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  • Writer's pictureKristin

Southern India | Kerala, Kumily & Varkala

Updated: Mar 6, 2021

Day 3-4: Alappuzha (Alleppey), Kerala

We flew SpiceJet from Mumbai to Kochi to begin our time in Southern India. In India, they had separate security lines for mean and women, with the security people being the same gender. Upon arrival to Kochi we caught a rickshaw from the airport to Alluva Train Station. We had two hours to kill before our train departed so we grabbed some lunch at a restaurant. Unknowingly we ordered way too much food. We couldn't eat that much, so we packaged up some of the biryanis and gave them to some needy people that we came across on our walk back to the train station. We came across a Grandmother with a toddler that we offered some of the food too. Then later as we were waiting for the train, a lady with two older children came to ask for money, so instead we gave them the food.

After the train ride to Alleppey, we headed down to the dock to see if we could get a houseboat for the first night. However, most of the boats depart right before lunch and then come back the following morning. So we decided to stay somewhere for the night and then come back the next morning to find a boat.

Southern India Observations....Including the Head Wobble

We did notice there are some difference between Southern & Northern India, besides just their food. First, the tobacco and alcohol seemed to be much more regulated in Southern India than Northern India. In Kerala, if you went in a liquor store, the beer was even locked up, and similar for tobacco. However, in places like Delhi, it was easily accessible. Also, the further you go in India the more prevalent the head 'wobble' becomes. This is a gesture that Indians use by shaking their head in a unique manner to non-verbally communicate their understanding, to say 'yes' or 'thank you', and even to confusingly say 'no' without coming right out and saying 'no'. However, in the latter situation the movement may not be as pronounced or done enthusiastically. Why don't they just say 'no' do you say? Because it's considered disrespectful. So for the foreigner it becomes a little bit of a unique guessing game.

Kerala Houseboat Tour

The next morning we were down at the docks at 9 a.m. to start negotiating for a houseboat. You had to barter for a houseboat and some of the boats were starting out at prices of 11,000 to 14,000 rupees. We found an individual traveler from Germany who was willing to share the boat with us. For a 2 bedroom houseboat we were able to talk the crew down to 10,000 Rupees.

We departed at 11:30 a.m. and cruised for 1.5 hours before stopping for lunch. Afterwards we hung out on the boat for a bit that afternoon while the crew had their nap; then we continued to creep through the canals.

One of the first rules of traveling in India is not to drink water that does not come from a sealed bottle. However, this certainly isn't the case for the locals, who have built up their immune systems over the years! This was especially obvious when we were in the backwaters of Kerala. This area of Southern India is full of little canals that weave in and out, with the locals making their residence along the edges. The water is not only a livelihood for their transportation and jobs, but it served as a main part of their household -- as bathroom & kitchen! They wash their dirty dishes and laundry in the water, and then use the same water to brush their teeth and bathe. However, probably what is the most repulsive is that the same water serves as a toilet and sewage. [On the next day when we took the local ferry boat from Alleppey to Kottayam they had open toilets at the back of boat, where the toilet was basically just a hole in the floor that opened up to the water passing below.] Needless to say, we didn't swim in any waters in India, except the ocean.

We spent the night docked along the canals in a picturesque area surround by lush green rice fields. We had the opportunity to get out and walk along the canals and the local villagers were super friendly and kind; allowing us to take some photos of them.

The bedrooms in the houseboat were saunas, so we were lucky we got a room with AC. Although it took a bit to get it up and running. However, once dusk arrived, the mosquitoes came out (great breeding grounds for them) so we called it an early night.

Day 5: Alleppey to Kumily

After coming back to Alleppey from our houseboat overnight trip, we took a 3-hour local ferry to Kottayam & then a 3-hour bus ride to Kumily. Ironically, the local ferry goes through some of the same canals the houseboats do, but only cost 10 rupees for views of the same scenery. We much preferred the ferry over the government buses as well.

Bus to Kumily

We boarded the bus to Kumily and took seats at the front of the bus, which gave us a firsthand look at the events laying out in front of us. Even outside the hills, I don't think there is a straight road in Southern India; we were constantly twisting and turning on the winding roads. As a result, there are blind curves about 90% of the time. However, this doesn't stop the buses or other road traffic from being slowed by the vehicle in front of them. In our long bus, we would constantly be blindly passing other buses! Although there are lines on the road, they aren't really adhered to -- so most of the time we were also across the middle line. There were about five times on our trip up to Kumily that I thought we were going to get in an accident, but all five times the driver avoided any type of crash! One of those times I even thought we were going to take-out a mother and little boy walking on the side of the road. Another time I thought we were going to run right into a pile of rocks in the middle of our lane of traffic; although there was a warning sign, the driver didn't seem to reduce his speed for it until the last possible moment.

Meanwhile, the entire bus ride was filled with noises of honking horns! Although their driving seems insane by our Western standards, I do have to admit that they are very talented drivers. I don't think I could ever drive in India -- as city driving is basically done in the same manner.

However, I did have an odd experience on the bus. I was sitting in a seat with our backpacks in the seat next to me. A man boarded the bus and asked if he could sit there. The ticket taker told him to go to the back of the bus because there was plenty of seats back there. Later in the ride, I shifted the bags around and the seat became open; immediately he came up and sat in the empty seat so I was smooshed up against the window. I decided to go find another seat, which he then closed the window and stretched out across the two seats. It was a little annoying and weird to say the least; especially since Indian men and women never sit close to each other - often men are at the back and women in the front.

Needless to say, we were just happy when we arrived in Kumily in one piece! And our hostel was amazing, as it had a view from our balcony of Periyar National Park. Finally, because Kumily is located in the hills, it also provided a nice break from the heat.

Day 6: Kumily - Periyar National Park

Our first full day in Kumily we did a Jeep Jungle Safari tour through Periyar National Park, which started before dawn. Periyar National Park is known for having 50 or so tigers that call the park home; while we didn't see any tigers, we still saw a ton of wildlife. As the sun started to rise we saw deer, monkeys, a squirrel and eagle. The sounds of the animals and birds were beautiful as well.

After breakfast we took a 3 hour hike through the forest. After lunch we walked to a Cardamom plantation and along the way saw a family of 6-8 elephants off in the distance. Later we took a short boat ride on the small lake. As we were on our way out of the park we saw more squirrels, black monkeys and an Asian buffalo. It was pretty cool to have the opportunity to see so much wildlife in one day. It was definitely a memorable day!

We have also experienced several power outages in Kumily at our hostel, as well as around town, but it seems like this is pretty standard in this area.

Day 7: Kumily – Tea Plantation

In addition to Periyar National Park, the Kumily area was a beautiful area with endless hills of tea plantations. In fact, this was probably our favorite spot in India. On our second full day in the area we visited the Connemara Tea & Spice Plantation. Some interesting things we learned were:

  • The plantation employs around 300-400 workers and all are provided housing, insurance and schooling for their children, plus free tea for life!

  • The tea plant is actually a tree, but they made it bonsai for easier harvesting.

  • They harvest the leaves off the top every 10 days and more often in the monsoon season.

  • All teas come from the same plant, but it's the roasting the differentiates the flavours.

The tour was very comprehensive and showed the steps of tea roasting. There was also a spice garden where we learned more about different coffee and spice plants, and how they can naturally help with different health ailments.

Journey to Varkala - Another Bus Ride

That afternoon we started our trip to Varkala. We were originally going to take the bus back to Kottayam and then train to Varkala, but we couldn't find any available tickets the night before. So we ended up going on a bus. Some people told us we could take a bus that would get us pretty close to Varkala and then we'd just have to catch a short one for the remainder of the way. After talking to a few others, we decided to go that route. However, once we were on the bus it started to pull over multiple times for people on the road, so it took longer. In total, it was a 6-hour bus ride.

Once we arrived in Kottayam, we found out there wasn't a direct bus to Varkala; instead we'd have to take a bus to Thrivadum and then get another bus to Varkala. We ended up deciding just to pay for a taxi to take us directly to our accommodation as want to take two more buses. After a very bumpy 50-minute taxi ride, the taxi driver couldn't find our resort, so we got out and had to get a local rickshaw driver to take us. Luckily, transportation in India is cheap -- our bus tickets were about $2 each, the taxi was about $14, and the rickshaw was $3. After starting our trip at 12:30 that afternoon, we finally got to our resort at 8:45 p.m.!

At that point we were just glad to be at the beach for two full days! It was all worth it to fall asleep in our little beach bungalow at BlueWater Resort with the ocean waves crashing as a lullaby to put us asleep.

Day 8-9: Varkala – Blue Water Resort

The two mornings at the resort, I tried a 90 minute yoga class that was offered at a nearby hostel. It was an outdoor class, which was nice. The class was taught by an Indian Yoga instructor; and while it was similar to some classes back home, it had more of a focus on stretching and breathing. However, you could tell the class was geared toward tourists as the cost was 300 rupees.

Fishermen on the Beach

After breakfast we went for a walk along the beach. The shoreline is sandy but there are cliffs lined with large rocks. As we walked we came across several fishing boats and a group of fishermen pulling in their nets. We came across one group who wanted us to help. We both took turns helping them pulling the rope. They must have tough hands though, as my hands were started to get a bit of rope burn for the short time I helped. It definitely created a new appreciation for seafood!

Over the two days, we enjoyed our time swimming in the ocean and just relaxing at the resort. A couple interesting things we learned were that the resort closes down during monsoon season (April to Sept) and the workers migrate to the Himalayas to work during that time.

There were some beautiful sunsets there as well.

We also discovered Kerala curry. It was so delicious and almost had a sweet taste to it - maybe because of their access to cinnamon and cardamom. We both thought it was some of the best curries we have had.

Ayurvedic Massages

On our last evening in Varkala, we tried Ayurvedic massages at the nearby Doctor's Ayurvedic Treatment Center. They would only allow males to go with males and females with females, so Alex and I split ways. We knew that it was a special type of massage method from this part of India and it involved oils and rubbing, but we really had no idea what we were in store for. I started in a sitting position, where she poured oil on the scalp of my head and started to massage it and spread it throughout my hair. She then did some shoulder massaging before having me get on the table where she started to massage my face, and then proceeded to pour hot oil from my feet to my arms and then massaging it all in. Pretty much everything got massaged! By the end, I was one slippery and oily person. To get the oil off, they finish the treatment with a bath. There she applied a solution that had a texture similar to oatmeal with milk and rinsed it all off with a small pail of warm water. It was definitely the most unique massage I had ever gotten.

The following day we took a train to Trivandum at 6:30 a.m. and then headed to the airport for our flight to Delhi to start the Northern India portion of our trip.


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