My trip to Kerala had its highs and lows. While my passion for travelling and photography got a good deal, I had some tough time with the food (barring a couple of local food items) and weather. I loved being amidst the greenery, clean air and a simple slow paced way of life. Munnar being my favorite and already marked for a revisit.
Am sharing a few take offs from my trip that may help plan your trip better. This is basis my personal experience and with reference to the places that were on my itinerary (read about the places we visited here #KeralaNotings)
My inputs on food is based on my personal taste in food and its likes. If you have a strong North Indian palate you may not be able to relish the local cuisine (coconut base & oil being used extensively) on a daily basis. Kerala is a delight for non vegetarians with a variety to choose from especially sea food! Basis preference, it is advised you ask your houseboat provider for another cuisine along with / other than their traditional cuisine while making the bookings and a cook who knows how to prepare them. You can give a reminder 24/48 hrs before the ride. Food is cheap there and the highway joints will provide you with basic staple food menu. I remember being all excited about a traditional breakfast dish ‘puttu’ (steamed cylinders of ground rice layered with coconut) and then landing with a bad stomach and vomiting, maybe indigestion at its peak. Anyone trying it should initially take a small portion. While traveling from one place to another by road keep some light munchies handy. Here and there we enjoyed the kacha aam with chilli powder and yes they are extremely fast selling. Personally, I did not find the homemade chocolates, being sold, around the tourist spots, delectable. Do not carry food / snacks when inside Periyar & Eravikulam National Park, you will not be allowed to carry them on your exploration. In case you need to carry some, to keep them in your car till you return.
You will have a lot of options for souvenirs / shopping. I found the Khadi Gramodhyog Bhavan (Pallimukku, Ernakulam) to be a good & decently priced option to buy souvenirs. Retail outlets in plantations on the Kumily – Thekkady highway are the best place to buy spices. Kasavu sari from any Kasavukada showroom, kathakali masks & nettippattam can also be bought from shops around popular temples. Oh yes, some banana, tapioca, jack fruit chips too! I loved their chikki (peanut candy) … different from the ones we get here… its yummm!! Avoid shopping in Princess Street /Fort Kochi as prices are high lest you are rally good at bargaining. You may indulge in incense or ittar (concentrated perfume) purchase there but remember, to bargain. Not to forget the Lulu mall (second largest mall in India) for brand shopping or just whiling some evening time. Things you can buy as souvenirs: aranmula kannadi (metal mirror), kasavu saree, kettuvallam (houseboat), chundan vallom (snake boat). nettipattam (elephant caparison), kathakali masks or paintings, coir products, mural paintings, nettoor petti (traditional jewelry box), spices, ayurvedic produce, tea and coffee from their plantation’s retail outet.
With regards to clothing, you may need light woolens in Munnar & other hilly places while for the rest comfortable cotton dresses along with a pair of good walking shoes. If temples are on your itinerary, its advisable to look up the temple dress code rules before visiting. The men, as well as male kids, in most temples are to wear mundu (dhoti) and be bare chested while entering the inner sanctum. For the women, most temples allow them to wear a saree or a salwar/churidar-kameez with dupatta.
Weather was definitely not in my good books since I am not comfortable in hot and humid climate that too in November!! So barring Munnar and to some extent Thekkady I was miserable. Carry water proof sunscreen, umbrellas/caps and dresses suitable to such weather. Keep yourself well hydrated and eat light. Since Kerala is a place of backwaters carry mosquito repellent.
And, when in Kerala do not forget to indulge in the traditional ayurvedic spa treatments. There are plenty of massage spa / parlours around so do make sure you narrow down on an authentic one. Your hotels would have an in house spa or tie up with some. At the end of the day a shirodhara abhiyangam would be great way to unwind 😎
Please ensure you do online reservation for the Eravikulam National Park and Periyar National Park & Wildlife Sanctuary in advance. Also you should be at the venue much ahead of the time slot chosen to collect the physical ticket for which you need to be in a long queue (during tourist season). Also at the Periyar a person can purchase only two tickets at the max (note this if you are planning to get your tickets on the spot). Another thing, you are not allowed to carry any eatables in the main section of the parks so please keep this in mind.
While on the houseboat kids may tend to get restless. Do have a plan to keep them engaged 😀 The houseboats get docked at a village in the evening for the day. Since its winter the sunsets early so ensure you tell your steersman to reach the place while the sun is still up. Else you may miss enjoying touring the village and enjoying its scenic life.
As a rule always always carry small denomination money. I have this habit instilled in me by my parents since my hostel days. It stands me in good stead and saved us a lot of panic due to sudden demonetization on the very day of our arrival.
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Monika Ohson / TravelerInMe