Our suggestion for a 10-day tour of God’s Own Country includes the best of the backwaters, Ayurveda and the arts.
1. Thiruvananthapuram (Days 1-2)
Begin your trip at the state capital with a visit to the Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple, which was recently declared as the richest shrine in India thanks to the hidden treasure vault discovered deep within the temple which has been valued at one trillion dollars. Time your visit to the Alpashy Festival in November and be a part of the grand procession and festivities. Don’t forget to visit the Kerala Museum of History and Heritage and take in its collection of centuries-old artifacts.
2. Kovalam (Day 3)
Take a drive down to Kovalam just 15kms away from Thiruvananthapuram to get a feel of the sun, the sand, the sea and the surf. If you’re up for a picturesque ride, drive down to Varkala beach, about 51kms from Trivandrum city, which is one of the most iconic beach locales in Kerala. Perched almost perilously along the edge of 15m-high red laterite cliffs, Varkala has a naturally beautiful setting and the cliff-top stretch has steadily grown into Kerala’s most popular backpacker hangout. Try water sports on the beach or sign up for and ayurvedic treatment at any one of the numerous spas at both locations.
3. Alappuzha (Day 4)
A network of tranquil canals and lagoons, Alappuzha is known better as the Venice of the East. Alappuzha – still more romantically known as Alleppey – is graceful and greenery-fringed, disappearing into a watery world of villages, punted canoes, toddy shops and, of course, houseboats. Float along and gaze over paddy fields of succulent green, curvaceous rice barges and village life along the banks. This is one of Kerala’s most mesmerisingly beautiful and relaxing experiences.
4. Kumarakom (Day 5)
For the perfect backwater experience, drive up to Kumarakom, four hours from Kovalam and hop on a houseboat. The houseboats of Kerala are so iconic and a must-visit attraction. Everyone from Calvin Klein to the Crown Prince of Oman has taken a cruise along the backwaters in one. The houseboat journey will take you through the heartland of Kerala including Alappuzha’s rural region, dotted with busy hamlets, coconut groves and paddy fields or stay put in the luscious Kumarakom by checking into one of the many luxurious hotels there.
5. Kochi (Days 6-7)
Serene Kochi has been drawing traders and explorers to its shores for over 600 years. Nowhere else in India could you find such an intriguing mix: giant fishing nets from China, a 400-year-old synagogue, ancient mosques, Portuguese houses and the crumbling remains of the British Raj. The result is an unlikely blend of medieval Portugal, Holland and an English village grafted onto the tropical Malabar Coast. An hours drive from Kumarakom, this city is unmissable especially if you’re a history buff. Experience the vibrant art scene and head to the Pardesi Synagogue and the Mattancherry Palace and then take a stroll down the age-old spice markets.
6. Munnar (Day 8)
The rolling hills around Munnar, South India’s largest tea-growing region, are carpeted in emerald-green tea plantations, contoured, clipped and sculpted like ornamental hedges. The low mountain scenery is magnificent – you’re often up above the clouds watching veils of mist clinging to the mountaintops. Head east from Kochi to reach this hill station where the British army set up their summer homes in colonial times. Munnar is green and scenic with acres of tea plantations that are perfect for a misty romantic stroll. Visit the Eravikulam National Park and catch a glimpse of the endangered Nilgiri Tahr.
7. Thrissur (Day 9)
The seemingly untouristy and slightly chaotic Thrissur (Trichur) is Kerala’s cultural epicenter. Thrissur is home to some of Kerala’s most lavish and auspicious temple celebrations as well as several institutions that are breathing new life and teaching anyone interested in the dying classical Keralan performing arts. Make a stop at the Kerala Kalamandalam, one of India’s premier schools for classical arts. Make bookings in advance to watch the rising stars of Kathakali, Koodiyattom and Mohiniyattom as they train with their masters.
8. Kozhikode (Day 10)
Northern Kerala’s largest city, Calicut, was always a prosperous trading town and was once the capital of the formidable Zamorin dynasty. Vasco da Gama first landed near here in 1498, on his way to snatch a share of the subcontinent for king and country. Kozhikode is the best place to experience Kalaripayattu, a complex martial art that has been passed down through generations. Watch it being performed at the CVN Kalari School before boarding your flight from Kozhikode International Airport, AIE’s major hub.
If you can spare some extra time…
On your way to Munnar (via Alappuzha) take a detour to Thekkady. The very sound of the word Thekkady conjures up images of elephants, unending chains of hills and spice scented plantations. The Periyar forests of Thekkady is one of the finest wildlife reserves in India. Make sure to drop by the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary home to bison, sambar, wild boar, langur, 900 to 1000 elephants and 35 to 40 hard-to-spot tigers. make a pit stop at Kumily, about 4kms from Thekkady.
Drive three hours up the coast from Kozhikode to the scenic seaside town of Bekal. A serene village in Kasaragod district, Bekal is a land with a storied past. Home to sun-kissed beaches, ancient forts, majestic hills, meandering rivers and the rich cultural traditions it is a definite stop to make in your journey across Kerala.
Located amidst the mesmerizing jungles of Western Ghat in the state of Kerala, Wayanad is one of the best and most visited hill stations in South India and attracts tourist from all over the country. Located about two and a half hours from Kozhikode, there are myriads of locales in Wayanad which are extremely beautiful and picturesque.
The Anakotta (or Anathavalam) elephant santuary is a place for lovers of the gentle giants. Located at Guruvayoor, about 45mins from Thrissur town, the 10 acre coconut grove and santuary is home to over 85 elephants of all shapes and sizes. Guruvayoor temple, one of the prominent temples in India, receives so many kinds of donations from devotees. They are all for the deity Lord Guruvayoorappan (Sri Krishna). Yet there is a gift offering that stands out from all the rest. Elephants! The pachaderms at the sanctuary are gifts given to the Guruvayoor temple and it is the management of the temple that tends to them and cares for them. In the centre of the santuary is the Punnathur Kotta which serves as the Mahout training centre.