It has seen some of the worst battles along its coast by explorers to shore up its valuable trading routes and a desire to conquer Islam. The first person to voyage there was the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama. His navigation around the Cape of Good Hope and then onto India turned out being one of the most instrumental moments in the history of navigation. This Portuguese presence is still felt in the south of India and the coastal delights from Kochin to Goa even today.
We began our journey with Malaysian Airways to KL then onto Bangalore and finally Kochi (Cochin). If Kochi isn’t on every traveller’s wish list it should be. It draws people from around India to explore its tranquil beaches, busy spice markets, serene backwaters and colonial structures.
After being greeted at the airport by a well-dressed individual holding a placard we were delivered to our boutique Hotel down some back streets and set amongst a secret garden with rooms of rustic charm.
The location was ideal with everything within walking distance of the sights around Old Kochi and its famed Fort. So with much anticipation we stepped out in our walking shoes and strolled around the streets to be greeted by shops selling everything from spices to handicrafts, cafes with alfresco ambience and restaurants with delicious local cuisine.
Closer along the banks of this major port city we became aware of huge cantilevered fishing nets which adorn the shore. Our morning walk saw these nets in action with upto10 people lowering and lifting these nets while people set up their daily stalls of seafood, clothes, trinkets, toys and ice cream. Also as entertainment you can be a spectator at a colourful Kathakali performance where dancers with elaborately painted faces, headgear and colourful costumes will have you transfixed to the heady beat of drums.
From the Arabian Sea we head inland to the sprawling tea plantations of Munnar. This mountainous region is assessable by its narrow winding road snaking its way alongside steep ravines. Our room opened up to the lush green hilly countryside of this region and its pleasant atmosphere.
A walk through the Eravikulam National Park in the high ranges introduced us to the Nilgiri Tahr, a small stocky goat that is considered endangered. The bus ride up the mountainside to where you ascend is breathtaking and the Indians on board seemed to love it.
A visit to the local tea plantation and a short history lesson on how tea was introduced to this region as well as a short excursion through the tea workers cottages topped off a wonderful stay.
Next stop Thekkady. This charming little village is owner to the sole tiger reserve and a pleasant haven for those who love adventure, nature and wildlife. A jaunt of one of the boats through the tiger reserve is a must and we were even lucky enough to witness the presence of the elusive leopard resting by the lake as we cruised past.
The town is easy to get around by foot during which you will come across a diverse display of colourful wall art. There are plentiful hotels and restaurants to choose from that also have great river front views. We were fortunate to have stayed in one of the eco friendly resorts where everything from the paper to the fresh herbs and vegetables were all produced on site.
This flora and fauna extravaganza was followed by an overnight boat cruise in Alleppey also referred to as the “Venice of the East”. We had organised an air-conditioned boat house (converted from original rice barges) and explored the narrow channels and lake area of Vembanad. The experience was magnificent as we glided leisurely past small hamlets in the backwaters as if in another world. The rustic décor of the boat, the traditional Kerelan lunch and dinner while overnighting on its tranquil waters was a truly calming and peaceful treat.
Next stop we head for a favoured destination for beach enthusiasts in Kollam called Varkala. From homestays to budget lodges there is something for everyone. Just meander around the path at the top of the cliff overlooking the beach and you will discover a myriad of restaurants, accommodation styles and shop stalls all happily coexisting on this exquisite swath of sand.
The main beach of Papanasanam has a charm and vibrancy of its own. It’s clean and unspoilt with its tall rocky cliffs as a perfect backdrop. A charming place to chill and unwind or to just go on a stroll and explore. Be sure to indulge in a traditional Ayurvedic treatment, your body will thank you.
After the laid back atmosphere and the truly awesome sunsets of Varkala we drive a short distance to the much more popular beach area of Kovalam. A short walk to Chowara Beach in the morning will find the sand buzzing with local fishing boats bringing in the morning catch. Life on the beach here starts early and continues well into the night.
The colourful beach promenade caters to budget cottages, Ayurvedic health resorts, shopping zones, restaurants and cafeterias. At night seafood is displayed out the front of restaurants for you to choose from. You may even want to haggle for a few rupees off whatever choice you make.
After a three night stay devouring seafood and watching it caught, we set off on the last leg of our journey less travelled to the calm blue waters of Goa. We settled in southern Goa away from its much hyped and partying neighbour the North.
The south with its endless stretches of sand caters for those who want a little more space when they throw themselves into the water. There are makeshift beach shack restaurants dotted along this stretch of sand where you can grab a drink or snappy lunch whilst you laze around like one of the many dogs that want you to befriend them.
The mainly predominant Indian tourists that descend here seem to indulge themselves in everything to selfies with white Australian tourists to parasailing off the beach behind a speedboat into the wild blue yonder.
We loved it. It had everything and more. Our hotel was situated just back from the beach at Colva where it was an easy stroll down to the beach for that early walk and near enough to the small township for meals and shopping. A day trip further south takes you the pristine beach belt of Palolem and Agonda, which is well worth a visit. If you like the idea of staying in a beach shack this is the place for you.
I have to say that everything about India and its southern coast delights lived upto everything I had envisaged and so much more. The whole Malabar Coast of India is reflected in its warm, friendly and extremely welcoming people. Would I go again, yes tomorrow.
India – Get it into ya!!!