August 30, 2010

Chronicles Of Kerala, Gods Own Country

"Gods Own Country" is the quote which is utilized by the kerala tourism dept to death. Whenever in kerala the chances of missing this quote is unheard of and i can guarantee at least 5-6 sightings a day. Even though I agree some places in Kerala are near to heaven , the commercialization of everything related to tourism makes sure that we pay through the nose to be part of this dreamland.

The combination of Monsoons, Onam and Kerala is an awesome combination not only in terms of nature's beauty but also in terms minimal tourist flow to these regions. "An Offer One Cant Refuse"(Said in true Don Corleone Style :P) is an appropriate phrase. We were 6 guys(Chandan, Jenny, PPR, Manju, Umesh and Myself)  and had a total of 4 days at our disposal to explore  this tiny Indian state.

On the night of 19th August 2010 we boarded a Rajahamsa bus for a 14 hr long and tiring journey to Ernakulam, our starting point and ending point of the trip. We had failed to get the more comfortable train tickets bcoz of the mad rush of  keralites to get back home for festivities. We had planned a circular route comprising Ernakulam-Munnar-Thekkady-Allephey-Ernakulam.

Day 1 (20th Aug 2010)

We reached Ernakulam at around 10 in the morning against 7 am predicted by the KSRTC website. Heights of prediction. Visibly everyone was irritated. Also we had informed our taxi driver Sujoy that we would be reaching at 7, so he was waiting at that place since 6.30 in morning. As soon as we got down at the Ernakulam Bus Stand we headed for the nearest eatery to have some food before we continue our roadtrip but in different mode of transport all the way to Munnar. As we came out of Arya Bhavan having our breakfast the road were jampacked and I thought Bangalore traffic was worst of them all. Bangalore's spot surely has a serious competitor.

Inner View Of A Waterfalls

As we came out of the city limits the traffic density went down considerably and one would start experiencing the lush greenery surrounding in all the directions.The roads starts winding left and right smoothly. A perfect biking road. Well I could say almost perfect if not for huge ad posters of various jewelery chains, silk Saree chains having super hot female models. Simply eye catching and in short distracting for the drivers. We love our imperfections dont we :P .

As we start climbing the Munnar ghats , the density of the greenery notches up to a different level. Monsoons simply makes everything in this world so lively. There are a lots of water falls enroute flowing with full glory and there is something which are longer and flow with equal gusto,  and these are the names of the same waterfalls. Nearly a mile long and serious tongue twisters. 4 stops and still I dont even remember one :P. At one falls enroute there is a path right inside the falls. Simply superb views one gets from behind the veil of  water.

Before we reach Munnar we took a detour to Attukkad Waterfalls, supposedly the most impressive of all the waterfalls in Munnar. But thanks to heavy mist now engulfing the entire Munnar town we had to give this a miss. Finally at around 4 pm we reached Munnar and checked  into the Springdale resorts nearly 7 kms from the town centre. A british era type of resort, a very cosy one. Spent the rest of the evening going for a walk around the resort.

Day 2 (21 Aug 2010)

The day dedicated for trekking and sightseeing. Anamudi the tallest peak of India apart from the Himalayan ranges was our prime attraction for the day. We had hoped and planned to climb all the way to the top  at 2695 m. But we had some disappointment in store. We arrived at the Eravikulam National Park to catch a park bus to travel a considerable distance towards the peak. The views offered during this 10 mins bus ride was good with majestic views of the Anamudi Peak from a distance and surrounded by lots of greenery. The bus stops at a point where we have to start on foot.

Happy that the trek had finally started we started with much enthusiasm. This park is home to endangered  Nilgiri Tahr an animal similiar to mountain goat. But as far as what I observed this park was not friendly to this innocent looking animals. If at all any Tahr is found most of the tourists would gang up on it simply scaring the animals. Not an ideal scene for discrete animal lovers. We moved up hoping for our elusive destination. But bang on our track we were stopped by the forest guard saying it was the final point for trek(if at all it is called so) and no one can move further and requires high level permission for the complete trek. Disappointed we returned back.

Nilgiri Tahr Lamb
Even though the views offered along the path were beautiful in their own right , but the fact that our expectation was huge made us dissappointed.  We moved back to Munnar town to check out places towards Mattupetty dam side. There are lot of tourist spots along this route which comes one after the another.

Anamudi Peak
First came the "Photo Point". This has nothing but a smoothly spread tea garden. Further down the road comes Mattupetty Dam. A huge reservoir and a cozy place offering some nice views of the mountains, dam and the water. Boating facility is available at this place. Next comes the "Echo Point". Again this too has a water body and any call is returned by an echo. Further down the lake comes Kundala lake. Having huge eucalyptus trees by the banks this was quite different from the previous spots. And finally we reached "Top Station". On a clear day we are supposed to get clear views of the Tamil Nadu plains. But on this day we were not so lucky. With clouds surrounding this spot we were still able to get some beautiful shots. In fact all these spots are perfect honeymoon getaways and we guys looking for some adventure were looking out of the place.

By the time we returned back it started to pour. So already exhausted of the days quota of sightseeing we decided to return to our resort rooms to kill time till late evening when we had appointments for some authentic keralite ayurvedic massages. After relaxing a bit we returned back for the date with massages. Did some shopping for home made chocolates, spices, honey etc. We had divided the 6 guys into small groups of 3 with one going for Mantra Ayurvedic Centre and others going for Mayur Centre. I had been placed into the former and selected some Special Massage (1200 bucks) which includes some special head massage where oil is made to trickle on the head.

Hawa Mein Udtha Jaaye- Echo Point
As the masseur entered the room he asked me to strip. Now in most outrageous imaginations also a strip would mean dressing  down to your undies and I was wearing a pair of boxers just for this occasion to protect my modesty. But the masseur had a different mind of his own, telling to strip down to the birthday suite so that I might wear a small piece of cloth called "komna" in our native. It is very similar to a g-string, except that we guys have some extra baggage :P . Now you can imagine the exposure we were getting :D . Surely this goes into my Top 20 most embarrassing moments of life.

Kundala Lake
The massage starts with the full body medicated oil massage. As soon as it began,  started to feel very relaxed and sleepy.  After this a thin stream of warm oil is made to trickle on the head and flow down. Now this feeling was simply awesome as oil slowly flows and makes it way down from the head. After this a steam bath is given and this removes the greasy layer of the oil. This entire process takes nearly 1 hr 15 mins. Overall a good experience.

Top Station

Day 3 (22 Aug 2010)

Periyar Wildlife Santuary
On this we were supposed to move from Munnar towards Thekkady and finally to Alleppey. This day was primarily singled out where we do maximum travel and less sight seeing. Nearly 275 kms of on road travel. We left the resort early in the morning and took the Coimbatore route. Now this route was the first access route to Munnar built during the British era and hence was quite narrow. The entire path is strewn with some or other type of plantations such as tea, spices , coffee, arecanut etc and very little natural vegetation as seen in the Ernakulam-Munnar route. Even then this is a picture some route. Enroute are some view points just off the road , but today this route was engulfed by mist. Also we came across a beautiful falls flowing right across the road. Didn’t even bother to get to know its name :P.

Our driver had some contacts at the Periyar Reserve Forest and had stuct a deal of 3K for a safari Jeep as againt the standard rate of around 1.8K per head. So we decided to give the normally taken boat cruise along the Thekkady river a miss where the chances of animal sightings is much lesser.At first we are unaware regarding the type of the deal that had been struck between the forest contact and the driver , but as we got into the park the entire picture emerged. It so happened that the some of the forest officers had gone on a vacation due to Onam. So this left the lower forest guards to run an illegal business of their own. Also the route they are supposed to take was out of bounds for the tourists. So when I came to know abt this was feeling slightly guilty. After we entered the forest reserves we entered using a Mahindra Jeep for these rough roads. Also greasing the hands of the various officials who I guess didnt get their leaves approved :D.

Sambhar Herd
The restricted part of the park is blocked by a iron railing gate , and even if you have key to it takes nearly 3 persons to open it. We sighted a herd of Sambhar, Bisons, Monkeys, Baboons, etc along the way. Also since this path was not frequented by tourists it had blood sucking leeches searching for their ultimate prized nectar. Jenny who was wearing shorts and sandals was getting special attention from the leeches quite similiar to how guys start staring at chicks in mini skirts :D.

Bison Herd
As we entered a huge open grasslands, a usual grazing grounds for the huge elephant we were very expectant to catch sight of atleast one herd.This huge grasslands was simply beautiful. And we were not disappointed. We caught sight of not one but two herds grazing peacefully. This was supposedly our last stop and we were to return back along the same path. Also on a clear day one gets to see Sabrimalai temple just 17 kms from this spot.

Elephant Herd
We returned back and continued on our journey to Allephey. By the time we reached some 30 kms to Allephey started the famed backwaters. Since it was already dark we couldnt get the proper view of the backwater canal accompanying the highway all the way to Allephey and beyond. The lights getting reflected from the water of this water bodies on the dark highway was simply mystical. Its was as if some dark unknown shiny thing was just dying to get itself introduced to us.

We reached Allephey and went directly to our guest house Gowri Residency after having dinner enroute. The manager at Gowri Residence was actually acting as a middle man and set us up in a home stay next door called Snehadhara. This home stay was infact impressive. This was a 60 year bungalow with the rooms decorated as if to be the interiors of house boats, the iconic symbols of Kerala.

Day 4 (23 Aug 2010)

Snehadhara Resort
We were now officially in Allephey the Venice Of the East as described my Marco Polo in one of his travelogues. Also some of these canals were dating back to 12 th century when they were built for an easy mode of transportation. Our plan for the day included exploring the backwaters and returning back to catch a bus from ernakulam to bangalore in the evening. After having a delicious breakfast of guli-appams (similiar to Shavige in our native) at the home stay we headed towards the docking point. Since it was off season we were able to bargain a rate of 350/hr for an entire boat all for ourselves. In peak season it is not expected to come below 600/hr. So we booked the boat for 3 hrs to roam around the backwaters.

Only thing missing is a gun and a cigarette :P

The boat eventhough was a motorized one was pretty slow one. But we were not complaining and we were just relaxing and enjoying the beautiful view. The backwaters within the main town is quite smelly and repulsive , but as we enter the outskirts and rural areas we get to witness a beautiful canvas. It is infact aptly described as the Venice of the East since the entire backwaters had houses and villages on either side and the only differentiating factor is that instead of roads there were water canals. These backwaters are the backbone for the residents livelihood.

Similar to the  popular quote which goes "A Picture is better than a thousand words", some of the snaps of the backwaters better describe the beauty of these backwaters than any word of mine could summarize it. The canal size varies between a 100 feet to a few feet to a never-ending lakes, it has it all. After roaming the backwaters for nearly 3 continuous hrs we were more than satisfied. Also one can avail a houseboat to roam around, a 5-star hotel on wheels.. sorry sails :P.. .. it has it all.. TV-.. AC... Sattelite connection... luxury rooms.... but guess the cost will be much more.

Paddy Fields
At last we returned to firm ground and had a ordinary lunch, againt a special Onam treat we were all so expectant of having. Went back to our rooms packed the bags and ready to leave for a couple of hours drive to Ernakulam. The Ernakulam city was quite deserted due to the festive mood and that was a blessing in disguise. Caught the evening bus to Bangalore from the dinghy Ernakulam Bus stand.

House boat Crossing A Bridge : A La Venice :P
Finally reached Bangalore at 7 am in morning thus officially ending the trip to heaven. More or less a leisure and relaxed trip with not even a single muscle stressed beyond its comfort zone. The lasting memory of this trip is still the backwaters never having been exposed to such a phenomenon earlier :P. Truly  "Gods own country" I must say.

Picture Frame

Total Summary:

Total Cost Per Person(Including Accomodation, Food, Massage, etc) -> 6.25K

Resort Details->
Munnar ->
Allephey ->

Snaps Link


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