Kerala - Read before you go

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Mumbai | Jan 5, 2012
Kerala - Read before you go
Overview of the destination
Like anything else in the World we have the pros and cons of Kerala as a tourist destination. Of course those who are die-hard tourist like me, would certainly want to quench their wander lust by experiencing it first hand, but for those who are selective tourists, I hope this reading will help them arrive at a well informed decision. The positive things about Kerala is, it is cleaner and peaceful than most of the Indian states. Not only the tourist towns even the cities and roads are free of filth, encroachments and pollution. But the negative aspect is that, it is just like any other tourist destination with similar theme. I mean except, the backwater theme, which is unique to Kerala and of course the best attraction, the other themes are just ordinary. I will begin with Cochin, as most tours kick-off from Cochin. We have a Church and Synagogue, then Museum, Boat cruises, beach, and malls. Nothing unique about any of them. Someone might argue that all these attractions are beautiful and worth seeing but when a Delhiite is planning his tour, he need not come so far to see all these which he might have experienced already in Goa or Daman so similar places. If you are going to Kerala, take it from me, you would be just coming back with the memories of Backwater experiences and nothing else, if you have done such themes before. Therefore keep the backwater as your main theme and consider the other themes as side-themes coming as bonus. Donít worry if you miss out something from the side-theme. So Cochin has the tourist activities which are common place and just a kind of formality. From Cochin, we usually go to Munnar, which is a hill-station. Among all the hill-stations I have seen, Ooty, Kodaikanal, Manali, Nainital, Mahabaleshwar, Coorg-Medikeri, Munnar, I will rate Munnar much below others. Just a little better than Nainital because Naini is highly commercialized and filthy. I did not find anything special about Munnar. Every Hill-Station has tea-coffee gardens, some points viz. Loversí point, Echo points etc. Munnar too has the same. The Echo point however does not echo whatever you do. Because it is a hill station it is very expensive, which is not at all justified. If you have done the Hill-station theme at other places, you may skip this. Else, just go to stay there for a day or two to relax. Some people blog that we can go and trek in the sandalwoods from Munnar, but it is not so. The Sandalwoods are more than 70 kms from here and they are fenced. Ordinary people canít enter and have to see them from outside, standing on the roads. So nothing special or very unique about Munnar. From Munnar, we go to Thekkady, which is famous for its boat safari through jungle. Believe me, all these places are more hyped than necessary. I saw more animals while travelling through Karanataka by road, and some other parts of India, than I saw here during the boat Safari. The only thing special is that, a boat takes you through the lake surrounded by jungles where you might spot a few animals like elephants, deer and wild boars. So if you enjoy the boat journey you will like it otherwise it is just time-pass. But this boat safari does not come to you easily. We had a very tough time getting the boat tickets. May be because we went during the Christmas holidays, nevertheless, the experience is not worth any big efforts. People have to queue up from 3.30 am to get just the ďentryĒ tickets to the jungle. All types of malpractices like touts and insider deals ensure that commoners donít get the tickets to enter first. Then after lot of struggle ordinary people get entry tickets. After getting this entry ticket people have to rush inside (2.5KM) because there is another counter for the boat ticket. But you will not be surprised to find that the first boat trip tickets have already been sold. Then you stand in the queue for the next trip. The babudom is so prominent that they donít sell the next trip ticket till one hour before the ride. So if you got the entry ticket say at 7 am and manage to rush to the boat ticket counter at 7.30 am, you will find the tickets for the first trip sold and already more than 100 people standing ahead of you, in the queue for the next trip, for which hardly a few dozen tickets would be available. There are five trips Ė 7.30 am, 9.30 am, 11.30 am, 13.30 pm and last 3.30 pm. So you stand in the queue for 9.30 tickets but they get sold much before your turn. But you have to continue standing in the queue for the 11.30 ticket for which the counter will open at 9.30 am. So what do you do till then, nothing, just stand. They have not made even provisions for people to sit in the queue, there is no token system. It seems they enjoy seeing people struggle for the tickets. For information, there are two cruise operators, one is the Forest Department and another Kerala Tourism. Forest department boats are smaller and locals say, they go deeper in the woods. The charge is also low only Rs. 40 per head, compared to KTDC boat for which the ticket is Rs. 150 per head, the KTDC boats are launch types and ferry over 100 tourists at a time. Some people get seats in the middle part from where sighting anything is difficult, which is anyway not there, even for the people sitting on the most strategic seats. At the end of it everyone feels frustrated because the returns are not justified vis-a-vis the efforts. You donít see many animals, it turns out to be neither thrilling not spectacular. Thekkady is a tourist hub, may be because the ďforeignersĒ prefer to stay there Ė you have Kathakali performances, Kalari Ė martial art performances and Kerala traditional massages as side activities. But you get all these at other places in Kerala too. So if jungle is your tourism theme, then even other places especially Ranthambore, Kanha, Tadoba etc. are much better destinations than Thekkady. Then come to Alleppey. They say, Kerala is where Alleppey is. And thatís the only gist of my blog. Kerala is just Alleppey, the speciality of Kerala is backwaters. Thatís the only unique theme of Kerala tourism and Alleppey is the place for it. You have better Munnars & Thekkadys in India elsewhere but not Alleppey, barring the Narmada Cruise of Jabalpur which is a great backwater experience. While in Alleppey try going for the houseboat cruise. And if you can tolerate a little bit of inconvenience and discomfort then even go for overnight stay in the house boat. The houseboat travels from your check-in to 5.20 pm, when they drop the anchor irrespective of anything. All the houseboat drivers & crew members come under a union which decides everything. So you will find rates, timings, routes everything fixed and rigid. But nevertheless, it will be your best experience. After 5.20 pm, the boat is parked at its designated place and the captain leaves, the crew gets busy in preparing dinner for you while you wait in the houseboat without any activity. Depending on the season your inconvenience would vary, in summer it could be horrible because the ACs in bedroom will start only after 9 pm. Also there could be insects bothering you in the evening if you are sitting in the deck. You might opt for a day trip which will begin at 10-10.30 am and end at 5.30 pm. Go back to you hotel and relax. But if you are there for overnight stay, in the morning at 8.00 am they will take you on an hourís extra ride. But nothing much lost even if you opt for day-cruise. The overnight cruises start from 12.00-12.30 noon which is two hours later than day trip. Moreover overnight cruises are much more expensive too. Kumarakom and Alleppey have same themes Ė backwaters. The Kumarkom houseboats are more expensive and if you take Alleppey, you also can visit the beach. Although Alleppey beach is not good for swimming. Then comes Kovalam, which is famous for its beaches. But then again, Goa is much more fun than Kovalam. Kovalam beaches are smaller but cleaner, but donít provide activities like Goa. So if you are planning to visit Kerala, keep backwater as the main theme and donít expect or take extra-ordinary efforts for other themes as they are not worth them. A typical Kerala tour will comprise of these places with their themes, Cochin (Historical), Munnar (Hill Station), Thekkady (Jungle), Alleppey (Backwaters) Kovalam (Beaches). So the advantage is, in a single tour you get to do a wide variety of themes but as I said earlier except for backwater which is the King, the rest all are just jacks, as you have Kings of those themes elsewhere in India.. In my opinion they are Historical (Rajasthan), Hill Station (Mahabaleshwar, Manali, Kodai), Jungle (Kanha), Beaches (Goa).

Food, sight-seeing and shopping
Mostly south Indian food. North Indian and other cuisines are also available in plenty.However food joints don't remain open till very late like metro cities.

Activities & things to do
Backwater cruises - preferably on the houseboat. As backwater is a serene theme, there is no point in rushing through it on motorboat.

Travel tips, How to reach, travel warnings etc.
Best is to arrive in Cochin and then from there start you tour. What themes you want to do, depending on that you can plan your travel. Ideally people go like this Cochin - Munnar - Thekkady - Alleppey - Cochin.

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How to Reach - Kerala Destinations
Thalassery     Devikulam     Athirappilly    
Alappuzha (Alleppey)     Angamaly     Chowara    
Tholpetty     Kozhikode (Calicut)     Poovar    
Idukki     Kumarakom     Mararikulam    
Thattekad     Malappuram     Nilambur    
Useful Links for Kerala
Articles and Blogs
National Geographic Traveler - Kerala, also known as Gods Own Country is a place to simply sit back and enjoy. The name means "land of coconuts," and the palms shade nearly the entire state from the tropical sun.
Kerala Blog - Blog about Kerala - Kerala Blog on People, Culture, Traditions, Music, Video, Links, News, Articles, Tourism, Places etc.,
Official Websites
Kerala Tourism - Kerala Tourism Government portal - Official website of Dept. of Tourism, covers Places of Interest in Kerala, Culture in Kerala etc.,
Kerala Government - Kerala Government portal covering diverse topics including health, tourism, culture, climate, Tenders and e-Governance.
Other Useful Links
Kerala Photographs - Stock Photography of Kerala: Find thousands of Photographs about People, Culture, Traditions, Music, Tourism, Places, Beaches etc.,
Bekal Resorts - Bekal Resorts is being developed as as an international standard Beach Tourist Destination. The Government is ensuring that Bekal retains its natural vegetation and pristine charm.
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