South of India is like another country all together compared to the North of India and the Region of Rajastan, most of the coastal parts are full of Beaches, Fishing ports with a more tropical laidback feel. The culture is a lot more modern, with Colonisation taking place in the 20th century due to European rule in Kochi and along the coast. Influencing religion, architecture and even the food here, Christianity being one of the main religions instead of Hindu creates a slightly different way and look on life and look on life.
I wasn’t sure how I would feel about Kerala as a state due to how incredible Rajasthan was, but it performed and seriously amazed me in so many ways, After a crazy 3 weeks of travelling India, South India has a slower pace and boy was I grateful!
KOCHI – FIRST AND LAST STOP
Accommodation – *** – I stayed in a converted Convent, with the original rooms, arched windows, and floors, Called the Gama Heritage Hotel. Its connection with the Portugese influence was very noticeable in the layout and features
I arrived in Kochi after a flight from Goa which took 2 hours (showing just how large India is, Kochi Airport is 1 hour outside the city so a little trek to the main Kochi Fort and walls which is where all the main attractions are to keep you busy for a few days
Kochi is the capital of the region known as Kerala, with huge fishing industries, businesses, and colonial history, not forgetting the food in the area. “the Queen of the Arabian Sea,” is the nickname given to this stunning fort city.
Visit the Chinese Fish nets
I have never seen this unusual nets for catching hundreds and thousands of fish at once within a net which pivots into the sea then lifted up the same way. Originally from China and brought over to India in the early 1400’s. The chinese fishing nets can be spotted all along the Kochi fort sea front, with local fisherman selling fish they catch within 10 minutes along the pathways! Fresh as you can get! The nets can be as big as 20 metres out from the land structures. The Fisherman are so friendly and try to guide you to see the nets up close and for them to explain the process but they do charge (check prices should be no more than 300 rupees).
St Francis Church
Built in 1507, the church is known as one of the oldest in India, with a typical Portugese architectural style, which goes with other buildings within the Kochi Fort . It is located in the North West of the Fort, and provides a perfect start to this historic city.
The Mattencherry Palace is a Portuguese influenced building which once housed the Royal family, it is actually known as the Dutch Palace which confuses me even more with so many nationalities already involved in this Indian City. With intricate artistry, painting and furniture still intact within the palace walls. You learn a lot from the museum inside about the history of Kochi and the surrounding kingdoms. its located within the Jewish quarter in the east of the city.
Jewish road and the Spice road
The road runs around the edge of Kochi fort, with restaurants, market stalls, a synagogue hidden in the inner streets, with a lot of activity and busy locals going about their daily business. Antique stores, Holi colour powders being sold as well as beautiful art work and clothing. One of the main areas to also go through is the Spice Bazaar road (Kavathy Road ), between East and West of the Fort, with derelict looking buildings with large courtyards Kochi was once the epicentre of the spice trades in India throughout the world.
Try the Fresh Fish curries
The place we subconsciously ended up at 3 times with Oceanas Restaurant, everything we ate had so much flavour, and I tried a curry that I still druel at every time I think about it. The Tuna Varutharachathu is full of tastes I had never tried and the tuna was cooked to perfection with each mouthful complimenting the fish and flavours perfectly. The Thali dishes were the same with alot of different tastes and options.
Walk through the Colonial buildings
From the Francis Church to the Jewish Quarter there are so many small streets winding through the Inner fort almost like they have been taken from somewhere in Europe, with back yards, terraces, semi detached, and lovely gardens leading to porches. Some streets have the influence of the first portugese and dutch settlers here too, with wooden structures, cobbled roads, and beautiful window frames. I loved walking through them all almost like stepping back in time, with children playing on the streets, and art work, street art also very prominent and popular here. You soon forget where you are or heading due to the streets being so pretty.
Catch a traditional Kochin Dance
The famous painted performers are seen throughout the Kerala region, but the dance shows and the pre show makeup artistry is explained in great detail at the ones in Kochi. It was 1 hour long, within walking distance from our hotel in the West of Kochi . The art of the makeup is through the colours and the meaning behind them, as well as the face gestures that are explained at the beginning of the story. The theatre it is performed in is a beautiful room within a community centre, only fitting aaround 100 people within it, creating a very intimate show.
ALLAPPEY – SECOND STOP
Known for its beautiful interlinking backwater canals, separating rice fields and village banks built on top. Palm trees bending over into the waters path to create a beautiful fringed setting for you to relax and take in the views. Alleppey is full of breathtaking scenery but the locals and people here made it even more special with their welcoming nature. Alleppey is gifted with a unique crisscrossing network of canals that runs throughout the town which allows you to access and explore the entire area while you’re relaxing on your houseboat.
Oh and dont forget to try out some toddy (palm wine) at a local toddy shop for adding a touch of authenticity to your travel experience in this city.
The main draw to this beautiful area of India are the waterboats which are built out of palm tree wood and leaves, with 1 – 4 bedrooms depending on size, with outdoor terraces normally in the front, to really take in the views ahead, but also some have them at the back if they are the bigger ones. The rooms are so cute, with room for everyone to relax, read a book, listen to music, or just take in the surroundings. I stayed on one for a full afternoon, but you can stay on them for days or weeks if you wanted.
The houseboat will always be manned by at least 3 people- a cook, a guide and an oarsman. Delicious fresh meals are provided on the houseboats by the in-house cooks which are a local favourite, especially when the local fish comes out with the pineapple curries etc. The guide keeps you posted of all the important landmarks you pass and the oarsman makes sure you have a wonderful time cruising along the calm backwaters.
The Canals of the Backwaters
As you go further into the back waters some of the routes become smaller and become narrow canals, where smaller boats are needed. This is where you have the opportunity to really go off the beaten tracks, to get a more authentic experience of what life is like in Aleppey. The canals are home to many villages and locals who have grown up their whole lives on the water for farming, fishing and tourism as it grows. We got to go and explore these canals where people were washing their pots and pans, cleaning clothes, and even fishing along the Canal for some smaller fish. Due to the monsoon seasons these canals can sometimes rise above the edges and unfortunately ruin the villages homes
Simple in build, functional in design, but basic in terms of the facilities in some of the house, they were once the homes of squatters and almost like slums within the town. Over the years tourism and the economy has helped these become much more developed for the people who live in them. Creating higher stilts so when floods happen the houses are safer, providing electricity to some of them and even sewage in some villages.
The villagers are what make the experience of walking through and along the villages so special, with so much activity, friendly smiles, hellos and comments in their language to the guide we were with. It was amazing to see the plants, flowers growing round the houses, and the flashes of colour from the washing flying on the clothing lines as we went past.
A magical experience!
KOLLAM – STOP 3
A quick stop here with only 1 night, and not the best of weather. The town is full of small markets, and Cashew nuts are a popular produce here due to the Cashew farms up in the mountains in the region. There are temples to visit, with insense, and also the introduction of a lot more churches with the christian influence. The hotel was close to the main streets
VARKALA – FORTH STOP
One of the Paradises of India, with dramatic cliff edges full of small food and bar shacks, all looking down to the pristine beach below. It was love at first sight, the whole place had such a relaxed feel, its almost like the further south you go, the beaches instantly made me feel happier, and luckily the sun was coming out just as I was walking along the cliff path.
The main area of Varkala goes further inland than just being along the beaches, with bright coloured buildings and forestry all dotted around them. As I walked through , around and onto the beach path again, 20 minutes down the main area of Verkala is a black beach. Stunning amongst the green palm trees and white spray from the water. The black is due to Volcanic rocks from neighbouring land. The pathway to the Black beach is full of small clothing stalls, souvenir shops, and handcrafts along with bookstores. There are also alot of small hotel resorts, which all have there own charms and personalities, but fit in with the shabby sheek feel of Varkala. It is so nice to have a place which isn’t ruined from over tourism and still has such an authentic feel of India.
The hippy vibes, and yogi atmosphere here doesn’t just go into the Vegan and vegetarian food options but also the classes and lessons that are on throughout the beach town. I had an hour and half Yoga class for 400 rupees (£4) and some how by the end I was doing an assisted head stand? The rain was pouring but the roof terrace we were on fully covered us, so the sound was hitting the tin roof, while we did yoga poses around the jungle setting looking out to the beach. One of the best classes ive ever done!
One of the main Hindu temples in Varkala, in the town of Trivandrum, It is over 2000 years old and is full of people in the morning for the daily offerings to Lord Vishnu. The temples inside are beautiful decorated, with small intimate temples, and even a fertility shrine for families close to the trees to prayer for children or good health, which is very emotional to see. Fireworks being made outside definitely wake you up by the men laughing as you pass.
The beaches are just stunning for an all day chill, with the sun setting being one of the best in India, the sky, sand and sea all catch on fire as it sets, the town is so perfect to watch the sunset too all with tables, chairs and relaxing beanbags to sit out and chill with a western breakfast of avocado and eggs on toast, of after a month of curries a delicious pizza! Delish! Delish! Everyone can then eat, drink and enjoy the evening music which can be heard throughout the Beach front with 80’s, 90’s Reggae and other retro music vibes.
Try the freshest fish and juices
The fish is as fresh as can be, with restaurants advertising and showing off the catch of the day all along the Verkala cliffs, with the options to cook them in authentic way of just Banana leaves and lemon, and even get to pick out the fish of your choice yourself. The juices from the region and country, with watermelons, mangoes, lychee and oranges.
After the last week of relaxing beaches of Varkala and i feel so recharged, the lazy days along the canals of Allappey, and the quieter more chilled out vibes of Kollam, Kerala has completely changed my opinion on India. What I thought was a country full of dessert, royal palaces and chaotic streets, has shown me India is full of surprises and different scenery in every direction of this beautiful country.