Kochi, Munnar, Alappuzha, Kollam, Varkala, Trivandrum, Kanyakumari, Chennai
India, Kerala, Tamil Nadu
Kochi - Munnar 85 INR
In Munnar, we had the opportunity to see the terraced evergreen tea plantations for the first time ever. Head from Kochi to the west, and after a few hours of furious bumpy ride on the windy narrow roads climbing up the steep hills, you will arrive in Munnar. Everything here spins around the tea production.
You may get a room at a very welcoming and friendly JJ Cottage (we paid 600 INR, now 1,400 INR online) near the KSRTC Stand (bus station) and your first steps will lead to book a rickshaw for the whole afternoon.
The most important sightseeing around Munnar can be done in two rides. The first route (rickshaw, 600 INR) runs around the Mattupatti Dam to the Echo Point where everyone screams like crazy. The more you climb on the road intertwining between the tea plantations, the more spectacular the views of the dam and the tea fields are. Rickshaw driver will answer all your questions you might have and stops whenever you ask for it. On the second day, head north of Munnar (rickshaw, 800 INR). The first stop is at the Tea Museum (75 INR), where you will learn about the whole process of tea production. The tour ends with a small tasting of local produce - in the Indian way, you will get an over-sweetened tea with milk. After the excursion, head towards Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary, on the way you can refresh yourself at Lakkam Waterfalls (10 INR). I strongly recommend taking the Chinnar Nature Reserve Tour (200 INR). They will assign a personal guide as an escort to you. He runs like crazy but safely walks you through the reservation (elephants, cobras, and other dangerous animals live here). At the end of the trek, you will have the opportunity to dip yourself in a small refreshing lake with a waterfall. We saw a cobra at a distance of 3 m!
If you need to go shopping at the market or use the internet (pc-cafe), take a rickshaw ride to the center of the new Munnar (1.5 km, 30 INR). Definitely try the excellent pepper chicken (incl. Cola and chapati for 165 INR) at the popular SN Restaurant just a few steps away from JJ Cottage (map).
The most attractive way how to travel from Alleppey to Kollam is using boat service of the Kerala State Water Transport Department. Every morning at 10.30, departs from Matha Jetty (map) a smaller two-story ship (top floor is reserved for tourists) towards Kollam (2013 - 300 INR, now 400 INR). The trip is definitely worth it. During the 8-hour cruise, you will admire the beautiful countryside of Kerala, full of juicy vegetation, you will observe the peaceful life of the villagers living in palm tree groves on the shores of the river, and from time to time you will pass by a massive bamboo houseboat. The route is diverse and takes you through the streams of wide sacred rivers, narrow water canals and extensive freshwater lakes. In the middle of the trip, you stop at a river canteen for lunch on a banana leaf (not included in the ticket price). As soon as you notice the increasing occurrence of hanging fishing nets followed by high-rise buildings in the distance - you reached your destination, the city of Kollam.
For more details on the cruise route and prices, refer to the SWTD Kerala websites.
The selection of cheap accommodation in this ancient port city is considerably limited. Online prices start at 1,200 INR for a double room. In 2013, we walked around a few options in downtown until we finally discovered an available room (600 INR) in one dilapidated hotel. An Arabic guy, the receptionist, led us upstairs, opened the door, the cockroaches immediately disappeared under the bed. Room without windows, smelly and humid, many-year dirt in the corners, moldy bathroom, boot footprints on the battered walls. We took it. After the long journey through the canals of Kerala and the exhaustive search for accommodation, we were glad that we finally found something. On top of that, I had a high fever, and I could not wait to lie down and sweat through the yellow sheets down to a smelly mattress full of mites.
They didn't like us much at the hotel, I have to say. When paying at the reception, Magda without noticing stepped on the receptionist's prayer rug spread on the floor, who then flushed, and with wild gestures and lamentations drove us away back into our room.
For a rickshaw ride from the center to the bus station at the port you will pay about 25 INR (map ).
Kollam - Kallambalam 24 INR
Kallambalam - Varkala 9 INR
If you want to enjoy some recreation and for a moment leave the tiring traveling around India aside, Varkala is not a bad choice at all. At the bus station, take the rickshaw (70 INR - tourist price) to Varkala Beach. Most hotels and restaurants of all kinds are located along the promenade on the cliff overlooking the beach. We were able to find a suitable homestay with a simple room featuring a fan, bathroom, and balcony, a few steps away from the beach for 400 INR (map). The second week we got even a discount - 350 INR. We could enjoy regular power outages every night around 8 and occasional water shortage.
In Varkala, everything is all about chilling on the beach, good food and long walks along the coast. You will find here a slightly quieter face of India. On the promenade on the cliff, you'll find many restaurants, bars, various shops, German Bakery, a rock bar, and a bookstore. I highly recommend visiting Trattorias Nepali Restaurant with excellent food and amiable service (lunch 150-300 INR). Enjoy a pleasant seating area on the first floor with exceptional sea views (map).
Trivandrum - Kanyakumari 70 INR
A coastal town in the southernmost tip of India, attracting pilgrims and tourists to their famed sunrises and sunsets. For many, however, this "City of Three Seas" has a much deeper meaning. Two seas and an ocean (the Bay of Bengal, the Arabian Sea, and the Indian Ocean) meet here, and this meaning is transferred into the spiritual and religious levels. On the sacred ground of Kanyakumari are practiced the three most important world religions. In one place you can see the beautiful Christian church Our Lady of Ransom Shrine, the Hindu Temple Kanyakumari Temple and the Gandhi Mandapam Temple and the Muslim Mosque Jumma Masjid.
The most sought-after attraction of the city is the 40m tall statue of the Tamilian poet, and philosopher Tiruvalluvar and the colossal monument Vivekananda Rock Memorial built on the rock of two islands 500m away from the mainland (boat 34 INR, entrance 20 INR).
We stayed at a primitive terraced hotel west of the Bus Station on Kovalam Rd for 350 INR. It was an ordinary shimmeringly green-painted room with a non-maintained bathroom and a Turkish toilet.
Kanyakumari is a fairly traditional place, the intercontinental cuisine will be hard to find here. In 2013, after an unsuccessful long search for a good restaurant, we eventually had to accept eating at a street stand. We sat on a wooden bench behind the stand, got served fried coated peppers and vegetables wrapped in newspaper. We ate as much as we could (flavors were good) and finished the lunch with a delicious milk coffee (all for 45 INR). And then I spent the rest of the night on the Turkish toilet - well, that's the Indian reality.
Gokarna - Mangalore 200 INR
Mangalore - Kochi 317 INR
Ernakulam - Fort Kochi Ferry 2.5 INR
Port city of Kochi with a rich history dating back to the 14th century - the trade times with Arab, European and Chinese merchants. These different cultures consequently reflected in the architectural and cultural development of the city. For centuries, local fishermen have been using wide Chinese fishing nets, which are still present in the harbor suspended over the sea. For centuries, the city has been called the most important Indian exotic spice trade center. Tradition persists, and even nowadays Kochi is being visited for its famous spice markets.
Everything important you can find around Fort Kochi - famous Chinese fishing nets on Mahatma Gandhi Beach, Vasco Da Gamma Square, Vasco Da Gama Church (the first European church built in India), Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica Church. In Mattancherry, visit Jewish Synagogue (5 INR), Mattancherry Palace, or various art shops selling clothing, and antiques.
Rickshaw drivers will be happy to offer a better price if you visit a few antique shops with them (they get a commission). If you are not a passionate collector of artifacts, make sure with the driver in advance that the price is for a trip without any stops. It's a waste of time.
To explore Kerala's authentic village life, take a one-day excursion on water canals (650 INR, book in one of many tourist agencies or guest houses). You will see free-diving fishermen, women doing laundry smashing the clothing against the stone, coconut farms, and the pure life of small settlements scattered along the river. Included in the price is the traditional Kerala dish (lunch) served on a banana leaf.
Look for accommodation in the Mattancherry and Fort Kochi quarters. There's plenty of options. The lowest online price starts at 400 INR.
Munnar - Alleppey 144 INR
If you are planning to go on a scenic cruise trip along the Kerala canals from Alleppey to Kollam, Alleppey is the perfect place for one-day rest on the way from Munnar.
Stay in one of the luxurious and cheap villas around Cullen Rd, for example, in the very friendly and comfortable Brown Residency (400 INR, map).
You can spend the rest of the day exploring the Mount Carmel Cathedral and local (not very interesting) beaches (rickshaw to the beach, 15 - 20 INR).
Varkala - Trivandrum 90 INR
The capital of Kerala - Trivandrum, you'll probably visit while traveling to the southernmost point of India - Kanyakumari.
Due to the filled capacity or high prices, we have long wandered around the central Mahathma Gandhi Rd until we finally (the 15th hotel we asked at) got a standard double bed for 680 INR. Now expect at least 800 INR.
On Mahathma Gandhi Rd you will find all the important shopping malls, restaurants (KFC menu 250 INR) and boutiques. The history of Trivandrum, as the former major business hub with spices, sandalwood, and ivory, is nicely described in the Napier Museum in its beautiful historic building surrounded by a park. The Museum is located close to the grounds of the surprisingly well-preserved and interesting Thiruvananthapuram Zoo (20 INR for both entrances, map). On your way back to the center, take the time to explore St. Joseph's Metropolitan Cathedral, Government Secretariat, and the exotic Connemara Market.
Kanyakumari - Chennai 530 INR, 15h
After a crazy all-night bus ride without air-conditioning, having aching bodies after the drive on demolished dusty roads and super-tired of constant stops and delays, we finally arrived in Chennai. Unfortunately, the bus did not have a toilet aboard, but here and there the drivers stopped to let the green passengers jump out and vomit in the ditch. Magda was also one of them. No wonder - 15 hours of traffic exhaust fumes inhalation entering the bus through the open windows and the bumpy ride is not a pleasure. Magda had to solve the absence of WC with plastic bags that threw out of the window after filling. Some Indians vomited right out of the window on passing cars.
Get cheap backpackers accommodation in the Triplicane area. To get there from the bus station behind the city, the easiest way is probably taking a rickshaw (11 km, 200 INR).
If you are looking for a basic room for one night at a reasonable price, Paradise Guest House (450 INR, map) is enough for you. There's no need to go far away, as on Triplicane High Rd you will find all you might need, be it restaurants, boutiques, post office, ATM or hospital.
Undoubtedly Chennai offers inmense shopping and entertainment possibilities, but we stopped in Chennai with one single intent, and that was taking the boat to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. If you are a native adventurer, if you do not mind a moment of discomfort and want to experience something utterly new and intense, then this 3-day journey (5-day journey back to Calcutta) is just made for you. Book the cheapest bunk bed class on the hot and stinky lowest deck and find out what it's like to sail for 3 days with another 1,000 curious Indians aboard. You will experience unprecedented!