of arrangement of welcome drinks, lunch, tea and snacks, dinner and breakfast with tea the other day. They take the boat across the back waters around the region which I must tell you is something very serene and pristine.
You also get to see the largest fresh water lake in the region called Vembanad Lake in the course of the cruise journey. They take you to a couple of small islands where you get to buy the famous Toddy( - Local liquor made out of sap of various species of Palm) and also fresh sea food. They anchor the cruise at around 5.30 in the evening at a shore and then you have the whole evening and night to party. We checked out the next day at around 11 noon and headed to Kochi. We visited the Jew Town and Synagogue(where we didn’t spend too much time) before heading to Fort Kochi where we had our lunch. Straight from Fort Kochi, we started for Munnar.
There are few other attractions in and around the city like the Chottanikkara Bhagavathy Temple, Folklore Museum, Santa Cruz Basilica etc which had to skip coz of lack of time in our hand. It takes about 5 to 6 hours on road to reach Munnar from Kochi.
As You approach Munnar, the drive become very scenic and the ghats meandering around steep and tall mountains. Make sure you are always on the main highway all the time as once you miss the route and go to a smaller/narrow road, you may get into a very tough and steep road ahead where you might get stuck and the drive on those horrible roads can be very dangerous. It happened to us and I can never forget those nervous moments when we had to wait for people in those haunted forests to help us take our car out of the ditch in one of the steepest hairpin bends. A small mistake there would have had our car(along with us) fall down the cliff from the 3000 feet high road. It was the night of Dussehra and I still thank Maa Durga for being with us in those terrible moments. And finally we reached Munnar(in fact a small village called Suryanelli) where we had booked a tree house for a couple of nights in a home stay. It was very late that night when we checked in our home stay and could hardly see the surroundings of our tree house.
The next morning when we regain our senses and look around, here is what we see. Our home stay was located right in the valley surrounded by the majestic Mountains of the south western Ghats. You can see green forests and tea gardens all around till the distance you can see. The enchanting beauty of the place was just so mesmerising that you could spend the whole day just sitting idle in the tree house and enjoying the view around. After what had happened to our car the previous day, we could not gather the guts to take our car to visit places around Munnar and decided to hire a cab that can take us to places around. We spent time taking photographs in the tea gardens around the region, visited the a couple of Waterfalls, the Floriculture Center and the Mattupetty Dam.
There are few of India’s most scenic waterfalls around the place and the Mattupetty dam during that time of the year was just heavenly. We had lunch there and took a speed boat ride for 20 minutes which cost about Rs 500 per person. There were also a couple of more attractions like the Elephant Ride and a few hill points which you have in every hill station like the echo point, photo point, lovers point etc which we didn’t bother to devote any of our time to. We returned back to our home stay by 8 pm in the evening, had a good dinner at the home stay and were busy playing cards that night.
Early morning the next day we had booked a safari ride to Kollukumalai - World’s highest Organic Tea Garden which takes about 1 hour from Suryanelli. Trust me - given the roads which we traversed in the jeep to reach the peaks which is about 7200 ft above sea level, You will forget all other adventures that you have done in past. As we climb higher, the bone-rattling drive becomes scarier. A slight error in judgement on these roads(if you can call them as roads) can be fatal.
As we move closer to your destination(The tea factory there), we come across a board which says “You are now at 7130 ft above the ground” from where you can see Kerala on one side and Tamil Nadu on other. We stop there to see the enchanting sunrise amongst the majestic mountains and it was a picture that will remain in our mind for a long long time to come. And then we reach the Kolukkumalai Tea factory in next 20 minutes and seeing the panoramic view of the place made us proud of our decision to take the safari. We took tickets and visited the tea factory which is open for tourists. We returned back to our home stay at around 9.30 am in the morning and checked out to start our return journey to Bangalore.
So finally we come to the end of one of the most memorable trips of my travel career which was a conglomeration of adventure, endless beauty, relaxing nature, majestic mountains, shining culture and timeless backwaters. How do I describe Kerala? I would quote George Gordon Byron: ‘There is pleasure in the pathless woods, there is rapture in the lonely shore, I love not man less, but nature more’.