This is the second part of my blog. In part one, we covered the north and worked ourselves to central Kerala and in this article we will cover central to southern Kerala.
(Below image: District-wise tourist map of Kerala state)
Here, we will be covering the districts of Ernakulam, Idukki, Alappuzha (Alleppy), Pathanamthitta, Kollam & Thiruvananthapuram.
(Below image: Chinese fishing nets at Fort Kochi, Kochi)
To the south of Thrissur district lies Ernakulam. It is probably the most urbanised district of Kerala and is also considered to be the commercial capital of the state. It is also the fastest growing business & residential area in Kerala. Kochi or Cochin as it was called earler is the most buzzing location in Ernakulam. Kochi is one of the most important towns in Kerala. It is one of the most important sea ports of the country and is also called ‘Queen of the arabian sea’. It is very well connected to the rest of the country and the world as it a sea port and it also has an international airport. Its just a 90 minute drive from Thrissur. One can also get lots of buses and passenger trains to get here from anywhere in the country.
Ernakulam is a place where the backwaters entwine seamlessly with the ocean. It’s a place steeped in history. Apart from being a buisness centre, it is a very important tourist cetre. The Main Tourist Attractions In and Around Kochi in Ernakulam are:-
Jewish Synagogue: The Jewish synagogue built in Jew Town in 1568 is a beautiful structure. This place of worship attracts numerous visitors every year because of its impressive furnishings. There are splendid handmade Chinese tiles and impressive Belgian chandeliers that have been used to decorate the entire synagogue.
Cherai Beach: Vypin Island was formed after the great floods of 1341. The Island is 25 kilometers long and has an average width of 2 kilometers.
Marine Drive: Marine Drive is considered to be one of the most beautiful parts of the district. It is also called Shanmugham Road. The marine walk is the main hangout for the local populace as the view of the backwaters and the harbor from here is excellent. At night the lights from the various ships anchored at the harbor is just breathtaking.
Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica: The Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica Is situated at Fort Kochi and it is one of the Eight Basilicas in India. Counted as one of the heritage edifices of Kerala, this church is one of the finest and impressive churches in India and is visited by tourists the whole year round. It is a place of devotion as well as a center of historic significance. It is endowed with architectural and artistic grandeur and Colours of the Gothic style.
Fort Kochi Chinese Fishing Nets: One can try their hand at fishing using these traditional nets and if you manage to catch some fish, you can have it cooked right there in one of the many small eateries in the vicinity.
Mattancherry Palace: It is located at a distance of 12 km from Ernakulam. Mattancherry palace is one of the oldest examples of Portuguese architecture with oriental influence and is unique from the historical and architectural point of view.
Bolghatty: A beautiful island situated away from the hustle of the city. The elegant Palace built by the Dutch in 1744 AD, is now a KTDC Hotel. The island also has park and golf course.
Willington Island: This beautiful manmade island is surrounded by backwaters. Willington Island houses many government offices.
Hill Palace Museum: Kerala’s first ever heritage museum and an ethno-archaeological museum. The museum showcases oil paintings, murals, scriptures, manuscripts, furniture, inscriptions and coins belonging to the royal family of Kochi.
Folklore Museum: This is a privately owned museum that is a treasure trove of Kerala art and artifacts that one just shouldn’t miss.
Sri Chottanikkara Bhagavathy Temple: It is a famous temple of the Hindu mother goddess Bhagawati and is one of the most popular temples in the state. Chottanikkara Devi is worshipped at the temple in three different forms: as Saraswati in the morning, draped in white; as Lakshmi at noon, draped in crimson; and as Durga in the evening, decked in blue. Lord Shiva is also worshiped at the temple. People suffering from mental illnesses commonly visit the temple as Bhagawati is thought to cure her devotees. One should not miss the ‘Guruthi Pooja’ in the ‘Keezhkkaavu’ temple at Chottanikkara. This is a ritual done late in the evening to invoke the goddess. Earlier ‘Guruthi Pooja’ was done only on Fridays. But nowadays, it is performed every day.
(Below image: Sri Chottanikkara Bhagavathy Temple, Ernakulam)
Kochi also has its share of iconic eateries serving traditional Kerala cuisine, some of the very good ones are ‘The Grand Pavilion’ which is a part of the Grand Hotel on M.G. Road and my personal favourite, ‘Shala’ on Peter Celli Street, Fort Cochin and ‘Kayikka’s Rahmuthala Hotel’ at New Road, Mattancherry.
You will need atleast 3 nights in Ernakulam to be able to cover the important places.
The next district that we will cover is Idukki. It is a mountainous region and is a major tea, coffee and spices growing region. One can find numerous plantations here. Munnar, the most popular and highest hill station in Kerala is located here. It can get quiet cold in Munnar as it is located at a height of over 6000 feet. Its about a 4 hour drive from Kochi. It is a very touristy place and you can expect to see a lot of tourists during the season. Also, owing to its close proximity to Ernakulam, lots of locals throng there over the weekends and other long holidays. Inspite of the crowd, Munnar is a nice place to visit. There are lots of resorts in and around Munnar at every price point. You can buy fresh spices grown in Munnar. Just make sure that you buy from a standard shop in the main market. The Periyar river and tiger reserve is also located in Idukki and is a major attraction.
(Below image: Tea estates in Munnar)
Some of the popular places worth visiting in and around Munnar are:-
Mattupetty Dam: This dam is about 13 kms from Munnar. It’s a great place to spend the day with your family as there are lots of activities there like speed boat rides on the reservoir, elephant rides etc. If you are lucky, you may also spot wild elephants on the banks of the reservoir.
Rajamala National Park: This is the natural habitat of the Nilgiri Tahr. Half the world population of the rare mountain goat which is fast becoming extinct, is now found here. The Nilgiri Tahrs are today reduced to small herds found in the Eravikulam-Rajamala region.
Attukal: A panorama of waterfalls and rolling hills, Attukal, located between Munnar and Pallivasal, is a feast for the eyes. The place is also ideal for long treks.
Chithirapuram: With its sleepy little cottages, bungalows, old playgrounds and courts, Chithirapuram still exudes an old-world charm. Home of the Pallivasal Hydel Power Project, this hill town is also famous for its picturesque tea plantations.
Apart from all of the above attractions, one should visit Munnar to get away from it all and to just relax and enjoy the cool climate and pollution free air!
Lying close to the plantations, in the rich jungles of Periyar in Thekkady is one of the world’s most fascinating natural wildlife reserves – the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary. This is the only sanctuary in India where you can have the unique experience of viewing wildlife at close quarters from the safety of a boat on the lake and also where you have government run wildlife resorts within the park. However, the greatest attraction of Periyar is the herds of wild elephants that come down to play in the lake.
(Below image: Wild elephants at the Periyar wildlife sanctuary)
The other places worth visiting in Idukki are:-
Idukki Arch Dam: Idukki Arch Dam is the world’s second and Asia’s first arch dam, constructed across the Kuravan and Kurathi hills.
(Below image: View of the Idukki Arch Dam)
Chinnar Wildlife sanctuary: The Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary is located in the rain shadow region of Western Ghats of Kerala and represents a large number of plants and animals unique to the thorny vegetation.
Kumily: This plantation town is closely associated with Thekkady and is situated on the outskirts of the Periyar Sanctuary. An important shopping centre and spice trade centre, the main bus station and most of the medium range accommodation in the Periyar region are in Kumily.
Overall, the two most popular places are Munnar and Thekaddy (Periyar). The distance between Munnar and Thekady is about 85 kms and will take about 2.5 hours by road. One would easily need about 4 nights to cover the important places in Idukki.
The next district that we will talk about is Alappuzha or Alleppey as it is commonly known. This district is on the west coast of Kerala to the south of Ernakulam. Like many places in Kerala, Alleppey is blessed with a wonderful mix of beaches, backwaters and canals. One of the largest stretches of backwaters in Asia called the Vembanad lake, passes through Alleppey. This lake is the lifeline of Alleppey.
(Below image: Local women washing clothes on the banks of backwater canals of Alleppey)
The canals feed off this lake and the small villages on the banks of this lake use it for everything from bathing to cooking. The locals use the canals for transportation and most of them own small boats. It is also the home to the world famous Kerala House boats, a major tourist attraction.
(Below image: House Boat on the Vembanad Lake )
There are some very good resorts on the banks of the Vembanad. Anyone coming to Alleppey should stay for a couple of nights in a resort and one night on the houseboat. The house boats are very comfortable and some of them are very luxurious with A/C etc. The food on the houseboat is normally very good. The house boats normally have a fully equipped kitchen and come with a chef. At night, once the boats are anchored, when its pitch dark, you can see the lights in the small houses on the banks of the lake and just enjoy their way of life, one with nature. You are also taken on smaller boats inside the small village canals where you pass under low foot bridges and one has to bend every time you pass a bridge and you get to see the life of the locals up close.
(Below image: A canoe ride on the water canals passing through local villages in Alleppey)
The Vembanad lake also hosts the annual Nehru Trophy Snake boat Race which is world famous. It’s a short drive from Ernakulam and one just shouldn’t miss it.
(Below image: Snake boat race on the Vembanad)
Some of the other attractions in Alleppey are:-
The Krishnapuram palace: The 18th century Krishnapuram Palace built during the reign of the Travancore monarch, Marthanda Varma, is a double storied structure which displays typical characteristics of Kerala architecture-gabled roofs, dormar windows, narrow corridors. It houses one of the largest mural paintings in Kerala called the Gajendra Moksham. It is about 45 kms from Alleppey.
Chavara Bhavan: Chavara Bhavan (6 kms. from Alappuzha and accessible only by boat) is the ancestral home of the blessed Kuriakose Elias Chavara. It is now a holy shrine and spiritual resort where thousands of devotees gather for prayer, receive favours and feel amply gratified. Here, a 250 year old historically important beacon of light is preserved intact in its original and primitive form.
The Alappuzha Beach: This is one of the most popular picnic spots in Alappuzha. The pier, which extends into the sea here, is over 137 years old. Entertainment facilities at the Vijaya beach park add to the attractions of the beach. There is also an old lighthouse which is greatly fascination to visitors.
Apart from these, there are lots of famous temples and churches in Alleppy. Like I said earlier, one would need atleast 2 nights here and one night on the house boat is a must do.
Pathanamthitta is a small district to the east of Alleppey. It is close to the Western Ghats and is very scenic with hills, forests and charming countryside. It is also know for its exuberant fairs and festivals. The district is known as the pilgrimage capital of the state and hence if you are not a very religious person, you can give this place a miss. Pathanamthitta is most well-known for the Sabarimala Sree Dharmasastha Temple.
(Below image: The Sabarimala Sree Dharmasastha Temple)
Sabarimala is situated 72 km from Pathanamthitta town, 191 km from Thiruvananthapuram and 210 km from Kochi. It is the ‘Sacred Abode of Lord Ayyappa’ and one of the most important Hindu pilgrim centre in the country. Anyone wanting to visit the Sabarimala temple has to undergo a very strict abstinence period of 41 days where one cannot consume alcohol, tobacco, non-veg food etc.
Apart from Sabarimala, there are numerous temples in Pathanamthitta. The sacred Pamba river also flows through here. Some of the other important places are:-
Konni Elephant camp: A hill town, Konni is famous for timber trade and wild elephant training centre. This is a charming town with lush meadows and hills on the bank of river Achakovil. It is surrounded by clove and pepper plantations. Elephants trapped from the forest area are also tamed here.
Pandalam Palace: Sree Ayyappa, the presiding deity of Sabarimala had his human sojourn here as the son of the Raja of Pandalam. As a holy town, Pandalam is perhaps second only to Sabarimala. The sacred ornaments of Lord Ayyappa are maintained in the vault of the palace. Three days prior to the Makaravilaku festival, the sacred ornaments of Sree Ayyappa are taken in a procession from Pandalam to Sabarimala.
To the south of Pathanamthitta and Alleppey lies the district of Kollam. It is a small district and one of the leading trade capitals of the Old World, Kollam is the centre of the country’s cashew trading and processing industry. Extolled by Marco Polo and Ibn Batuta in glowing terms, this was once a famous port of international spice trade. 30 percent of this historic town is covered by the renowned Ashtamudi Lake, making it the gateway to the magnificent backwaters of Kerala. The 8 hour boat trip between Kollam and Allappey is the longest and most enchanting experience on the backwaters of Kerala. It a quiet and sleepy town and a great place to relax and rejuvenate. Its also not as commercialised as some of the other tourist places in Kerala. Kollam also has a nice public beach and an old light house that people can visit. Kollam is well connected to other cities in the country by train and road. The closest international airport is at Thiruvananthapuram which is about 110 kms away. A 2 nights stay in Kollam should be good enough to enjoy the place.
(Below image: A panoramic view of the ITC’s Raviz hotel overlooking the Ashtamudi lake)
Some of the other main places to visit here are the famous Lord Sastha temples of Achencoil and Aryankavu. Both these temples are visited as part of the Sabarimala circuit especially during the Mandalam season in the months of December to January every year.
Thenmala is a forest region and is one of the first eco-tourism zones in the country. There are a large number of rubber and tea plantations in Thenmala. Timber of all varieties are exported from here to all parts of the country. Themala Dam site is open for tourists. The Eco tourists center is situated at Thenmala.
(Below image: The Eco tourist centre at Thenmala)
The last and the southernmost district that we will be covering in this blog is Thiruvananthapuram which was once called Trivandrum. The capital of this distric also goes by the same name. It is also the capital city of the state of Kerala. Its an ancient city with its origin dating back to 1000 B.C.
Located in the southwestern tip of India, Thiruvananthapuram is bound by the Arabian Sea in the west and Tamil Nadu in the east. Named after Anantha Padmanabha or Lord Vishnu, the city is home to many ancient temples. But the landmark is the Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple around which the city has been built on seven low hills. The temple is a large complex and has been in the news in recent times due to the discovery of a large amount of hidden treasure in the secret vaults of the temple. The treasure is estimated to be worth over Rs. 1 Lakh crores which makes it the richest temple in the country!
(Below image: Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram)
The city has a large amount of historic monuments and palaces and a long shoreline with internationally renowned beaches like Varkala and Kovalam, backwater stretches like Poovar and a rich cultural heritage making this district a much sought-after tourist destination. One can also drive down to Kanyakumari which is about 90 kms away and is the southernmost point of India. I think one would easily need about 4 to 5 nights here to be able to do justice to the place. The city is well connected to the rest of the country by air, road and rail and the world owing to its international airport.
(Below image: The Kovalam Beach as seen from the Light house)
(Below image: Kamyakumari, the southernmost point of India)
Phew! That brings us to the end of this blog. I have tried my best to give just enough information about the various places in Kerala so as to enable one to take an informed decision while choosing the places of their interest that they would want to visit and to be able to put together a doable and practical itinerary. I hope that you have enjoyed reading it as much as I have in writing it. I am looking forward to starting my next one. Happy travelling!