Friday, December 20, 2013

Two Weeks in Kerala

As amazing as Sadhana Forest was I felt that if I spent my whole two months there I could not say that I truly experienced India. And although I wanted to spend most of my time in India volunteering, I knew that I wanted to spend at least two weeks traveling.  I was extremely lucky to find two girls at Sadhana Forest who had the same timetable as me: Amy, a 22 year old from Canada, and Caecilie, a 24 year old from Denmark.  The three of us decided the best use of our time would to travel around the the state of Kerala which is on the Southwest tip of India and is known for its beauty and economic growth.

We took an overnight train to the Southern part of Kerala called Trivandrum.  We somehow managed to get on a special train which served us about 5 courses of food.  The city of Trivandrum was interesting but nothing special. We spent the day there preparing for the next two weeks and doing things we were unable to do at Sadhana forest (like make a mess of our hotel room).  We had some stressful moments trying to send packages at a post office and visited the zoo that life of Pi was based off of.

Our first  stop was a coastal town called Varkala which is known as a beautiful but budget friendly beach for backpackers.  There are a few sandy beach areas but most of the coastline consists of rocky cliffs towering next to the Arabian sea. Of course, with such beauty comes tourism. The first night we stayed at a guest house off of the main tourist strip and explored the "Indian beach" and the inland town. The next two nights we spent on the main tourist strip (on the cliffs) which was relaxing and beautiful but the tourism got old quickly.  The food was overpriced, westernized and therefore not as good.  There were dozens of harassing shopkeepers all selling the same things and yelling, "looking is free just take a look!." We also didn't feel comfortable stripping down into our bikinis like many of the westerners did in the   "tourist beach" area. Regardless, we enjoyed those 2 days eating at cafes with amazing views, taking walks along the coastline and watching the sunset while drinking chai.

Our next destination was a city called Alleppey (Alappuzha) which is known for its backwaters, a chain of tropical canals, lagoons and lakes paralleing the Arabian sea. We spent a full day of travel to get to Alleppey and then spent our first full day there exploring the city.  The most popular way for tourists to view the backwaters is on a houseboat but we opted against this since it is very pricey and unable to manuver its way down the smaller more intimate canals.  Instead, our guesthouse connected us with a local villager who lived in the backwaters and took us around in his canoe.  We had lunch at his house and spent the day slowly meadering through the narrow canals and getting a taste of the life in this part of India. It is a miraculously beautiful sight with thousands of palm trees, green plants, colorful flowers and stretches of luscious rice fields.  I felt like I was in the jungle book. We watched dozens of women washing clothes and dishes right in the canals and witnessed many groups taking their daily baths (of course with clothes on).  In contrast to the city of Alleppey, the backwaters were quiet and peaceful.  Our guide was enthusiastic and loved taking crooked yet artistic pictures with out photos.

After a few days in Alleppey we took a long and scary bus ride up the mountains to a hill station called Munnar which is known for its cool climate and tea plantations.  We happened to be there a weekend of a holiday so the town was packed with Indian tourists who were on mini vacations. We explored the tea fields which covered hills and mountains creating beautiful views. We also took a half day trek where we were lucky enough to see wild elephants!  We must have been really lucky because our guide was very surprised to see them and even seemed frightened.  We had to keep our distance and change our route but the elephant spotting made the hike go from beautiful to extraordinary.

Our last stop in our two week trip of Kerala was a city called Kochi which is a pretty touristy area and is most well known for the Island called Fort Kochi.  Our first night we spent on the mainland in an area called Ernakulum which was much less touristy (and therefore less expensive).  There, we enjoyed our second Indian movie theatre experience and ate delicious Indian food.  We also tried an Indian McDonalds which serves completely different food than the American fast-food chain.  The next few days we spent on Fort Kochi, an Island that was a once a battleground for European empires and now consists of a mixture of historical European and Indian tourist attractions. The highlights of Fort Kochi for me were the spice markets, the colorful buildings and Jew Town.  Although the Jewish community has decreased dramatically, Kochi was once home to the Malabar Jews who are the oldest group of Jews in India. Paradesi Synagogue was contracted in 1560 and is a very popular tourist attraction in Kochi. Fort Kochi was a bit too touristy for me but I felt very safe there and had easy access to wifi so it was the perfect place for me to hangout for an extra day or two and figure out the next step of my trip.

Overall, I had an amazing two weeks in Kerala.  Not only was I lucky to find two amazing travel buddies but I really can't imagine traveling through a more beautiful part of India (although I really cannot say that since I have way too much more of the country to see).

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