Our route: Fort Kochi >> Alleppey (Alappuzha) >> Kumily (near Thekkady) >> Munnar >> Thrissur >> Cochin
We made it to India! 🇮🇳
Kerala, a southern Indian state, literally translates to ‘land of coconut’. Coconuts grow everywhere and is the base of Keralan food, drink (from fresh coconut water to toddy – the alcoholic version!) and beauty products. Like Sri Lanka, Kerala has a diverse landscape from the lush green hill country to the interweaving backwaters, vast national parks and the pearly white sandy beaches.
We had just under two weeks in Kerala and one destination we were certain about was Thrissur because we wanted to experience a temple festival called Thrissur Pooram. The festival was one of the biggest in the whole of Kerala and would be held during the end of our two week stay. This dictated the other destinations we visited, not going any further south than Alappuzha (or Alleppey as it’s more commonly referred to). To give you an idea of the scale of Kerala, it takes about twelve hours to get from one end of the state to the other by train.
(A) Fort Kochi – 2 nights
(B) Alappuzha/Alleppey – 3 nights
(C) Kumily – 3 nights
(D) Munnar – 1 night
(E) Thrissur – 2 nights
(F) Cochin (close to airport) – 1 night
A lot of the guidebooks and people we had spoken to recommended spending some time in Fort Kochi so we decided to spend our first two nights here. Fort Kochi is a city on the coast, south-west of Cochin airport, and was a major port for trading spices from the 14th century.
As we got close, Fort Kochi looked more elegant than we expected with big houses and women in stunning saris, often lined with gold. It was really quiet when we arrived, the buses didn’t honk as much and there wasn’t the commotion and buzz we had seen in India on the TV or from what people had told us. We got the sense that this was a more well-to-do area. Kerala is one of the most educated Indian states so perhaps this should come as no surprise.
On our first night in Fort Kochi, we went to the Ginger House restaurant on the edge of the water which was tucked away behind a warehouse full of Indian antiques. You’ve probably guessed already but the items on the menu mostly featured ginger in them. The Ginger tea and curry were delicious!We stayed at a place called Tree Loft. The owners were very nice people and we played uno with them in their upstairs hangout area. We tried to be cheap and got a small room with a fan but it was way too hot (think soggy clothes in just a few hours!). First lesson learnt in India: April/May is the hottest time of the year and air-conditioning is a must. The room also let us down further because in the middle of the night, I woke to find a cockroach crawling on me!! Nightmare! The little beast.
The next day, we got out the room as soon as possible. A tuk-tuk driver offered to take us around all the sights for 100 INR (less than £1.50) which sounded very reasonable! The sights included the Chinese Fishing nets, various churches around the town (we weren’t expecting to see so many churches) and the old Jewish town.
The tuk-tuk driver also wanted to take us to ten shops because he would then earn enough commission to cover his fuel. We’d heard about this but just thought it would be one or two shops, not ten! So you might want to be specific with the tuk-tuk driver if you visit. We actually bailed on the last few shops and although he did seem a little annoyed he let us off all the same. We decided to chill out after our time exploring and found a cool hangout to spend the afternoon called Kashi Art Gallery & Cafe which served really tasty organic food and juices. It also had the most amazing chocolate cake which was very popular! We also checked out the shop Anokhi which supplies East (a brand/shop you may have heard of which is also stocked in House of Fraser). In the evening, we watched a traditional Kathakali performance; a play conducted with facial expressions, particularly the eyes. We had a cut down version with English translation to make it easier for us to understand – a normal Kathakali can last over 3 hours! We saw this at Greenix Village if you are interested in the shorter version. There was a small local cafe near our accommodation called Sanitha Hotel (we’re not sure why but often restaurants are called hotels) and we ended up eating there a few times because the food was really good and super cheap. They made good masala tea, masala dosa and parathas & curry. Each meal would cost us 50p each! The next destination was Alappuzha or it’s less formal name of Alleppey. We got two crowded buses to get there (changing at New Bridge). Alleppey is best known for its backwaters, often referred to as the ‘Venice of India’. Large ‘houseboats’ float along the backwaters and have become popular with tourists. You can stay in a houseboat for between £60-£250 depending on the season, size of the boat and whether you share with others. We were told the best way to get a houseboat at a decent price was to go to Finishing point (where the houseboats dock) around 8am and negotiate a good deal for that day. After doing some research, there seemed to be lots of other ways to explore the backwaters (this blog post is good) at a fraction of the cost and better for the environment. Unfortunately, the houseboats often have big diesel engines and generators for air-conditioning that pollute the water which you see the local women washing their clothes in.
We booked a homestay called Venice Castle (with a/c this time!). We were fortunate because this homestay was really nice and the host Thomas made us feel very welcome. In fact, we liked it so much here we ended up staying 3 nights!
The breakfast made for us each morning was really yummy including more masala dosa with coconut chutney.On our first full day in Alleppey, we took the public ferry which does a 2 hour round trip on the backwaters for 80 INR (around £1). It was interesting to see the local life and the many houseboats. For lunch, we ate at the highly recommended Thaffs, a small bustling restaurant which was extremely popular with the locals. We ordered vegetable thali and were presented with more food than we could manage! After lunch, we visited Finishing point to get a closer look at the houseboats. We were able to take a look around the ones for hire which was fun (they did have the hope of selling it to us but we just made our excuses and left). The main shopping area in Alleppey definitely had more of the hustle and bustle we had been expecting in India. Every vehicle honking and lots of people – crossing the road here certainly tempted fate! We ventured into a sari shop but quickly retreated with the heat and hoards of people. Jonny had a successful shopping trip grabbing some fake Ray-Ban sunglasses for £1.50 which haven’t yet fallen apart. Feeling like something sweet, Thomas suggested we try ‘Halwa’, a common Indian dessert. It was surprisingly tasty! Alleppey also has a small beach so we went to check it out. The beach had lovely white sand and an old pier like West Pier in Brighton. We watched the sunset and had dinner at Dreamers, a charming beachfront restaurant with lots of lanterns hanging from the ceiling. The next day, Thomas helped arrange a canoe tour for us which meant we could go down the narrower canals (where the houseboats and ferry can’t go). The day trip with breakfast and lunch worked out under £20 for both of us and was organised by Oscar Cruise Alleppey. Joining us for the day was an Australian family, two Argentinian friends, one British guy living in South Africa and seven Indian friends from Chennai. We had a great laugh with the other tourists on this trip. To get to our next stop, Kumily, we had to take a 5-hour bus ride up into the hill country which was an experience- read Jonny’s blog post to find out more!
Alleppey had been about 36 degrees Celsius so it was refreshing to feel the air cooling as we headed higher above sea level. This was the journey where we discovered the street shop samosas for about 8p each! Simply delicious!When we arrived, we headed to Chrissie’s Hotel where we stayed for the next three nights. Our room was on the third floor and had a balcony which overlooked a forest. We spent the rest of the day chilling out on the balcony watching the wildlife. The monkeys especially were very sweet and liked to play! The small hotel also had a yoga room upstairs which we took advantage of on our first morning. The hotel made us curry and appam for breakfast (appam is a bread made from coconut). Later, we spent an hour visiting a local spice plantation. It was amazing to understand where the spices we find on our supermarket shelf come from. In the evening, we took a really fun cooking class at Bar-B-Que. It was just the two of us and the tutor (who was hilarious and slightly crazy!). We made paratha bread, a fish masala curry, masala chips, pineapple curry and more! And best of all, we got to eat it all at the end! NOM NOM NOM.
The next morning we got up early to go bamboo rafting. This involved a 5km hike through Periyar National Park (or Periyar Tiger Reserve as it’s also known). We saw wild elephants, a giant squirrel, Indian bison and various birds. When we reached the water, we had curry & appam. We had a very scenic and peaceful experience floating along on the bamboo rafts before taking the 5km hike back. We really enjoyed getting outdoors, away from the honking horns on the roads. We also met a nice guy who is a relative of the owner of Kayal restaurant in our hometown of Leicester- small world! In the afternoon, we took a look around Connemara, a working tea factory. Being British, we’ll spend a bit of time on the tea factory 😉 Our guide talked us through the traditional tea-making process. The factory had lots of different sections and machinery for each stage of the process. At the end of our tour, we were shown how to brew the perfect cup of tea (a funny concept for an English person!) and eventually taste the tea! We drank it black and it had a fresh and earthy flavour to it. Our next stop was Munnar and there were only three morning buses. The 3-hour bus ride had incredible views for just £1! Though I was slightly unlucky as I was seated next to an Indian lady who proceeded to fall asleep on me!
It was 11am when we arrived in Munnar and thankfully we were able to check-in early to Aminas Cottage, our next accommodation. Munnar is even higher than Kumily so the air was cooler still- it was the first place we needed a jumper in the evening. It was also one of the few places where it rained. Our time in Munnar involved wandering around the town, walking up to a Mosque and a Hindu temple, a short visit to Hydel park and a short walk in the tea plantations. We only had one night in Munnar before catching the 6 hour bus to Thrissur to arrive in time for the Pooram temple festival. We tried our first stuffed paratha here (another bread a bit like a roti). Thrissur Pooram festival is the biggest temple festival in Kerala and lasts for 36 hours. We had planned to go months in advance, even pre-booking accommodation. Unfortunately though, when we contacted the booked AirBnb to let them know when we would arrive the owner claimed he didn’t have a booking! We managed to get our money back with AirBnb but we had to scramble to find another last minute booking.
We caught the 2.30pm bus from Munnar and arrived in Thrissur 6 hours later. We made it to Raj Mahal Lodge, where we’d booked a last minute room, but the staff tried to charge us double the price. This was hugely frustrating after the AirBnb issue earlier and a 6 hour bus ride to get to Thrissur. However, we had little choice with everywhere booked up for the festival. After debating with the Manager, we settled for the same price but a downgrade on the room. Annoying but at least we had a room!The next day at 7.30am the 36 hour festival began: thousands of locals, colour, music, elephants, decorations and excitement! And zero alcohol – at least they wouldn’t have lots beer bottles to clear up at the end. We had come to the festival curious to see a local traditional festival and Thissur Pooram certainly ticked those boxes. Our favourite memory was the crowds cheering with brightly coloured balloons every time the rhythm of the music changed. We were also constantly asked for ‘selfies’, I guess we looked out of place!
The only thing we struggled with, was seeing the elephants in the processions. You can’t but imagine what they must have gone through to be so calm amongst swarms of people, loud music, canons and fireworks 😔In the early hours the next day, there were fireworks. The fireworks were punctuated with small explosions to make them sound even louder! Although by this point a lot of people were falling asleep – we’d had a nap in our room to stay awake! If you’d like to read more about our experience of Thrissur Pooram festival, Jonny has written a full blog post on it. Everyone was in good spirits at the festival and it was certainly something different.
Thrissur was quite a way from Cochin Airport and our flight to Delhi was at 5.20am. To ensure we’d make our flight, we travelled the next day and stayed at Princess Residency which was right next to the airport. The owner was very nice and offered to give us a lift to the airport in the morning.
Overall, our trip to Kerela was so varied from experiencing our first Indian festival, the beautiful and calmer hill country, the captivating backwaters plus the amazing food (no Delhi belly here!), culture and people. We really loved this place.Next stop the Golden Triangle and Rajasthan…!
You can read about the rest of our India travels here: