Kerala – the Spice Garden of India

Kerala is known as the land of many things: God’s Own Country or the Land of the Coconut Trees; but, to us, it’ll be known as the Spice Garden of India. Even though my wife and I were born in India and lived there for some time, we have never visited Kerala. Kerala is the southernmost state of India, towards the edge of the Indian Ocean.

Mrs.CurryonTravel and I got an opportunity to visit the region in mid-November. The weather was a little chilly in mountains of Munnar, however in Kumarakom and Thekaddy it was just right. Can you imagine a better 8-night/7-day trip surrounded by the mountains, and beaches, and teas?

What to do there

We booked our tickets from Ahmedabad to Kochi. This involved flying from Ahmedabad to Mumbai to Kochi with a 2/3-hour car ride to Munnar. For Kerala the vacation packages usually include a car and a driver throughout your stay. The car comes with prepaid miles (or kilometers since we have to use the metric system) and any excess mileage is extra.

Hacking tip: the driver was with us through our trip, they usually stay in the driver’s quarters of a resort. Tipping is common and expected daily, such as tea or dinner for the driver, however some caution is also recommended. Drivers know the tourist traps and they further make commission by taking you to them. Later in the post I’ll mention areas or events that were tourist traps and could be avoided. Call the agent if you have reservations about your driver, and they should be able to send someone new the next day. If you need help with the booking, feel free to contact me.

Munnar city is in the mountain regions of Kerala. A popular destination for newlyweds, the mountains engulf you with the green vista. You can spot different shops, some selling crafts and some selling coconuts. We stopped once to drink some fresh coconut water, to truly feel we are in the South. Tea is grown all over the mountain and you’ll be sure to see tea-pickers picking tea, wrapping it, and carrying it to the factory. The mist of the mountains seems to lay suspended as we drover higher and higher, and you could feel the cool mountain air thinning. We reached our hotel late in the afternoon, and after checking in we recuperated from the flight and prepared for the next day.

Tea leaves that beckon

The next morning, we got ready and had breakfast by 9. Munnar is great for relaxing, as there are spa options however they are very different from the spas we experience in the west. We started the day visiting [Matupetty Dam]. As we drove through the small falls spread across the mountainous region, we arrived at the old dam. The purpose of the visit is not solely for the dam, since that was not too exciting, but rather to walk past it and hike to one of the top points of the mountain. The views from the mountain were exceptional, we could see the mist covering parts of the mountain. As we walked down from the hike we came across some local fruit stalls. We bought some fruits that were local to Munnar, and I was introduced to jackfruit. I ended up buying more as they were delicious.

After Matupetty Dam, we decided to visit the Tata Tea Factory. As a tea connoisseur, which is something I hope to be, visiting the factory of one of the biggest tea growers was a must. We had an option to visit the [nature park], however the lines were incredibly long and after talking to a few locals it felt like a tourist trap. The entry tickets were reasonable and inside we were greeted with a guide. After a 20-minute video about the history of tea in the region, we made our way to the factory floor. The factory is not operational, but the old machines were left for the tourist. We walked through the floors to learn how teas are converted from leaves to beans. I was disappointed when we weren’t given free samples of tea, instead you had to pay for it; and it wasn’t the freshly made chai-tea that I meticulously make but rather a hot water machine.

Tata Tea Factory

After the Tata Tea Factory, we visited the Munnar market, akin to a downtown area. Located below the mountains, the market can get very busy closer to the evening. The wife was very excited to visit the shops and potentially get some bargains for handcrafts, spices, and other items. After visiting a few shops to get the general price sense, we came across a wholesaler located in the bowels of the market. After some haggling we get some great deals on fresh spices, especially spices used for South Indian cooking; something the wife cooks regularly. The handcrafts were generally the same price compared to the shops we found by the mountains, but food items such as fruits and banana chips were a good buy.

The next day we left for Thekkady. After the mountain regions of Munnar, Thekkady was another quiet getaway. Along the way we stopped at an Elephant Junction. The Elephant Junction allows tourists to ride an elephant or even take a “shower” with the elephant (seriously…). We opted for the ride. For someone that has never ridden on an elephant it was a unique experience. After checking into the hotel we relaxed and enjoyed a quiet evening.

The next morning, we visited the Periyar National Forest. The forest offers several options to hike and tours to look at animals and plants that reside in the forest. After spending an hour walking around the forest, we chose instead to take a “safari” on the borders of Tamilnadu. Tamilnadu is a bordering state of Kerla, and the views along the border are divine. You’ll find many folks canvassing for tours, with different options. We made a deal for a tour of 4 points to see along the border, with the whole jeep to ourselves (bargaining is recommended). The safari was the highlight of our stay in Thekkady, with the water fall views so pristine.

Safari Point #3

After Thekkady, we made our next stop to Kumarakom. On the way our driver mentioned that we will cross a big market, a great spot to shop for clothes, antiques, and other souvenirs. We spent the afternoon in the market, exploring and shopping for some sarees. The collection was interesting, but Mrs. CurryonTravel had her fun. After checking in the Zuri Resort, we freshened up and walked around the resort to explore.

Kumarakom is not in the mountains, rather it’s a coastal city. Expect a humid climate, with its share of insects. Folks come here to relax and enjoy the backwaters. You have the option to rent a houseboat and spend a night on the waters with 5-star service at your beck and call. Spending a night on a houseboat, or renting a boat for a few hours can get a little pricey. Mrs. CurryonTravel and I found another group of tourists and we negotiated a 3 hour ride in the backwaters. For a fraction of the cost, we were able to tour the houses and fishing boats on the water and see the beauty that one would expect in Kerala.

How to get there

Our route was local, since we were in Gujarat. However, any trip to Kerala will have to be through Kochi, closest city with a major airport. The travel time between Kochi and Munnar is 2-3 hours by car, and could be longer based on the traffic.

A car and drive are standard ways of vacationing around Kerala, and one I would recommend to see the sights and be flexible with your plans.

Where to stay

I would recommend the Kofiland Resort in Thekkady and the Zuri Resort in Kumarakom.

Kofiland in Thekkady

The level of service, cleanliness, and beauty of these resorts make visiting Kerala worthwhile. Chef Boban at the Zuri Resort was very accommodating with our requests, and he made the best Nizam Handi I’ve tasted.

Zuri in Kumarakom

As always drop me a note if you need additional information about my trip or if I could help in booking your adventure. I would love to hear about your experience as well. Did my recommendations come in handy? What else is there to see?

Safe Travels,

CurryonTravel


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