A spice garden with a tinge of an Ayurvedic essence and a splash of serene backwaters is what describes Kerala, a beautiful region nestled between the Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea along India’s southwest coast. In line with its clichéd descriptor – “God’s own country”, this beautiful region is an ideal spot to relax and rejuvenate. But for an adrenalin junkie like me, exploring Kerala meant exploiting its mountains and enjoying the wild side of the otherwise peaceful backwaters.
My cousin Manu, from LA, joined me in this adventure. Hell bent on exploring the Himalayas he was doubtful if Kerala would offer him the big mountains and crystal clear waters he wished to photograph in the Himalayas (he takes some brilliant photographs!) But there is always a benefit with a little doubt (That’s what I think :)).
In association with a Kerala-based adventure group called Kalypso Adventures, we headed to our first campsite in a place called “Thattekad.” The place is on the banks of the Periyar River. The river separates Thattekad from the Periyar wildlife sanctuary. Often referred to as a bird-watcher’s paradise, Thattekad looked a lot like Costa Rica, in South America according to Manu. I’ve only seen pictures of this and it did seem similar. The place did looked like it had a lot to offer and I was excited to go ahead and explore!
The winding roads of Thattekad were ideal for cycling and that is exactly we decided to do as soon as we reached. The last time I cycled was about three years back so I had a shaky start but eventually got my act together( Big city life habits sadly do not let me cycle much:/).
With the wind against our faces and tapioca and pineapple plantations on either side, we enjoyed cycling through Thattekad and exploring the region. We did get a glimpse of the village life as we saw them getting ready for “Onam”, the famous harvest festival of Kerala. The bike ride ended with a yummy meal comprising prawn curry and rice and paisam(the sweet dish of the region).
Thattekad is also a hotspot among kayakers and I had a ball of a time kayaking there! It was tiring as we had to go against the current for a while but I got to kayak through the Periyar wildlife sanctuary and enjoy the diverse flora and fauna of the region. A night at Thattekad is also pleasurable as fireflies adorn the night sky, lighting it up and making the region around glitter.
From the beautiful village of Thattekad, we proceeded uphill to explore the tea plantations of Munnar. This was a long journey but the incessant rain seemed to dance to the tunes of catchy Malayalam (local language of Kerala) songs played by our driver, Deepu, making the journey a fun one.
Munnar was quite a commercial hill station since it happens to be a popular honeymoon and vacation spot. But thankfully our destination was a few kilometres away from the hustle and bustle of Munnar.
Back on our cycles, we headed to a place named Suryanelli. This was a long cycle ride and happened to be an uphill one (Just my luck!). Cycling through the meandering lanes amidst the plantations, I enjoyed watching the tea planters carry on their daily chores. Their hard working nature not only impressed me but also encouraged me to peddle with all my might and catch up to my brother who seemed to be a professional when it came to uphill cycling . Moreover the only form of traffic we faced was in the form of cows and taking selfies with them was a compulsion since it gave me a break from all the pedalling!
Finally after a few hours the tiring but blissful cycle ride came to an end as we neared our campsite. In the midst of a bunch of clouds and sweat droplets trickling down from my forehead making my eyesight hazy, I caught a glimpse of our campsite at Suryanelli. It faced the second highest peak of South India and seemed like it was well above the clouds. “I have cycled to heaven” is what I thought and “heavenly” it proved to be. Enjoying some delicious food and relaxing to the sound of silence after the long cycle ride, Suryanelli was the ideal spot to get away from reality.
Exploring the campsite around us we trekked through the plantations. Besides tea there were also cardamom and several other spices in the region. We did make it a point to try some of the tea found in the region. We had it with the tea planters who were so hospitable and overjoyed with the fact that we loved their tea! It was by far the best tea I have tried till date.
Though trekking through these plantations was fun, one has to be careful as many of these plantations are a part of private properties. The owners try to ward off people by bursting crackers. (Quite immature! They should put signs asking you to stay away instead). We were victims to this too. But to us the crackers sounded like gun shots and we did a good job narrating the incident to our family in a manner ,such that we made ourselves the heroic survivors of the gun shots. Haha!
But the highlight of the Suryanelli campsite was the night sky. After a heavy dinner I was ready to retire for the day. But just as I looked up at the sky I witnessed something I could have never imagined! The Milky Way seemed to look down at us in all its glory, making me think I was looking at a national geography magazine picture. That is when I realized that Suryanelli was a spot way beyond heaven. My brother did a good job photographing this site but what we saw through the naked eye will be a mental picture we will cherish forever.
Downhill from Suryanelli, we headed to Allepy – the land of houseboats and backwaters. Munching on some banana chips we witnessed life in rural Kerala, sitting on boats since the main way to travel through Allepy is by boat. Many people come to Allepy to live in and enjoy the houseboats. We wanted to as well but sadly you have to be a group of six or more to live on one. It does however prove to be a luxurious affair, is what we learned from the people who opted to stay on them. Maybe once I make some more money I could enjoy the luxurious side of Kerala.
Allepy is a beautiful place but was not really my cup of tea. It is way too laidback and slow for me, but I did enjoy the spicy fish curry and rice here! By far the best I have had. I did try a bit of the Toddy (local alcohol of the region) too but detested the smell so did not really enjoy it.
Kerala is the ideal place to relax and enjoy delicious food. But an adrenaline junkie like me was also quite satisfied with the vacation it gave me. Though I could not explore the whole state, I did realise why it is referred to as “God’s own country.” Everyone seems to find a bit of heaven in the region and I found mine in the night sky amidst the plantations and mountains of Kerala 🙂