After a couple of months living the chaotic life of Delhi and saving our work leaves, we finally got a chance to get away from the noise, crowd and cold of the capital of India and headed south to God’s own country!.. We got our backpacks, changed the office clothes for sweatpants and started our ‘New Year’s Adventure’ at the railway station of New Delhi. All set for the 48 hours ride to Kottyam. On Sleeper Class!
It may sound extreme and even risky for a lot of people, but I have to say it was one of the best trips we’ve had in India; for a young couple who can’t stand away from the road for a long time, budget is a pretty important reason, plus we like to get involved with people, experience the local customs as much as possible and appreciate the landscape. We shared our coach with a really nice South Indian family –small kids included- and had time to relax, read, play cards and enjoy the IMPRESSIVE change of scenery from North to South in 800 Rupees each. Pretty cool! Huh? Add the train meals ranging from 40 to 60 Rs, the occasional chai or coffee in 10 Rs, water bottles –pani- in 15 Rs, and you got yourself a great deal!
The food was cold, but good –I gotta say my stomach is stronger that the average expat stomach so I didn’t have any problem-, and if you don’t mind the train getting crowded sometimes and the not-clean-at-all bathrooms, you’ll be fine!… Just carry a sleeping bag or warm blanket on winter (nights are very cold and the windows not always seal properly) and enjoy the ride. At the end of the trip you’ll have a lot of beautiful pictures and videos, a lot of stories to tell back home (trust me in this one; something remarkably funny will happen on that train) and priceless memories to treasure forever.
First stop: Thekkady!
After 48 hours, we finally arrived to Kottyam… But that wasn’t the end of our ride; we were still 4 hours away from our first destination, Thekkady, home of the famous Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary. It was a bumpy but pleasant bus ride through the hills; the clear sky, tea plantations and eventual sight of an elephant increased our excitement! I was actually feeling like home; the mountains, plantain trees and Christian churches reminded me of my coffee lands in Colombia… Although the signboards and dressing style of the people kept the feeling of being in India. It was an amazing feeling!
Thekkady is a hill station with plenty to offer; from the Ayurvedic massages to trekking, camping in the reserve, boat cruises on the beautiful Periyar lake and –our favorite- Elephant ride. The prices rise on the high season but still we feel we got a good deal; in 1500 Rs each, we booked an Elephant adventure that included pick-up and drop off to the hotel, a 30 minutes Elephant ride, a small show and a bath; yes! We got to feed them, shower them… and get showered too! We also made sure to choose a good place where the animals are respected and well treated, and that was The Elephant Junction.
The Backwaters of Allepey
With so little time to spend, it was a tough task to choose where to go and what to skip in Kerala, and at the end we had to sacrifice the Tea Plantations in Munar and the chilled Varkala Beach (ouch!) to fully enjoy our time in Thekkady and Allepey, also known as ‘the Venice of East’. The Kerala backwaters are a bunch of lakes and lagoons parallel to the Arabian Sea and connected through natural and manmade canals forming 900 Km. of waterways through towns, cities and islands. It sounds great, and looks even better in pictures, bust this is something you HAVE to see!
You can experience the backwaters in a lot of different ways that will cost you from 200 Rs to 12000 Rs depending on the time, season and vessel; taking a ferry with other locals to go from A to B is the cheapest way and renting a fancy kettuvallam (houseboat) for the night with cook and driver on board would be the most expensive, although still worth it- option. We decided to stick to our budget and rent a comfortable canoe for 6 hours in 2000 Rs, plus the 500 we spent in lunch, coconut water, chai, snacks and tip to our guide, Captain Vijay; a sweet and funny old guy who has been working on the backwaters for decades and makes his best to explain the scenery, local life and even make some jokes in English.
The Captain took us to different islands where we could see tea plantations, temples and had a delicious lunch served on a banana leaf. He even took us to meet his family and play with his grandchildren! It was a magic and lovely journey, and at the end of it, he gave us a pen and a big notebook full of letters in different languages, drawings and pictures from all is costumers over the years. What a perfect day!..
Once the ride was over, we took an auto back to our hotel Vrindanavam Heritage –that by the way is highly recommended!!!- and head to the beach to see the sunset between a cheering and friendly crowd that was there for a local festival. It was a great evening full of spicy snacks –mostly non-veg- carnival rides and local music, the perfect ending for the Kerala track of our south Indian adventure. The next day we woke up happy and ready to leave for Kochin –just 2 hours and 50 Rs. Away- where a longest ride was awaiting: 17 hours to our New Year’s eve destination: GOA!
But that’s another great story for later 😉