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For us, our time in Kerala was the most special of all our travels around India. We found that the Keralites live in symbiosis with their amazing tropical environment. It is an honour to work in partnership with Kerala Tourism and to share our remarkable adventures with you. The “Human By Nature” campaign focuses not only on the sights and the attractions but also the amazing people of Kerala and how they connect and harmonise with their landscape and wildlife. The ethos of the campaign certainly rings true compared to our adventures in Kerala, God’s Own Country.
Human by Nature in Kerala, Gods Own Country
We were heading from Mumbai, down the west side of India, via Goa, Mangalore, Mysore and Nagarhole National Park to Kerala before heading north again for Bangladesh. Travelling by private car from Nagarhole we were astounded by the Keralan landscape.
The lush fertile landscape rolls off the top of the Western Ghats in the east of the region (the tallest in South India – Anamudi at 2654 m) and descends like an avalanche into the warm and tranquil Lakshadweep Sea.
The Keralan landscape includes everything from rugged mountains with dry temperate montane woodlands, to rolling hummocky foothills, to the tropical wet rainforests. Then down onto swampy hot and humid wetlands and nearly 400 miles of picture postcard-perfect tropical beaches. It is nature at its best.
In Kerala protecting the environment almost comes naturally to the people who live in symbiosis with it. Keralites care for and love the environment. At the same time, they care about visitors and welcome them with open arms, a massive genuine smile, and a gentle understanding of differences. They are “Human by Nature”.
Things to Do in Kerala
The list of things to do and places to go in Kerala varied and endless but I’ve tried to include a few here below:
Vagamon Hill Station in Idukki – Trip out to a hill station for trekking, paragliding, mountaineering and rock climbing
Cherai Beach near Kochi – Head to the beach for relaxing, swimming, sunbathing and sunsets.
Idukki Wildlife Sanctuary – Go on safari in a Wildlife Sanctuary to see elephants, big cats, snakes and birds.
Keezharkuthu Waterfalls in Idukki – Trek to some amazing waterfalls through forests filled with medicinal plants
Munnar – mountain area that includes Anamudi (the tallest peak in South India, 2,695 m) for cooler air, tea plantations, wildlife, stunning views and trekking.
Wayanad – mountain area for waterfalls, trekking, mountain biking and caves. A great place to source rarer spices and other products.
Kovalam – amazing beaches for sunbathing, swimming, Ayurvedic health treatments, yoga and shopping.
Alleppey (real name Alappuzha) – the most famous houseboat tours of the backwaters that take you to places only accessible by boat.
Kochi (Cochin) – Gateway to Kerala and known as “Queen of the Arabian Sea” amazing for culture and history, it is also a great transport hub into and out of Kerala.
Everywhere in Kerala – food. Just eat it, all of it, it’s fantastic! For me, Indian food ranks amongst the finest in the world but Kerala manages to produce the pièce de résistance of all Indian food the world over.
The vegetarian options were a regular mealtime feature even though we are both full-on carnivores. The dahl was to die for, the curry to cry for and the soup to sing for. We were doing the unheard of and sharing dishes so we could both try as many as possible. Usually, I hate sharing food.
Our Keralan Adventure
With such a massive menu (sorry can’t stop thinking about the food) of things to do and see, what did we do? We decided on just three things.
- A few days in Kochi exploring the fort and food
- A stay in the hills around Munnar
- A trip on the backwaters at Alleppey
After 14 hours along some of the bumpiest, winding mountain roads, with prolonged episodes of death-defying overtaking our taxi pulled up outside Saj Home in old town Kochi. The journey had exhausted us both, but we were determined to get out and grab some local food.
It was 9:30 pm as we pushed open the door of Fusion Bay Seafood restaurant to be greeted by the owner’s son and his massive smile. “Of course, its fine to come in, yes, we were about to start closing but it’s fine, let me find you a table”. We sat down, ordered, mercilessly devoured dal, roti, coconut rice, prawn curry and a couple of other veggie sides. This was all washed down with a fruit shake (like many places, alcohol is not served). Then we paid and wearily walked back up the hill to Saj Home to finally pass out.
Breakfast at Saj Home comprised simple but tasty and effective pancakes, porridge, fruit and lassi-style shakes. Eager to explore, we set off on a day that can only be described as an eclectic mix of tree-lined boulevards, white-painted churches, auto-rickshaws, white sandy beaches, and of course food. Lots of food.
We watched the people fishing with the huge Chinese style nets along the seafront, haggled a little with fruit sellers at the roadside stalls, walked on the sand between the fishing boats, clambered around the fort ruins, and generally ambled around looking at things.
At one point we stopped at a certain café close to the seafront and asked for the menu. The smiley waiter looked around conspiratorial, bent down and in a whisper asked if we would like to try some “special tea”. Yes. Of course, it has to be “yes”. So, the finely roasted freshly ground coffee was cancelled and a pot of “special tea” delivered quick sharp along with cups and saucers and a sugar bowl.
The “special tea” poured, looked, and tasted just like kingfisher lager! We both decided that extra sugar was not required and kept pouring and enjoying each cupful until the pot was dry.
Feeling a slight inebriation, we toddled off once more exploring and I decided getting a henna tattoo was what I wanted to do next. Andy wasn’t so interested so he sloped off for a coffee whilst I sat and chatted with Rani the tattooist about holidays and men (some things are the same the world over).
Hennaed up, I met up with Andy and we carried on exploring. The day turned into sunset, sunset into more food and the food into an evening stroll along the beach before we headed home to Saj Home.
Next morning we sadly waved Saj goodbye and took a final look at Kochi as we started the four-hour drive to Munnar. We traversed the backwater wetlands, foothills and finally began climbing the steeper slopes along the side of the Periyar River valley up to Kunchithanny in Munnar.
Arriving at River Rock Homestay, we were once again greeted with smiles, this time from the owner Varghese and his wife.
Perched on stilts on the side of the valley, our spacious double room doubled up as a viewing platform for the surrounding stunning valley. The name of the place was perfect. It immediately felt like our home, our new home overlooking a perfect lush green rainforest rocky river valley.
The peace and tranquillity of the river valley were addictive, so addictive that the next day, Andy decided to stay and fish and explore the valley whilst I headed off into the hills to explore.
Nasar, my driver for the day, pulled up in his car and we took off to see the sights. Soon we were heading up through the rolling green patchwork quilt hills of the tea plantations. Colourful specks on the horizon slowly became the ladies picking the tea leaves. Dressed in colourful saris, the ladies pluck the leaves from the tips of the plants and put them in a basket on their backs. The brightly coloured hats are also a bit of padding for where the basket strap goes around the forehead.
We drove on up to the Kundala Dam, passing the Mattupetty Dam on the way. We stopped beside the Mattupetty Lake to quickly jump out of the car and yell at the tops of our voices. No, we hadn’t gone completely and utterly bonkers. We had stopped at Echo Point. Hikers, twitchers and wildlife connoisseurs stop off at Echo Point to catch the abundance of wildlife, appreciate the lush green serenity of the landscape and to take a boat out on the lake.
The peaceful ambience is more often than not ruined by idiots like me jumping out of cars and screaming. Human by Nature? The resulting scream echoes around the valley for what seems like a decade before escaping into the ether. Hence the name, Echo Valley, the longest natural echo on the sub-continent (apparently).
Feeling slightly hoarse, we got back into the car and journeyed onward to Kundala Dam. The dams created huge lakes teeming with different wildlife and offering many various leisure opportunities. The other main benefactors are the herds of wild elephants that frequent the remote lakesides for a good drink and a bath.
We continued up the winding roads to Top Station. At 1700m Top Station is reputed to be the highest point accessed by road in Kerala. It offered sweeping panoramic views of the Western Ghats and snoops a look down across the border from Kerala into Tamil Nadu. The view was astounding. But time was short, we had to press on.
Cars blocked the road on the way down! An accident? Landslide? New McDonald’s drive-through? No, wild elephants picnicking on the lush green vegetation at the side of the road. Full to the brim of delicious greenery, the elephants lumped off back into the undergrowth and we continued down gradient and onward to Eravikulam National Park.
The Eravikulam National Park is famous for the incredibly rare Nilgiri Tahr. This stocky short-haired curly horned mountain goat is the state animal for Tamil Nadu. It was hunted to near extinction in the last century with only an estimate 100 left in the wild. Conservation efforts have since raised this to over 3000 as several Indian parks have managed its protection. I hiked up into the park in search of some Nilgiri but the weather soon started to close in. But, I was in luck, just as I was about to turn back a herd of Nilgiri emerged from the shrubbery. The light mountain mist thickened into pea soup-like rain. Vision disrupted and getting wet I hurried back to the car and we headed back to River Rock.
Arriving in time for sunset, I thanked Nasar for a truly educational, fun if slightly strenuous adventure.
I opened the gate of River Rock to find Andy also returning from his expedition along the river. We shared stories as we changed for dinner. We’d had an amazing meal with Varghese and his wife the night before, and so for a second time accepted the offer of joining them for dinner.
Andy had found out that Varghese had planted the River Rock garden with over thirty different species of tree, plant, and herb. Not only did this provide food and habitat for the multitude of wild animals and birds that frequented the garden, but it also provided a sustainable homegrown organic source of fruit, vegetable, and spices, some of which we ate for dinner.
Varghese’s family were fantastic hosts and the food at River Rock was plentiful, substantial, and delicious. The environment was fascinating, peaceful, and diverse.
Next day, with a heavy heart, we loaded a car with our bags and waved a sorrowful goodbye to our amazing hosts, the beautiful valley and took with us some great memories.
We were on our way to our last destination in the south of India – Alleppey Backwaters.
Another four-hour drive took us into the heart of Alappuzha (Alleppey’s real name). The cold pineapple lassi and the shady verandah by the entrance to Bella Homestay helped the journey melt away into a distant memory. Surrounded by a jungle garden complete with hummingbirds, we were welcomed yet again by cheeky grins. This time from Biju the owner, Sunita and their cute little pug dog. Bella Homestay was a light, clean, pleasant and airy guesthouse providing a spacious double room with a private balcony.
Biju organised all our excursions for us. First off was a trip on the local ferry across the backwaters. Sitting in the ferry as it left the port, we were in amongst it.
Local kids coming home from school, mothers with babies, shopping and goods for the market, men going to and from work, and of course a couple of goats. We hung out of the windows looking at the watery world pass us by. Suddenly aware that the boat was not the one we thought it was, we hopped off at the next possible stop and grabbed an autorickshaw to run us back to Bella Homestay.
The experience left us wanting to explore more and truly get wrapped up in the backwater experience.
Biju recommended a paddled canoe trip with a local guide for that close-up and personal touch. We had decided this was a great idea and he booked us one for the very next morning. Mr Jose, our captain picked us up at the crack of dawn and guided us on and off another public ferry. We stopped at a secluded spot some 15 minutes out of the port and walked along the towpath beside the backwater.
Turning quickly into a small white house, we found ourselves taking our shoes off to enter his family home. His wife had already prepared breakfast and was plopping it onto plastic plates as we walked through the door! Chatting with Jose and his wife we ate and sat for a while, then Jose nipped off to prep the boat for the day. We finished eating and jumped onboard the canoe.
Jose paddled us and talked, he chatted about life in the backwaters and explained a little about the culture. We turned off the main channel just as the huge houseboat came chugging past us.
The channel was narrow, in some places it was only wide enough for two small canoes to pass each other. The banks of the side-channels are where the real backwater life was. After all, who wants to live on the main road?
Silently propelled through the swampy forest we came across small houses almost camouflaged in the undergrowth. People appearing as if by magic carrying out daily tasks of cooking, washing, laundry, buying, selling and of course laughing and eating. A more intimate experience than we had previously had on the ferry the day before.
We toured all day with Mr Jose. He explained he had stopped driving a houseboat as it was destroying the environment. The diesel fumes pollute the air and the bow wave erodes the banks. His paddling provided a more real feel experience and had very little impact. Plus our money went directly to him and his family, the very people who provided such a brilliant experience.
Chatting and paddling we headed back mid-afternoon and once again moored up outside Jose’s house. We were just in time for dinner. Mrs Jose had cooked us delicious vegetable curry, dahl and rice! Full to the brim, we were guided back to the ferry and headed back to Bella.
All too soon our time in Kerala was over, we had to move on to Kolkota, Dhaka and eventually Myanmar. Looking back as we climbed the steps of our plane we not only took a final look at an extraordinarily diverse landscape of Kerala, we also said goodbye to some amazing people.
People whose kindness, thoughtfulness and generosity we remember today and are unlikely to ever forget. People who live with, in and alongside nature. People who care for it, for each other, and guests and visitors to Kerala, Gods Own Country. People who are “Human By Nature”.
India Travel Resources
Planning your trip to India? Here are some of our recommended useful resources to help you have the best time possible:
|● DON’T LEAVE HOME WITHOUT TRAVEL INSURANCE. If you’re travelling long-term like us and from the EU True Traveller is best. If you’re from other countries worldwide, World Nomads is good.
A new contender for long-term travel insurance is SafetyWing, which you can pay for on a month by month basis. This is also a good option for shorter trips.
● Our go-to for self-catering accommodation is Airbnb.
● Before booking accommodation, check reviews on TripAdvisor.
● Book buses, ferries and taxis with 12Go Asia.
Have you been to Kerala, Gods Own Country? If so tell us in the comments what made it “Human by Nature” for you.
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Sponsored Post Disclosure: This post has been created as part of the Human by Nature campaign in partnership with Kerala Tourism. This did not influence my post in any way and as always I’ve provided balanced and honest reviews. Read more in our full Sponsored Post Disclosure.