Some time back, a friend flew down from France for an "India trip." And we ended up deciding that we wanted to explore Kerala.
It didn't need much mulling on our part as a cursory Google search and browsing through some blogs was more than enough to convince us to pack our bags, check out the deals, and traverse across Kerala.
We arrived in the port city of Kochi / Cochin, the destination of the famous art biennale to find a series of stunning art and designs exhibited in this picturesque city's streets, studios and cafes. The colonial history impressed onto the buildings, streets and food, gave us sense of a place that was historical and modern, integrating the two seamlessly.
We stayed at the Zostel, Kochi, which was super central to all the sights. And we ate our heart out as the food was exceptional almost everywhere.
The must-dos in Kochi is definitely the famous Fort House Restaurant for porotta, mutton fry and shrimp. And Kashi Art Cafe for fresh seafood brunch amidst art and creativity.
By Air: Cochin International Airport (CIAL), situated about 25 km north of Kochi city at Nedumbassery, handles both domestic and international flights.
By Train: Kochi has two major railway stations – Ernakulam Town and Ernakulam Junction (locally known as the North and South railway stations respectively). However, reservation facilities are available only at the Ernakulam Junction (Mon-Sat 8 AM-8 PM, Sun 8 AM-2 PM ).
By Road: The NH47 (Salem-Kanyakumari) passes through Kochi. The NH17 connects the city to Mumbai, Kozhikode, Mangalore, Bengaluru, Chennai and Goa.
For our next destination, we hitched a bus ride to Munnar, feeling the breeze get cooler and the incline, higher. As we set out to visit the tea gardens, we realised that photographs of Munnar on the internet are insufficient in giving us an idea of the true breadth and expanse of the rolling meadows and hills (certainly not 'gardens') that nurture the tea industry. Witnessing its sweeping depth, the greens of the landscape filled with little waterfalls soothed our eyes and soul.
We stayed at The Tulsi Village Retreat, which was nestled deep into the forest in a sleepy hamlet, surrounded by gorgeous hills. We would hike around and explore the dense jungle with all of the flora it had to offer.
By Air: The nearest airport is Cochin International Airport, which is around 125 km from Munnar. Taxi services available from the airport to Munnar.
By Train: The nearest railway station is located in Kochi or Ernakulam. However, Aluva Railway Station is closer to Munnar, at a distance of 120 km.
By Road: Once you land in Kochi, Aluva or Ernakulam, you can hire a cab or take a bus to Munnar.
Descending from the hills, we found ourselves below sea level in Alleppey and flipped the landscape to enjoy the backwaters. We got a cute little boat all to ourselves for a three-hour backwater ride, cruising the serene waters.
By Air: Cochin airport is about 75 km from the main town of Alleppey. Cabs are available from the airport.
By Train: Alleppey railway station is connected to major cities like Thiruvananthapuram and Cochin.
By Road: Alleppey is easily accessible via National Highway-47. Buses from Kerala tourism connect Alleppey with all the major cities of Kerala.
The most fascinating thing about Alleppey is how the surrounding water integrates itself into everyday life -- we came across women washing clothes in their backyard river, children hailing boats to attend school, men and women cultivating rice and fish in submerged waters or groups of young people hanging out by the docks. It showcased how beautifully the community co-exists with nature.
Soon, the island and backwaters transformed into the thick evergreen and deciduous forest of Kottayam, where we paused to treat ourselves in an exceptional ayurvedic centre, rejuvenating ourselves with satvik food, yoga and massages. Spending two-and-a-half days at Yogasudha for a wellness treatment was one of the luxuries we decided to award ourselves with. The centre was such a calming haven, located deep in the forests and surrounded by nature and the loveliest people.
By Air: Cochin airport is the closest to Kottayam. You can take a cab or bus from the airport.
By Train: The nearest station is Kottayam railway station.
By Road: Take a KSRTC bus to Kottayam
For the last leg of our journey and yet another landscape change, we arrived at the beaches and cliffs of Varkala. The waters were bright blue, the sun a sharp yellow and the palms a deep green.
By Air: Nearest airport is at Thiruvananthapuram, about 45 km distance.
By Train: Thiruvananthapuram is the major rail head close to Varkala.
By Road: KSRTC plies buses regularly from Thiruvananthapuram.
With tons of places lined up on the cliff offering food, shopping and live reggae music, we would unwind by sipping fresh coconut water and watching the dolphins pop up in the deep sea.
With many cliffside options, our favorite eatery was Cafe Nomad with flavourful curries and a chill vibe. You can catch fresh sea produce on the grill here as well. A place called True Thomas was a local recommendation and we loved its earthy interior, straight-up delicious food, and quirky objects.
We stayed in a Zostel in Varkala and enjoyed the beautiful views of azure waters -- it was only a 5 min walk from the cliff and beach.
Lazing on the black sands of the beaches, we tried to wrap our head around the fact that we had covered diverse topographies, cuisines, dialects and history without even having crossed the borders of the state or the country.
Kerala, a single state, offered so much, that it may take a country or group of countries to match up