In almost every traveler’s itinerary that makes it as far as South India is a ride through Kerala’s backwaters on a houseboat. Alappuzha, or more romantically known as Alleppey, is the hub of the backwaters. It’s also home to a vast network of waterways and base for more than 1000 houseboats. In other words, it’s the last stop before a watery world of villages, canoes and toddy floating shops. Yes, you guessed it right. It’s from here that, as mentioned in our previous post, we boarded our houseboat for an overnight cruise. For 24 hours we floated in small or bigger canals surrounded by green rice fields, small temples and isolated communities of local people that have their homes along the banks. With very little to do on board, we filled our time with taking in as much as possible of this beautiful landscape. It was definitely one of Kerala’s most memorable and relaxing experiences.
As time was now against us -my visa was expiring in less than a month-we pushed further south in Kovalam. Once a calm fishing village clustered around crescent beaches, these days Kovalam is Kerala’s most developed resort. The main stretch, Lighthouse Beach, is touristy with hotels and restaurants built up along the shore. The beach was not particularly attractive, but for us it was a convenient place to break our route. It’s also a good base for ayurvedic treatments (not in our book of interests) and yoga courses. (Definitely in Rochelle’s. She did her first headstand. Yeah!!!)
As for our next destination, there was definitely a sense of accomplishment when Voukefalas rolled into Kanyakumari. This was the turning point of our trip and the southern “V” point of the subcontinent. Like all edges, Kanyakumari has a sense of surreal in its air. As we found out, at certain times of the year you can see the sunset and the moonrise over three seas simultaneously. The Temple of the Virgin Sea Goddess and the ‘Land’s End’ symbolism (the only things that still stand after the 2005 tsunami) draw crowds of pilgrims and tourists alike. Besides that, Kanyakumari still remains a small-scale, refreshing respite from the hectic Indian roads.
As we started our course to the north, we headed to Madurai. Although Chennai may be the capital of Tamil Nadu state, Madurai is its soul. It’s Tamil-born and Tamil-rooted, one of the oldest cities in India, a metropolis that traded with ancient Rome and was a great capital long before Chennai was even dreamt of.
Tourists, Indian and foreign, usually come here to see the Meenakshi Amman Temple, a labyrinthine structure ranking among the greatest temples of India. Unfortunately the very strict dress code, rules on what to take and not to take with you in the temples (no cameras are allowed) together with the big crowds and queues put us off going through the procedure of entering the site. Instead, after a wonderful traditional lunch (by accident we discovered our favorite Indian dish “dosa”) locals allowed us to climb up to their terraces overlooking the temple’s main courtyard, admire the site and snap a couple of pictures. So we completed our visit and continued for Kodaikanal.
This misty hill station, 120km northwest of Madurai in the Palni hills, is centered on a very pretty lake. Kodai for short is built up and down hillsides with patches of forest, and evergreen broadleaf trees such as magnolia, mahogany, myrtle and rhododendron. Another plant specialty around here is the kurinji shrub, whose lilac-blue blossoms only appear every 12 years: next due date 2018. As we were now in
the beginning of the monsoon period and in coordination with the high altitude, we came across some heavy rainfall that came as a relief after the hot, humid climate we have been facing all along the coast (40 degrees).
Cascading down the winding roads of an altitude of 2500 meters, we paid a visit to one of South India’s most famous tourist destinations, Mysuru (which recently changed its name from Mysore). The city is known for its glittering royal heritage and magnificent monuments and buildings. Its World Heritage–listed palace may be what brings most travelers here but it’s also a thriving centre for the production of premium silk, sandalwood and incense. After a quick overnight, we paid a visit to the must see palace and moved on.
Then it was the cosmopolitan Bengaluru, the number one city in the Indian deep south. Except for a benevolent climate, here someone can enjoy a drinking, dining and shopping scene. It’s not necessarily a place you come to be wowed by world-class sights. The exact opposite, roam here to come face to face with the new modern India. In our case there was one more reason: to pay a visit to an old friend and his family that turned out to be one of the greatest hospitalities ever in this trip.
Kumar, Rochelle’s friend and ex-colleague, together with his family, went out of their way to welcome us in their home and make us feel part of their family. They also assisted with everything we possibly needed. Even Rochelle’s cooking skills have definitely improved thanks to Geeta and Mum Kumar. Here we tasted our favorite dish “dosa” but this time homemade by Kumar’s mother. Yummy!!! Their hospitality is certainly one of the things that we will remember from our passage from India.
Coming up, our route through the horrifying roads on the way to Northern India. Stay in the loop and don’t forget to like or follow us on our social media pages. Our Overlanddiaries family is growing more and more each day through your help. Thanks a lot!!!