Offbeat Kerala: A trip to one of the 10 best paradises in the world
Over a long period of time, Kerala has made a name in the tourism industry as one of the most promising destinations to holiday. With pristine backwaters dotted with elegant houseboats, carpeted acres of tea and coffee estates, golden-fried paddy fields, and the highest percentage of education across the country, there’s little to doubt Kerala’s charm and question its identity as God’s Own Country.
Similar to any other destination, there exists a tourist trail that beckons travellers across the mist-covered Western Ghats to the cerulean coast line. Over time, the influx of visitors has hit a new high, with a record 10 million tourist arrivals in 2011. Tagged as one of the top 10 paradises in the world, the trail in question has been exploited to a point where none of your experiences will be any different than those of the traveller sitting to your right on a local train. Allepey’s backwaters have been hijacked by local houseboat owners and Varkala’s beaches have been infiltrated by backpackers and families in expectation of the ‘untouched.’
Prior to my adventure to this haven, I decided to stay clear of the popular sites and only visit cities and towns that hadn’t been exposed to the public eye (yet). Upon following this trail, I unearthed a different side to Kerala which left me spellbound and wanting for more. Away from honeymooners and first-timers, there’s a side to Kerala that boasts sandy beaches with no shacks in sight, unspoilt tropical forests, and backwaters where the only boats were those used by locals for commuting and fishing.
Starting from the top, explore the northern most district, Kasaragod. Boasting a 289 km coastline, most towns here have minimal influx of tourists. Kasaragod is home to sun-kissed beaches, tourist-free villages, and traditional style homestays. Bekal Fort, Chembirika beach, the pristine island of Thekkekadu and the unscathed backwaters of Payannur will surely catch the fancy of those on a quest to discover the unknown.
Backed by the majestic Western Ghats, the district of Wayanad lies southeast of Kasargod. Semi-evergreen forests, verdant pasture of rice paddies, and endless slopes of tea estate in Wayanad are a treat for nature lovers and solitude seekers alike. Here is where wild elephants are seen nibbling on roadside foliage as you tread along the highway. To make up for its lack of beaches or backwaters, the district is dotted with freshwater islands and picturesque trekking destinations which will make you question your decision to head home and continue life as a city-dweller.
Make your way down south to the small town of Palakkad, home to the Silent Valley National Park, and spend a day dedicated to wildlife and nature. The national park hosts 138 species of birds, 730 varieties of insects and 34 species of mammals. Follow the trail further south and head to Nelliyampathy, a hill station known for tea and orange estates, pristine waterfalls, and cloud-caressed peaks.
About a five-hour drive south lies the quaint hill station called Idukki. Unlike the popular hill stations in Kerala, Idukki promises to be a prominent favourite of the perennial traveller. Once here, travellers often are smitten by unfiltered roads flanked by verdant greenery, cheerful homes standing tall on hill slopes, gigantic dams with stunning views, and the melodic fussing and twittering of birds. A couple of days in this town will refresh your batteries and give you a visual opening to self-reflect and cleanse your thoughts.
After settling your egos with the peaks in the east, head west to Cherai beach, which is only accessible by boat. The boat owners here are very hospitable, and will most likely invite you to a fishing excursion with them. Learn about Chinese fishing nets, soak in the soothing landscape, and share a hearty laugh with the locals, known for their polite reception of tourists.
For your final adventure, escape popular destinations like Munnar and Kochi and make your way right down to the coastal district of Kollam. If you have considerable time on your hands, a great way to further explore the backwaters at a meagre cost would be to take the local ferry from Alleppey to Kollam. At INR 400 per person, an eight-hour ferry ride will treat you to wide canals with pit stops at bay side food joints, the occasional white-head eagle swooping in for prey into the glass-like water surfaces with a healthy population of jellyfish, and gorgeous lochs decorated with verdant greenery.
Kollam is known for the backwaters of Sasthamkotta and Alumkadavu which are a natural endowment for the locals, with the former home to the large lake in the state. Alumkadavu has a special place in the economy of the state, as all houseboats spread across are built by specialised craftsmen who only use eco-friendly materials.
Further south sits the coastal town of Varkala, unique along the Malabar coastline for its unspoiled beaches backed by red sandstone cliffs. It is the ideal town to wind down and spend an entire day lounging at the beach, and treat yourself to some sun, sand, and incredibly tasty food! You’d be pushed hard to find a better spot to watch the sun into the sea, which are plentiful along the coasts. Apart from the sun and the sea, Varkala has a prominent hippy vibe and a strong influence of yoga. Yoga classes are ten a penny on the beach, and you’ll find the shore line dotted with people practicing yoga dusk to dawn.
At the end of this journey, you will surely be smitten by Kerala’s sprawling beauty. The state has much to offer and travellers looking to explore unknown destinations will definitely develop a soft spot and an urge to keep coming back for more. Just as a word of advice, it should be important to note that the state and the people alike put in a gargantuan effort to preserve the wildlife and natural plantations. As an outsider, respect the beauty and make sure you leave a respectful footprint, and more importantly a bag full of memories!
“Manish is a travel enthusiast who believes that traveling is the best form of meditation in the world. Outside of travel, he heads the content and marketing at blog.untravel.com.“