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Cochin will make you come alive at the very first sight. It offers a wealth of history, art and culture to travellers. Shuffled in the hands of Maharajas, and colonial powers like the Portuguese, Dutch and British, the present Cochin is chequered with impressive colonial landmarks as well as contemporary ones.

Deep in ancient history, the city will make you snap back to the present in a jiffy with dazzling shopping complexes and places, such as Veega Land, a water theme park, the largest in South India.

Cochin tempts you with a boat cruise in the backwaters against the idyllic backdrop of the Arabian Sea and the Western Ghats. You can hire a ferryboat and row to Vypin Island from Mattancherry town to catch sight of dolphins making merry.


Sight Seeing
Marine Drive Walkway offers views of the sprawling sea from the Rainbow Bridge. The touristy beaches are Fort Kochi, Cherai beach and Puthuvype beach. Fort Kochi boasts of the unique Chinese fishing nets, St Francis Church, Vasco Da Gama House and Santa Cruz. Basilica Cherai beach close to Vypin Island is ideal for swimming. Puthuvype beach is is amazingly beautiful. The lighthouse at Puthuvype is open for visitors.

Bolghatty Island, a honeymoon destination, is the most visited of all.

Jew Town and the Jewish Synagogue at Mattancherry are irresistible with their vivid culture and antiquity. The Paradesi Synagogue is a dazzling sight with its steep roof and Chinese tiles that glow in the dark. The Belgium chandeliers inside are huge but delicate. Check out the shops in the narrow lanes around the synagogue.

The Mattancherry Palace (Dutch Palace) on Palace Road is a treasure house of great works of art, mythological carvings and portraits of Cochin kings. Museums like Hill Palace Museum, Palliport Fort and Museum of Kerala have many rare and valuable artefacts that are many centuries old as well as archaeological finds.

Athirapilly Waterfalls are located near River Chalakudy, Boothathankettu and Kalady, the birthplace of Shankaracharya. Paliamkara Palace, Malayattoor Church and Kadamattom Church are other interesting sights.

Go for a leisure boat cruise from Marine Drive along the fabled backwaters. The cruise covers the long pristine stretch of Cochin bay, shipyard and the naval base.

Mangalavanam Bird Sanctuary is a paradise for birdwatchers. Wildlife enthusiasts can visit the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, four hours away from the city.



Shopping :
Textiles, handicrafts, jewellery, spices, curios and books: you name it and Kochi might just have it. MG Road, an obvious choice for shoppers, offers products ranging from international brands to local artefacts. Many jewellery showrooms are also located on MG Road.

Marine Drive Road is studded with food courts. You can buy spices and clothes for reasonable prices. Jew Street, the oldest shoppers street in Cochin, is lined with numerous tiny shops showcasing an array of antiques, curios, sculptures, homemade aromatic oils, wooden furniture and organic spices.

At Fort Kochi, if you see the unusual spindle, Karelian birch whorl with Cochin rosewood shaft, do consider buying it. The cottage industries and Kashmiri stalls are usually overpriced. Broadway Road has numerous narrow lanes aligned with small shops selling spices and clothes among other things.


Draped over a hill, surrounded by tea plantations and backed by a splendid stretch of the Western Ghats, Munnar is a choice retreat in summer. Honeymooners frequent this hill station during all seasons for a taste of its cool and salubrious weather. The three rivers Madupetti, Nallathanni and Periavaru give Munnar its name, which means 'three rivers'. The Duke of Wellington's visit to Munnar in the 19th century put it on the map. Soon it acquired the status as a popular hill resort in south India and was nicknamed as Kerala's Scottish Highlands.

Wildlife enthusiasts can immerse themselves in lush greenery, sandalwood trees, sounds of animals, hidden streams, calls of birds and the myriad colours of flora. Oblivious to the world outside, the Eravikulam National Park, Thattekad (Salim Ali) Bird Sanctuary, Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary and shola forests (Butterfly forests) are dense with animals like Mountain Goats, Bisons and Tigers.



Sight Seeing
The lush greenery spread over the undulating hills is home to the Nilgiri Tahr, a Mountain Goat. The hills are tinged with the fragrance of the lemon grass growing here. Enjoy trekking to Anamudi Peak, the highest peak, in Kerala and Echo Point, another great place for a trek that will leave you clear-headed with flushed cheeks.

Feast your eyes on the breathtaking view of tea plantations sprawled for acres. You can even sample some tea. Tata Tea Museum showcases the history of plantations and tea making methods used during the colonial era. The tour winds up with a display of modern tea-making methods. Excursions to Top Station and Kolukkumalai Tea Estate are dream spots for ambitious photographers. The fine expanse of blue sky and greenery as far as one can see are a soothing sight.

A visit to Kolukumulai, the world's highest tea plantation, is a must. The sight of green and only green stretching for miles is grand. Camp out at the eco-camps in Hornbill and Anayirangal. It is an ideal spot for adrenaline junkies who can try kayaking, cycling expeditions, fishing at Devikulam, trekking and paragliding. If you are not a good swimmer, take a boatman along for kayaking or river rafting in Periyar and Boothathankettu.



Wildlife
The wildlife of Munnar never ceases to amaze you. Every year wildlife aficionados flock to the town to catch sight of Mountain Goats, Otters, Sambar, Rusty-spotted Cats, large brown Malabar Flying Squirrels and Mouse Deer. Rajamalai or Eravikulam Wildlife Sanctuary looks impenetrable and unyielding. Rare species like Barking Deer, Small Indian Civet, Gaur (Indian bison), Mongoose with striped neck and Brown Mongoose, have made it their home.

Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary is another treasure. If you are lucky you might spot a Black Eagle, Tiger, Manjampatti White Bison or Spectacled Cobras. There are other species that you will see easily like Deer, Bison, Turtles, Kraits, Mugger Crocodiles, Vipers and Cormorants. It has large varieties of trees and medicinal plants. You can also go boating on the Chinnar River.

Shola forests, also called the Butterfly Forests are evergreen rain forests, home to many rare birds, butterflies and flora. Marayoor is another treat for nature lovers with its sandalwood trees. There is a maze of natural caves to explore as well. Catch the big cats prowling the Anamalai Tiger Reserve in a jeep safari.



It is said that Kerala's best kept secrets lie in the heart of Thekkady. A lush green oasis that sprawls across the Periyar Wildlife Reserve, this is where man and beast live as one. Snarling Tigers, screeching Crickets and naughty Langurs, the mysterious calm of the jungle is enough to tempt anyone who yearns to explore the wild. Thekkady is a naturalist's dream. With tea and spice plantations, it has lent much to Kerala's commerce as much as it has to its beauty. The incredible wildlife preserved in Periyar Tiger Wildlife Sanctuary today attracts naturalists and wildlife enthusiasts from around the world. Declared a tiger reserve in 1978, the Periyar Wildlife Reserve is one of the few reserves where one can catch sight of the endangered Royal Bengal Tiger that is fast dwindling in population. Shed your inhibitions and take a day off to enjoy a bamboo raft ride across the Periyar river, explore the forest at night, never knowing what is to come, and succumb to the temptation of traditional Kerala Fish Curry and Rice in every restaurant you visit.



Sight Seeing
Although there is little else for those who want to spend a luxurious honeymoon, families and solo travellers will be swept away by its raw, virgin forests. Inevitably, you will be in the heart of the Periyar Tiger Reserve, embraced by the fresh, tingling breeze from the towering trees. Stay at a forest lodge and spend the weekend touring the reserve. Periyar is one of the few stops in India where you can spot the endangered Royal Bengal Tiger that has long been the symbol of India's exotica. The magnificent Grey Elephant that throngs the sanctuary in numbers is a sight to see.

If hiking seems too strenuous, enjoy an afternoon stroll on one of the nature walk trails. Another star attraction in the reserve is the 100 year old, artificial Periyar Lake. Make your way across the lake on a make-shift bamboo raft and watch animals quietly quenching their thirst, from a distance. The Lake Palace, a former summer palace of the King of Travancore, is snug on an island in the middle of the Periyar Lake and is a resort worth every bit of your time.

The villages around Periyar are rich in culture and make for a lovely day trip. Hop aboard a bullock cart and enjoy a ride along the countryside. Sip on cool, tender coconut water to beat the heat and cheer with the crowd at local competitions like stick fights and cockfighting. Kumily, a plantation town nearby is known for its spice and tea plantation tours.

There are several day trips that you can make from Thekkady, like the ones to Pandikuzhi, a famous picnic spot; Chellarkovil, with its thick coconut groves and gushing waterfalls; and Kurisumala, perfect for adventure enthusiasts. The Tribal Heritage Program in Periyar gives an insight into the lives of the indigenous Mannan tribes, some of the oldest native tribes who still live a primitive life here.



The best ways to experience wildlife are elephant rides into the reserve or guided day treks. Community based eco-tourist activities like Shepherding in the Jungle, Tribal Heritage Walks, Range Hiking and Bamboo Rafting are popular among tourists. Check into a jungle lodge and experience the thrill of living in the complete wild, cut away from the world, and in tune with the surroundings.

Experience boating on a makeshift bamboo raft and paddle your way across the Periyar Lake before the sun rises in the morning.



Wildlife
Eco-tourism is one of Thekkady's biggest attractions. The dense, lush green of the Periyar Reserve hold a wealth of diverse flora and fauna that is unique to this part of the country.

The dwindling Royal Bengal tiger habitat and the chance to sight some of India's most unique animal species like the Asiatic Elephant, Gaur, Wild Pig, Nilgiri Tahr and Sambar attracts hordes of naturalists and wildlife enthusiasts every year to the reserve. Birdwatchers will love this ornithologist's paradise; the reserve is known for its magnificent variety of birds like Bluebottles, Common Mormon, Jezebels, Clippers, Malabar Rose and Passerines. Snake Birds, Kestrels, Yellow-billed Babblers, White-bellied Treepies and Malabar Trogons are exceptional sights. Reptiles like the Flying Lizard, King Cobra, Russell's Viper and Forest Dwarf Gecko are other interesting species.

 

Life in Alleppey is a little too perfect to be real and is fit for a painting. A fisherman frozen in a snapshot while flinging a net, the sea waves capturing the sun in twinkles that disappear in the folds of the waves and the fresh green of the paddy fields make a lovely portrait. Regular life does not overwhelm nature but revolves around it. The Venice of the East likes it organic.

To know how the folks here do it, look at your plate of Kerala food. Your plate will mostly be plantain leaf. The coconut and spices, fish curry and boiled rice offer a clue. At a coir making factory, the coir made from the husk of coconut is transformed into baskets and mats. The coconut shell is turned into aesthetic souvenirs.

Sight Seeing
Scenic lagoons, paddy fields, beautiful beaches - Allepey gives you room to relax and also satiate your wandering spirit.

Champakulam Church, a Syrian Christian church, dates back to 427 AD. This is not the original building, which was supposed to have stood where the cemetery is today. The Rajarajeshwari Temple in Mullackal is built in traditional Kerala style with interesting pillars.

Apart from the Krishna Temple with its famous Payasam in Ambalapuzha there's Karimadikuttam, a 9th century Buddha statue made of black granite. While the head is intact, the left side is missing.

The Vijaya Beach Park and the ancient lighthouse and dock make Alleppey beach a recreational hotspot. For a round of bird watching, take a boat to Pathiramanal Island on Vembanad Lake, one of the largest freshwater lakes in Asia. Kumarakom is close by and worth a short trip. Birds you can sight in Alleppey are Stork-billed Kingfishers and Eagles. Some folks keep eagles as pets.



Visit the Mata Amrithanandamayi Ashram near Alleppey. The Hugging Saint travels frequently, so check with the ashram. You can tour the ashram or stay there. If Mata is at the ashram, give in to a bear hug from her and muse whether it made a difference. Be warned, the queues are long and the hugging sessions go on for hours.

At Alleppey beach, swimming is a strict no-no. The currents are strong and the sea is rough particularly during monsoons. There are no lifeguards standing by the side to rescue you.

Most activities are restricted to the beach, which is good for a long walk. Ice cream carts stand by. The Vijaya Beach Park on the beach has a swimming pool. Kids can amuse themselves with toy trains and other games in the park. A 19th century lighthouse is in decline and you can go inside for a small fee for an hour or two in the evening.

The Marari beach is a peaceful stretch with a few resorts. There is a church and a temple you can go to, if you are so inclined.

Shopping:
The Triveni Floating Market is a red and white chequered boat that caters to the towns along the Vembanad Lake. It is a supermarket and sells household appliances too. Around 20 people are allowed to step on the boat at any given time which is almost 16-foot-long.

Mullackal has numerous gold and silver shops on this street. One of the established names is Bhima Jewellers.

 

Kumarakom is not for the restless. It is for those who have time to spare for love, pleasure and languor. It is less about seeing and more about experiencing a way of life. The delicate yet perfect order in nature leaves you relaxed and in a state of bliss. Adding a zing to this idyllic locale are local delicacies, culture and architecture, houseboats and holistic Ayurvedic treatments.

Kumarakom that rose out of one of the largest freshwater lakes in Asia, Vembanad Lake, has come a long way from its humble beginning with a little help from the British missionary, Alfred George Baker, who cleared the area for rice cultivation, paddy fields and palms which soften the beauty of the landscape. A leisure holiday gem is what it is today. Let's find more about Kumarakom.

Epicureans relish the sublime regional cuisine of fish, rice and toddy. Nature lovers lose themselves in the blissful and green countryside. Or delight in spotting native and migratory birds. Connoisseurs of art applaud a Kathakali performance. Action seekers ride the vast lake in speed boats and water-ski, hold their breath watching martial artists practice the lethal Kalaripayattu, and cheer on as snake boats race past. Health freaks savour the authentic Ayurvedic treatments that pamper and please. Determined shopaholics find little treasures in its markets.

For a backwater experience that everyone craves, a fisherman on his Kettuvalam, the original houseboat made of jack wood planks without using a single nail, is ideal.



Sight Seeing
A multitude of resorts dot picturesque Kumarakom. The Kumarakom Lake Resort takes the prize with its gorgeous villas and traditional 16th century houses. The Taj Garden Retreat is not one to be beaten. It is built around Alfred George Baker's bungalow dating back to 1881. This Victorian style bungalow got its fifteen minutes of fame after making an appearance as the History House in the Booker Prize winner, God of Small Things by Arundathi Roy. Ayemenem, a village where the novel is set, is close by. Baker is something of a legend in these parts and was known as kari sapu.

The rubber plantations, paddy fields and coconut trees were of his doing. He dressed like the locals in a mundu and a white vest. Not just men, but some local Syrian Christian women also wear the mundu with long blouses. Women bring out their traditional cream saris with a gold border for special occasions. If you are keen to know how the yesteryear Syrian Christians lived visit the Tharavadu Heritage Home, more than a century old and still standing proud, that is playing the role of a hotel these days. The one of a kind Bay Island Driftwood Museum has a collection of driftwood that was collected off the Andaman coast by Raji Punnoose, who used to teach at the Andaman Islands.

Not too far from Kumarakom isErumely. Hindu devotees heading to Sabarimalai stop here to pray not only at the Sree Dharmasashta Temple but also at the mosque. Other religious places in the vicinity that surprise you with their history are the oldest Indian mosque, the 1000-year old Jama Masjid Thazhathangadi, its structure unlike the mosques you usually see. And there is the 14th century Thazhathangadi Valiapalli Church that incorporates both Kerala and Portuguese architectures. Raja Ravi Varma's portrait of St Grergorios Geevarghese Chathuruthil is one of Attamangalam St John's Church's treasures.

The Aruvikkuzhi Waterfalls, around 20 km from Kumarakom, makes for a cool and pleasant getaway. Pack a picnic basket and head to Elaveezha Poonchira with misty hills and glades, a drive of over 50 km from Kottayam. There are hardly any trees here, which is why it is called the "place where no leaves fall". Folklore says Panchali bathed here in its ponds.

A unique experience you must treat yourself to while in Kumarakom is a houseboat cruise to catch birds in action, admire the countryside, a chapel and secluded huts. You can also opt to stay in a houseboat instead of a resort. Those with a penchant for action can try water skiing or take it up a notch in a speed boat.

You can also enjoy dance performances. Kathakali with its flamboyant costumes is well-known but there are plenty of other dances too like Mohiniattam, Chakkiarkoothu, Cherumarkali, Kalampattu and Kaliyoottu. Don't pass up an opportunity to watch Kalaripayattu, a martial art form.



Shopping:
Shop for spices, sculptures, jewellery made with coconut shells, grass mats, bamboo lamps, traditional Kerala sarees, Ayurvedic oils and the Kathakali mask, which is the face of Kerala. Pottery is popular in Kumarakom and you can buy clay pots or try throwing a pot on the wheel. Many resorts have pottery wheels.


 

Feisty and idyllic, Kovalam can easily pass off as Goa's alter ego. With its picture perfect tropical beaches, swaying palms, crystal clear waters and a stony coastline, it is one of the most sought-after beach towns in India. Yet, few know that this coastal gem has a few secrets of its own. Once a small fishing village, Kovalam first caught the attention of the Maharaja of Travancore. Impressed by the ardent beauty of the lush coast, the king often spent all leisure time here, inviting many European friends who travelled to visit him. Needless to say, word spread. Soon after, in the 1970s, the hippies arrived and brought with them the free-spiritedness that overturned the sleepy hamlet into a paradise coast.

Give into life's simpler pleasures here; explore the palm-fringed expanse of Lighthouse beach and spend the day lounging on warm sands. Build a sandcastle. Let the waves gently cool your feet. Start your day early with an hour of meditation on Eve's beach, before you indulge in fresh seafood delicacies at a nearby cafe. Later, take in the view atop the old Lighthouse at the end of Lighthouse beach. Marvel at the wonders of Kerala's rustic countryside. Succumb to your senses and gorge on fluffy Appams, Fish Curry and Tiger Prawns before you head to Vizhinzam to take a ride into the cerulean Arabian Sea on a make-shift catamaran. If you are in town around Onam, make sure you find yourself a spot around Vellayani Lake to cheer strong oarsmen as they compete in the annual boat race. When tired, retire to the plush comfort of the resort or rejuvenate your senses at an Ayurvedic spa as the masseur works through your tired muscles.

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