After all the hard work that you put in during the week, the weekends are a great opportunity to explore the area around you. Kerala is famously known as ‘God’s own country’ because of its beauty and there are plenty of things to see and do, but here is what I consider the top five things to do and see from my three months in Kerala:
1. Kerala Backwaters
900 kilometres of interconnected rivers, lakes and lagoons where you can float along on a palm thatched houseboat and eat fresh fresh-water fish while taking in the amazing scenery interspersed with small villages.
These waterways were used as the main form of transport before roads and locals still use them to transport their goods and travel to larger villages and towns. Houseboats are very expensive, especially during peak season. However there are other ways to experience the beauty of the backwaters that don’t involve emptying your wallet.
The main and increasingly popular option is to go on a canoe trip (sometimes called village tour). This is normally a small group of people each with a canoe (sometimes two in a canoe), tours can last between two and a half to six hours; each group has a local guide. This is a great way to see some of the smaller waterways and visit the villages.
A trip to the backwaters was definitely one of the highlights of my trip, and is a lovely peaceful experience away from the hustle and bustle of Indian cities and town life. Alappuzha/Alleppey is where a lot of tours depart from, it is easily accessible from Trivandrum – the train takes about three hours.
2. Munnar Tea Plantations
A picturesque hilly area covered in tea plantations as far as the eye can see. Munnar is now the commercial centre for tea growing estates in Kerala but it has plenty to offer, it is also a lot cooler so it is a welcome break from those high temperatures (pack a jumper no matter how hot it may seem in your home village)! One of my favourite places to visit was the Tata Tea Museum which shows you the whole process of making tea; from a plant into our favourite British drink! Other activities that are available in the area include tours of tea estates, elephant rides and tea tasting.
Munnar is also a great place to stay in a homestay; they are small family run affairs and normally include cooked meals. I stayed in a homestay near to Munnar and it was one of my favourite overnight stays.
3. Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary
South India’s most popular wildlife sanctuary, Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, is home to elephants, bison, wild boar, tigers and sambar (deer).
There is an artificial lake, which was added by the British in 1895, where you can go for boat trips. This is a local as well as foreign tourist destination and is really beautiful. There is an eco-tourism centre where you can arrange to go on nature walks, hikes or jungle patrols with trained locals. My fondest memory of this trip was getting up at four in the morning to queue at the entrance gates for an hour, we then participated in a crazy rush in the car and then a 1km sprint just to get on a boat!! This is not a necessary, and it was only local tourists and vendors that participated in this crazy race for tickets, but it was fun! We did get to see wild elephants and a lot of monkeys; be aware of them – one tried to help itself to the belongings in bag, luckily there was no food in there so it lost interest!
4. Varkala beach
There are a lot of beautiful beaches in Kerala and this is one of them. It is a cliff top beach resort about an hour train ride from Trivandrum.
It has become increasingly popular with the backpacker scene, especially since another popular beach resort south of Trivandrum is in decline (Kovalam). This is a great place to meet fellow travellers, the Rock’n’Roll Cafe (in North Varkala) is particularly sociable. The beach is busy with local and foreign tourists, especially in peak seasons, if you walk north along the cliff you will reach much more secluded beaches and get away from the shops, restaurants and hotels. It is a great walk at sunset and you get to see the fisherman bringing in their catch if you get up early enough in the morning. Varkala is the perfect place to go for a relaxing break after your hectic week of being a teacher! I went twice and would definitely go again, one thing to be aware of is the currents in the water; they can be very strong. There are life guards on duty on the more popular beaches – but not the ones north of the main area.
5. Ayurvedic massage
Ayurveda is a form of medicine popular in Kerala literally meaning ‘science of life’, it focuses on the idea of balance between three doshas: wind, fire and water/earth. If one of these are out of balance then it can result in illness, certain illnesses are attributed to too much or too little of any of the doshas. For example if you have a fever it is because you have too much ‘fire’. Ayurvedic massages aim to restore the balance and ensure that you are healthy, there are lots of different types and you should read up about them before you decide to have one; they vary greatly in price. A lot of people will offer Ayurvedic massage but are not actually trained, ask around for advise on this. I had one and it was an interesting experience (I didn’t know prior to my massage you have to be full undressed-this came as quite a shock!) but it was worth it!!