Friday, May 27, 2011

Back from God's own country!

Came back from a 7-day stay in Kerala on the 18th of May (and from Goa yesterday :D), and I must say I had an amazing time!! This time I'll try to narrate it a little differently by telling you what I think of the place and the city we stayed in.

We (my parents & myself) had googled for a hotel that was at a small distance from Trivandrum Central station, and as soon as we reached (11th May), we didn't know where to go. After asking around a little bit, this man told us to get out of the station and look for a prepaid auto counter. "Cheappp and besttta" in his words. The people there are very friendly. They may not know your language or may speak with a strong accent but they try very hard to help you & convey their message to you by way of signs or broken English. Hindi is less spoken & understood than English. Anyway, so, as soon as we got out of the station near platform 1, we found the counter and just like he had said, we were charged the minimum auto fare (Rs. 12) as it was very closeby. We also didn't have to wait for an auto at all. "Cheap and best" !!

Trivandrum was a pleasant city. Our hotel (Hotel Prathiba Heritage) was awesome. The rooms and the service was up to the mark. The owner, Mr. Krishnan Nair, helped us with directions to go to all the places we had googled for. He also helped with planning our schedule as to which places we should go to first, and how long it would take us to get there and which next place was closest to the one we had gone to.

Though Kerala is famous for sea food, we being vegetarians, didn't have much of a choice when it came to veg food. Most places usually served only the South Indian cuisine (dosa, idli, vada, sambaar, rice). The subzi would usually be liquid with a lot of coconut & hardly any vegetables. There were restaurants which had North Indian food listed in their menus but when we asked for any of those items, they would plainly say that those were not available at that time. Everything had to be ordered separately. It didn't do well to assume that biryani would come with raita. Sandwiches were not as commonly available as they are available here. This was the case in Trivandrum and a few other places. In Kanyakumari, however, the case was far different. All restaurants there had all types of food and on request, they were also willing to prepare the food without onion or garlic (as dad prefers it). Also, when you ask for water or when the waiter brings glasses of water to your table, it's always hot unless you mention that you want it cold. I didn't get why they serve hot water everywhere, mostly in Trivandrum. Dad said there must have been some epidemic going around and they're being careful now! They also have this peculiar way of serving a vada with every dish you order. Vadas are prepared with onion in them (unlike in Bombay) and dad had a hard time reminding himself to tell the waiter not to get a vada for him. Coffee is more readily available than tea, and most people don't know of or don't prepare masala tea, ginger tea or cardamom tea. The KTDC hotels are still better, and the tea I had at the Floating Hotel, KTDC, Veli lake, was the best tea I ever had. They had prepared it with cloves and dry ginger.

Red Bananas - Kerala speciality

Took some of these yellow bananas at Neyyar to feed the elephants!

Lunch on a banana leaf at Hotel Aryaa, Trivandrum

Mango juice at Kanyakumari

One strange yet common sight was that of a long queue in liquor shops. And this was the case in every part of Kerala we went to. It was funny how the queue bore resemblance to the queue we used to have here in ration or public distribution shops.

The best way to move around the city is through buses. The bus transport system in Kerala can be compared to the local train system here in Bombay. There are buses every two or five minutes going to all parts of the city. There is no fixed bus stop as such. You stand where you see a lot of people waiting for the bus. There are frequent inter-city buses from the central bus stands too. Also, exactly opposite to how it is here, you board from the front door of the bus and alight from the rear. We moved around in KSRTC (Kerala State Road Transport Corporation) buses all through our trip except for the trip to Neyyar Dam where we booked a tour which involved a KTDC (Kerala Tourism Development Corporation) bus.

Spotted a double-decker bus at Trivandrum

I didn't find any nightlife as such in Trivandrum. Shops close down too soon (8:30pm or so). Kanyakumari, being a tourist spot, is still open till about 10 or 11 but Trivandrum shuts too soon.

As for the places we went to, we visited the art & history museums, the zoo, the Padmanabhaswami temple, Veli lake, Kovalam beach, Neyyar Dam at Trivandrum. There is one more beach called the lighthouse beach at Kovalam beach which is very well-known & often mistaken for Kovalam beach itself. We missed it and then wondered why there was so much hype over Kovalam beach when there were hardly any people there, and it was so small in size. We had fun at Veli lake with speed boating, horse riding, having chai at the KTDC floating hotel and spending time on the beach. Neyyar dam was amazing. We saw lions at an arm's distance at the lion safari park, fed the elephants, took blessings from them and rode on them too! The people in our tour bus to Neyyar were very friendly and made the trip all the more enjoyable!

Horse riding at Veli

Neyyar Dam Lion Safari Park

Blessings from the elephant at Neyyar!

We went to Kanyakumari, which takes about 3 hours from Trivandrum. There are no direct buses going to Kanyakumari from Trivandrum. One has to go to Nagercoil from Trivandrum and then change buses to go to Kanyakumari. But as I mentioned before, the buses are very frequent so that is not a problem at all. We reached Kanyakumari at around 2 pm, had lunch, shopped a bit, and reached the boat jetty spot at 4pm to go to the Vivekanada memorial which is in the middle of the sea. Unfortunately, we saw that the boat jetty ticket counter closes at 4pm and the guard wouldn't let anyone in at all. So we had to stay there for one more day to be able to go to the Vivekananda memorial & the 133 feet tall Thiruvalluvar statue. But we made use of our day after 4pm by going to the Gandhi memorial, the sunset point and a wandering monk exhibition (Swami Vivekananda exhibition) that was going on. We also shopped for a lot of silk & cotton sarees at dirt cheap prices. The sunset point is where the three waters meet: the Indian ocean, the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea. Next morning, we went to the sunrise point which is closer to the main junction than the sunset point. Next, we finally made it to the Vivekananda memorial and the Thiruvalluvar statue. There are boats going to both the places. We were very tired, wanted to go back to Trivandrum and missed seeing the 16th century Padmanabhapuram wooden palace near Kanyakumari.

Thiruvalluvar statue

Vivekananda Rock Memorial

Sunrise at Kanyakumari

We also visited Kollam (an hour from Trivandrum) and took an 8-hr cruise boat ride to Alleppey. The DTPC office suggested this trip saying it was a very famous tour and would be worthwhile. It took my houseboat and row-boating plans for a toss when we signed up for it. The cruise was enjoyable for the first couple of hours and started to get boring later. I'd suggest anyone to take a 2 hour village canal tour at Kollam, and spend sometime on a houseboat at Kollam instead of the 8-hr cruise boat trip to Alleppey. I wanted to go row-boating at any cost so we decided to spend the night at Alleppey and go row-boating the next morning. We also visited the beach at Alleppey that night but there were no lights on the beach and we had to return soon. Row-boating was fun the next morning. We (my mom and I) were in the boat for a little over an hour and took turns rowing the boat. The row was heavy even though the boat-man exchanged his light row with our heavy one. He was rowing the boat at the rear end and was teaching us how to do it at the front side. We saw a few people getting trained for the Onam boat race and also for the olympics on the way.

Alleppey backwaters

Row boating at Alleppey

We returned to Trivandrum by bus soon after boating. It took almost 5 hours for us to come back and the day was spent resting and exploring the city some more.

Except for the food and the fact that shops close down early in Trivandrum, I found it a lovely city to stay in. I liked it better than the other places we went to, in terms of staying there & not just sight-seeing. It's spacious and has all kinds of stores & other facilities. The city, though very well-developed, has a peaceful aura about it and the people there leave you to yourself unless you want it otherwise. On the day that we were leaving, just after we had packed our bags and ordered some chai, the city bloomed in full glory with the first shower of rain ever since we had set foot in Trivandrum. I ran out of the hotel and looked around. I was already low about leaving the city, and the rains made it all the more difficult!

A lot experienced and a lot missed, despite some of its difficulties, this is one place I want to go back to..!!


JD said...

Nyce!! U need to go back for a lot of reasons, prime being lighthouse beach - know u'll love to shop there :) When is the Goa blog coming online?

Sana said...

Wow.. For me it was a 10 mins tour 2 kerela.. Reallyy nice! :)

Reema said...

wow!! loved the post! Kerala is next on my to visit list. Now that I am moving to Bangalore, that will come true soon I hope.

Anubha said...

Hmm, I'm definitely going there again and will make sure I go to the lighthouse beach before I can go anywhere else! I don't think I'm doing a goa blog- I go there so often that it doesn't seem like something that should be blogged about :S Let's see.

I'm assuming this is the same Sana I know. Nevertheless, I'm glad you liked the post. Welcome to my blog! :)

Oh I thought you already moved in. You should surely visit Kerala. Just 8 hours from Bangalore if I'm not mistaken.

Jenny Woolf said...

Wow this looks awesome. What a good travelogue!

Vipin said...

Hey, am new to your blog and just read your travelogue. Trivandrum is my hometown and you know what, hot water will be served in any hotel there any time of the year, its not because of any epidemic. People there have the habit of boiling water, in fact they also add herbs / jeera in water as that is supposed to be hygienic.

Am glad you enjoyed your trip and you have a nice blog.

Anubha said...

Hey welcome to my Blog! I can see you're a travel writer. Will check out your posts. Thanks!! :)

Welcome to my blog Vipin :) I had a great time at your hometown. I am planning to visit it again! Hot water is for hygiene? It's a good thing. Just that it's really hot in Kerala and when you enter a restaurant & the waiter brings you a glass of water, you expect it to cool you down. And then you're taken by surprise! :D That was the whole problem. Because everywhere else, water is served cold or at room temperature. It helps you to cool down.

I am glad you liked my blog. Thank you!!! :) Keep coming!

Prasad said...

i just read this blog...!!
Kerala is truly a God's own country && special treat for nature lovers like me
u have explained every minute details in ur blog && snaps are really awesome
i get the feeling that 1 day you will definitely write a good book on Travel & journey
Best wishes!!!


Indian Pharmacy said...

Beautiful photos, it seem that you were having a great time there.

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