While even two weeks are not enough to fully explore the lush green lands of Kerala, what do you do if you have just two nights in the state? Anushka Patodia tells you how to maximise your weekend here.
A breath of cool, salty air welcomes you as you first set foot on the south-western coast of India, a serene haven known as Kerala. The rippling backwaters, lush coconut palms, tranquil houseboats and luxurious resorts are surely the stuff an uber-relaxing vacation is made of.
Kerala is dotted with numerous resorts, wildlife sanctuaries, hill stations and Ayurvedic centres, that offer the sweet promise of a sybaritic experience, one that you may not forget easily. So, depending upon where your interests lie – whether it’s the spa, wildlife, the mountains, or the backwaters – you can choose where to go next. While Kochi is indubitably the first stop on this (really) short break, there are a number of options you can choose for your second stop
Kochi-cooing your way around
This port city is also offers a unique cultural experience to visitors. Known for its quality spices such as black pepper and cardamom, which was traded to the Arabs, Dutch, Phoenicians, Portuguese, and Chinese more than 600 years ago, it soon became the gateway to Old India and was where the colonisation of India began from. Today, it is a thriving commercial port, which hosts the annual Kochi-Muziris Biennale, an international exhibition of contemporary art.
Do make it a point to visit the Hill Palace Museum, an impressive 49-building complex that was once the home of the Kochi royal family. You’ll find 19th-century oil paintings, old coins, sculptures and paintings, jewellery and temple models from the collections of former royal families here. Also worth a visit are the Kerala Folklore Museum, which houses more than 4,000 artefacts; the Indo-Portuguese Museum, which offers a glimpse into the lives of early Catholic communities; and the Maritime Museum, dedicated to the history of the Indian navy.
Spend some time exploring the majestic Pardesi Synagogue. Built in 1568, it features a gorgeous golden pulpit, Belgian chandeliers, Scrolls of Law, and an 18th-century clock tower. Lastly, do not leave without a visit to the fishing nets, which symbolise the backwaters and the city. These giant cantilevered fishing nets are on the north-eastern shore of Fort Kochi and have been there since 1400AD.
Love the mountains? Pick Munnar
If you’re a nature lover and enjoy being surrounded by green, then this is the place for you. Located about 130 kilometres from Kochi (a four-hour car ride), Munnar offers a coolly pleasing climate, rolling hills speckled with tea plantations, winding lanes, and picturesque valleys. Its mild climate and the leisurely pace has made it one of India’s most popular honeymoon destinations.
Unwind with a hot cup of the finest tea as you watch the clouds go by through the verdant mountains. If you’re in the mood for some exercise, go for one of the many treks in the surrounding hills and watch out for gurgling waterfalls. Top off your days with some delectable Keralan food, including idlis (steamed rice cakes), dosas (rice pancakes), meduvadas (deep-fried savoury doughnuts), and spicy coconut-based curries with fresh seafood, beef, and chicken.
Want to experience the backwaters? Go to Alleppey
An integral and distinctive experience of Kerala, the backwaters are a set of brackish lagoons and lakes that allow you to enjoy the unique landscapes around. Spend a day and night on the backwaters by travelling to the town of Alleppey, which is just 54 kilometres (1.5-hour car ride) from Kochi.
Watch the languid waters and the fishermen and farmers working their way around as you relax with a cool drink and some of the freshest seafood this side of the world. Here you’ll feel one with nature and watch your stress melt away as you see a multitude of birds flit around in your newfound sanctuary.
Enjoy wildlife? Visit Thekkady and Periyar
If you’re the adventurous type and love watching wildlife, it’s worth the long drive (158 kilometres; 4 hours) to Thekkady. Here, you’ll find the imposing Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, a dense evergreen deciduous forest which is home to herds of elephants, sambar, tigers, gaur, lion-tailed macaques and Nilgiri langurs. If you’re lucky you’ll even sight hordes of elephants drinking water from Periyar Lake.
Besides the wildlife, Thekkady itself is a green town, with a popular spice market and abundant spice plantations where you can pick up some fresh, high-quality spices to take back home.
Just want to unwind? Spa in Kumarakom
If you wish to relax and do nothing at all, you can’t go wrong with If you wish to relax and do nothing at all, you can’t go wrong with checking in to one of the luxury spa hotels in Kumarakom. Just 53 kilometres (1 hour 20 minutes by car) away, this white sand haven is the ideal spot to relax and release those knotted muscles in your body. Choose from options such as the ZuriKumarakom and Taj Kumarakom Resort & Spa.
While the monsoon is the best time for an Ayurvedic massage, you’ll still be able to unwind with the variety of options available for the full body, foot, face, and back. With the serene surroundings and the expert touch of the masseuses, you’re bound to come back feeling rejuvenated and refreshed. ◼
© This article was first published in June-July 2018 edition of World Travel Magazine.