Varkala – A lesser known gem of Kerala

Tucked in the southern part of Kerala, away from the typical touristy locales of the state, Varkala sits on edge of Trivandrum. Apart from being known as Kerala’s ‘Temple Town’, Varkala is also recognized as ‘one of the top 10 seasonal beaches in the world’. The endless expanse of the Arabian Sea, the golden sands, and the laid-back vibes make this town a perfect place to relax.

Getting there

Being close to Trivandrum, the best way to reach Varkala is by air till Trivandrum airport. From there you can hire a car and reach the beach town, at a distance of about 51 Km. There are also buses and trains from Trivandrum to Varkala.

Things to do in Varkala

To see

  • Janardana Swami temple– Dedicated to Lord Vishnu, this is one of the most famous places of worship in Varkala overlooking the Varkala Beach. The 2000-year old temple enshrines an ancient deity of Vishnu and is an important site for Vaishnavas. The temple also houses a historic bell that had once been brought in by the sea from a wrecked Dutch vessel.
  • Sivagiri Mutt– At about 2.5 Km from Varkala town, this mutt or ashram stands as a spiritual place. Commemorating Shree Narayana Guru, a holy saint, this place evolved as a place that promoted equality of humans, irrespective of their religion, caste, and creed.
  • Papanasham Beach– Varkala Beach, also known as the Papanasham Beach is known for its natural beauty as well as spiritual significance. This white sandy beach, lined with towering laterite cliff, imparts a breathtaking vista. For nature lovers, this beach is an ideal spot to watch the sunset against the clear blue sea. The beach, miraculously, also has a natural freshwater spring which is believed to be sacred and bathing here can wash away one’s sins. Hence the name (pap- sins, nasham- to get rid of).
  • Anjengo Fort – Away, but not far from Varkala town, the Anjengo Fort stands as a remnant of Kerala’s rich historical past. From the Portuguese to the Dutch and then the English East India Company, Anjengo remained a place of historical significance in Kerala. It houses an old English fort, dating back to 1700s, which is a now a National Heritage Monument.
  • Varkala Tunnel– Established in 1867, this is a 924 feet long tunnel that runs through the periphery of the town. Built by the Dewan of Travancore, for the East India Company, this 151 canal served as an internal waterway as well as an irrigation source.

To experience

  • The expansive beaches of Varkala offer an array of beach activities like swimming, parasailing, and windsurfing, or simply sunbathing on the golden sands. There are surfing equipment on rent and also the Surf and Soul school which provides surfing training for beginners.
  • Kerala is known for its profound understanding and practice of natural remedies and traditional Ayurveda. And Varkala has are a host of Ayurvedic centers and spas, offering therapeutic treatments.
  • Stay at one of the yoga retreats on the beach which offer yoga therapies and meditation sessions for a relaxing vacation.
  • Get rejuvenated at the natural spring which is rich in sea minerals and clay, and is known for its healing properties.
  • Try snorkeling at the Thiruvambadi Beach or Papanasham beach and explore the underwater.
  • Shop at the beachside shops or from the vendors selling jewelry, locally handcrafted trinkets, and colorful hippie goods.

To eat

Kerala’s cuisine is known for its eclectic mix of traditional and contemporary flavors.

  • Head to Jicky’s Rooms, Oottupura and Hotel Suprabhatham for simple and delectable vegetarian flair.
  • If you are looking for international flavors, then Café Del Mar is the perfect place for Italian and Mexican food.
  • The beachside eateries like Dolphin Bay and Funky Art Café are backpackers’ pit stops and make for great places to hang out on the beach.

This hill station in Kerala will become your new favourite destination

If you thought Kerala’s beauty starts with its golden coasts and ends in the backwaters and plantations, then maybe, there’s one more place you should discover. In a quiet corner of the southeastern part of the state, sandwiched between the mountain ranges of Western Ghats, is a quaint little hill town called Ponmudi. With the rolling hills of dense greenery, waterfalls, streams, and tea-gardens, this Kerala destination is perfect for those who love to spend a few days in the lap of the mountains but stay away from the extreme cold.

Image source: Wikipedia

Ponmudi is situated about 55.2 KM north-east of Trivandrum city. You can fly to Trivandrum and then book a cab to reach Ponmudi. The settlement got its name from a peak of its namesake on the Western Ghats. Also, translated as ‘The Golden Peak’, in the regional language, this mountain remains the highlight for travelers.

Things to do in Ponmudi

Image source: Wikipedia

Mountain climbing

Scale the heights of Agasthayarkoodam- the highest peak of the region at 1868 ft. above the sea. You would, however, need permission from the local Forest Department. You can also trek to the Ponmudi peak from its base at the Golden Valley.

Explore the Golden Valley

The foothills of the Golden Peak is replete with dense tropical forests, plantation, with gurgling streams and rivulets, cutting through the land at every turn. The valley offers breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains. The Kallari River is a major water body that runs through the wilderness of Ponmudi and makes for a great adventure. Trek through the nature trails or waddle through the pebbled bed and cool waters of the rivulets. You can also spend a day fishing on the Kallari. The colorful wooden and stone cottages clustered over the grasslands make for exquisite photography subjects.

Spot some wildlife

The Peppara Wildlife Sanctuary is one of the most notable and popular sightseeing places where most tourist go. This is a part of the Agasthyamalai Biosphere Reserve. Spread across 53 sq. km. this nature reserve is home to numerous wild animals and birds like Asian elephants, sambar deer, Indian leopards, lion-tailed macaques and more. For avian lovers, you will find birds and butterflies aplenty in this sanctuary. Information is that about 59% of Kerala’s bird population is found in Ponmudi. The forest grasslands are breeding grounds for Malabar grey hornbills, Wayanad laughing thrush, broad-tailed grass birds, Nilgiri Pipit, among other species.

Image source: Wikipedia

Visit the Meenmutty Falls

The highest and most popular waterfall, the Meenmutty Falls sits amidst the forested mountains, at about 3 km from the Kallar Main Road. The highlight of these falls lies in its access more than the site of the falls. Trek through the lush greenery and natural ponds to reach the Meenmutty Falls. The rocky embankment at the base with a pool of clear water makes for a perfect respite after a long walk. The best time to visit this place is during or after the monsoon when water levels are high and unravel the real beauty of the waterfalls.

Experience a regatta

Regatta or long boat races are one of the key elements of Kerala’s culture. An age-old tradition, the Aaranmula Boat Race in Ponmudi, is a sight you cannot miss. Every year, in the months of August and September, the boat race takes place on the Pampa River. This water sport forms a part of the Aaranmula Temple festival. Watch the skilled oarsmen as they cut through the water with finesse and beat the competing teams. This is the time when thousands of rural folks visit from the neighboring villages to take part in the celebrations.

Blessed with a temperate climate all year round, and pure natural surroundings, and a vibrant culture, Ponmudi will surely redefine your concept of a typical holiday in Kerala.

Explore Offbeat Destinations in India: Vagamon

Vagamon or Wagamon is a sleepy little hill town in the south-east corner of Kerala. Yet another idyllic locale in God’s own country, Vagamon partly occupies the Kottayam district and partly the Idukki district of the state. Not more than 1100 meters above sea-level, you would find this cozy hamlet to be your perfect place of serenity, far from the maddening crowd of cities. Perched on the hills of the border of two major districts and blessed with natural wonders, Vagamon offers great opportunities for eco-tourism. Head to Vagamon this summer – book a Cochin taxi service to travel there with ease.

You would be thankful to find that this hill town is still untainted by the ill-effects of commercialization, making this place retain its originality.

Reaching Vagamon

Vagamon is situated about 100km from Cochin, which is also the nearest airport. So you can take a flight if traveling from any major city. From there you can hire a cab or rent a car till Vagamon and travel down the hill highway. It is a fulfilling experience with endless views of the hills and vales and the winding roads cutting through the mountains and dense forests. Alternatively, you can also take the train till Kuttikanam at 22km or Palai at 33km.

Exploring Vagamon

The rolling hills enveloped under blankets of greenery, the steep slopes, the velvet countryside makes for a much-needed relaxing holiday with your friends, family or special someone.

Wake up to the view of the morning mist veiling the valleys – a picture perfect setting that can bring you instant joy. The lush valleys, expansive meadows dotted with wildflowers, dense pine forests and waterfalls are indeed bliss for all your senses. Such a scenic landscape comes with abundant options to explore and experience this homestead in its own way.

You can choose from any of the adventure activities like trekking, paragliding, mountaineering and rock climbing. Did you know that Vagamon is a paragliding hub for flyers? Paragliders from different parts of India and abroad join the International Paragliding Festival which is held in the months of January and February every year.

Other recommendations in Vagamon

Vagamon and its three hills- Thangal, Murugan, and Kurisumala reflect complete religious harmony, with Hindu, Muslim, and Christians- all cohabiting in the same place.

The Kurisumala Ashram is a spiritual center but also holds ample natural beauty. If you are so inclined, you can visit this abode of peace. Otherwise, the area is surrounded by vast tea-estates and natural lakes.

Head to the Murugan Hill near the Thangal Para. A temple dedicated to Lord Murugan sits atop the hills and enshrines an old stone carving.

 

Walk through the Vagamon Meadows. These undulating hills and sloping landscapes engulf a lake, which renders a painting like a scene. For photographers, writers, and other creative souls, this location is indeed inspiring.

Explore the pine forests. This is where lofty pine trees stand in rows and make this dense forest eerily beautiful.

You can also visit the Mooppanpara canyon, a V-shaped canyon that serves as a viewing point for the surrounding. A short trek through the hills and forests will take you to the summit.  It is here that you can get a stunning panoramic view of the town below.

There’s also the Ulipponi Wildlife Sanctuary. Though known as a natural habitat for flora and fauna, this location of Vagamon works as a great picnic spot or a day trip to just absorb nature. You can also take a boat ride on the lake located in the sanctuary. There are a lot of exotic flowers and orchids that grow in the wild and add vibrancy to the place.

Laid back and sleepy, yet uplifting with nature’s bounty, the scenic town of Vagamon needs to be explored more. After all, nature gives us these wonders only to cherish, isn’t it? Book a taxi service in Trivandrum and head out to Vagamon for a perfect idyllic holiday.

Munnar: A tour of gorgeous plantations

The beauty of Kerala is not unknown to any traveler. With the golden sandy beaches on one side, to lush plantations and forested hills on the other, God’s own country is indeed a paradise for the true explorer. Nestled in the thickets of the Western Ghats and overlooking the 2,695m high Anamudi Peak, Munnar is the quaint little hill station, you would love to spend a few days at. Surrounded by rolling hills, dotted with tea estates, coffee and spice plantations, Munnar was established as a ‘resort town’ by the British. Wrapped in mountains, valleys and natural trails, this verdant locale makes for an idyllic destination for a short vacation or a quick break from the city. If you’re looking to fit both a day at the beach and a hill station getaway in a single trip, book a taxi from Kochi to MunnarTake a tour of the expansive plantations in Munnar and discover the mountainous side of this coastal state of South India.

Tea plantations

Munnar is a major district in South India that is synonymous to tea and is home to some of the highest tea estates in the world. Known as the ‘tea town’ of Kerala, Munnar produces fine blends of Assam tea- the most sought-after flavors across the globe. The tea estates here were established in the early 1800s under the British rule and has been catering to a big share of tea exports ever since. A trip to Munnar is not complete without a tour of the sprawling tea estates and tasting the most refreshing blends of tea you would have ever had. You can take the walking tour of the scenic tea gardens and immerse yourself in the serene ambience engulfing the entire region. Don’t forget to visit the Tea Museum – the first ever in India. Treasure the picturesque landscape and the richness of nature as you walk through the terraced tea gardens of Kannan, Kolukkumalai, Gruenberg, Windermere and more.

Spice Plantations

Smell the aromas of Munnar at its extensive spice plantations. After tea, Munnar ranks as a significant producer of major Indian spices from cardamom, cinchona, ginger, garlic, vanilla, pepper, cinnamon, clove and nutmeg. As you walk through the thick foliage and smell the captivating essence of pungent spices and herbs, catch a glimpse of the local wildlife. Munnar’s spice plantation tours also include nature trail walks, bird-watching. You can also taste the flavors right at home, by indulging in a hearty meal at a local home. Don’t forget to pick up a few packs of freshly ground spices when you leave from here.

Coffee Plantations

A of southern India will not be complete without smelling the coffee, literally. Known for cultivation of finest blends, Munnar’s coffee plantations adorn its natural landscape. As you drive through the gardens of Windermere Estate and similar others, the intoxicating aromas of coffee will fill you up with contentment. The lush green plantations add to the serenity and peacefulness of this hill town. Make sure you get a taste of the local favorite beverage before you leave Munnar.

Enjoy the greenery, silence, and the nippy weather and forgo the stressful urban life for some time when you spend a few days in Munnar. If you’re looking for an extended break and a getaway from busy city life, we recommend you book a cab in Kochi.

Offbeat getaways in India: Cardamom Hills

Cardamom Hills, also known as the birthplace of spices is a mountainous area located in the southern India in the states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. This place derives its name from the cardamom spice that is grown in massive quantities. Apart from that, Cardamom Hills is also famous for producing coffee, tea, bamboo, pepper, and teak. Cardamom Hills form a part of the Western Ghats covering 2,800 square kms of terrain filled with profound valleys that leave an aromatic scent of the spices which will definitely rejuvenate your senses. Such a unique offering attracts a lot of travellers from around the world.

It is indeed an incredible opportunity to know about the local flavours and to see the procedure that goes into the development of the spices. Since this area is a home to several tribes, you can see a lot of them working in the tea estates to earn their living.  Your tour to Cardamom Hills will also leave you with an unforgettable introduction to its exceptional culinary heritage, spice plantations, temples, the famed backwaters, wildlife, and incredible rural landscape.

The Periyar Tiger Reserve, a significant wild life Reserve with a breathtaking view was developed with an initiative to protect the big cats and is well-known for its rich wealth of flora and fauna. Apart from the tigers, this Reserve is a home to a number of other animals like samba, elephants, leopards, deers, etc. A boat cruise on Periyar Lake to spot different birds and animals also adds to the excitement. This place is famous for the mountain biking tour called as ‘The Cardamom Hills Cycling Trail’ that takes you through thick evergreen forests along the mountain roads with astounding delightful cardamom woods and spice gardens. Mudra Kathakali Centre, a place where a one-hour show features the former students of the Kalamandalam School should also be visited.  

Shopping antiques, organic products, books from a local shop named Red Frog is recommended. For the mountain lovers and outdoor enthusiasts, trekking activities are available in and around Cardamom Hills. A comparatively unexplored place worth visiting is the Megamalai Wildlife Sanctuary that protects a number of rare species including Bengal tiger, Indian elephant, Nilgiri tahr, great Indian hornbill, etc.

Summer is the best time to visit Cardamom Hills as several animals venture out in search of water and can be easily spotted. Since frequent flights are not available to this place, it is not easily accessible by air. The nearest airport is Madurai at a distance of 140 Km from Cardamom Hills. No local railway station is available, so the closest option is Rajapalayam at a distance of 53 km from Thekkady. Travelling by road is the best option to explore the scenic terrain in an unhindered way. You can book a taxi from Madurai to Cardamom Hills for a comfortable journey.

A local’s guide to exploring Kochi

The taste of salt in the air, the friendly people and a vibrant, bustling soul combine to form the sprawling city known as Kochi. This coastal city is one of the most developed in South India, but is more laid-back compared to its counterparts. The weather is pleasant all round, so you can visit this city any time of the year.

If you’d like to visit Kochi and explore the city’s culture and hidden gems like a local, read on!

The Quaint Roads of Vypin

A small town located to the north-west of Cochin, Vypin is separated from the mainland by a bay-like extension of the Arabian Sea. You can rent a car in Cochin, and traverse the 25-odd km to this town quickly. The beauty of Vypin lies in its serene and calm way of life. Most of the roads lie parallel to the coast making for a beautiful drive, and the beaches in the area are untouched and secluded. You can even learn the basics of prawn cultivation from the friendly locals, or explore the Azhikotta Fort which was built in 1503.

Cherai Beach

Cherai Beach is at the north western end of Vypin Island, in the Ernakulam district. Cabs in Kochi make frequent runs to this beach, since it is just 30 km from the city. The road to Cherai is dotted with pretty lagoons and prawn farms, making it one of the most scenic places in Kerala. Coconut trees and paddy fields also add to the charm, but you’ll forget all about the road when you reach the destination.

The beach itself is nicknamed ‘The Princess of Arabian Sea’, because it is one of the finest beaches on the West coast. The total length is close to 15 km, making it ideal for long walks and viewing the sunset. The water level is very shallow, so guests can take a swim or walk up far into the water (although you should check with the lifeguard before you get into the water).

The Mattanchery Trail

Mattanchery is one of the oldest parts of Cochin, and is located near Fort Kochi. The area is famous for its spice trade, which has been progressing for well over three centuries. The mix of pleasant and strong smells, combined with the vibrant culture will enable you to explore more of the area without getting tired. The area also houses the Dutch Palace, which is an architectural wonder in itself. It was the residence of the Maharaja of Kochi, gifted to him by the Portuguese. The walls are adorned by scenes from Ramayana and Mahabharata, but the overall beauty of the palace lies in its simplicity.

There are many other quirky destinations within the city, including Jew Town, the Synagogue and more. If you want to explore these places at your own convenience, then just book taxi in Cochin to take you around. One thing is certain; if you’re looking for a unique travel experience, you’ll find what you’re looking for in the wonderful city of Cochin.

 

Five Beaches South of the Vindhyas You Should Visit as Soon as Summer Ends

Come June, summer will start to make way for cooler temperatures, gloomy weather and rains. And many of us will want to head to the only place where we get the sun, sand and surf – the beach! But what happens when everyone else is there as well? Do you want to enjoy your sliver of the sun and some quiet moments with that special someone? Or a quiet, relaxing getaway with your friends without having to jostle for space with a hundred others? Here is a list of some less known beaches you are sure to enjoy in south India!

Dhanushkodi, Rameshwaram

Dhanushkodi

Number one on our list is the ethereal Dhanushkodi beach located in the state of Tamil Nadu. It was declared a ghost town by the Government of Tamil Nadu after a massive cyclone hit in 1964. But it remains a tourist’s paradise with many attractions!

The Gulf of Mannar Marine National Park offers a breath-taking visual of the myriad of flora and fauna. Pamban island which is barely 20km away, can keep you occupied with many activities. And one cannot miss the awe-inspiring Adam’s Bridge which is a naturally formed bridge between India and Srilanka!

How to get there: If one is looking for a cheaper option, many Govt and Private buses ply from Rameshwaram to Dhanushkodi. One can also get down at Rameswaram railway station and take a cab. Multiple cabs ply, even directly from Chennai. Flying in? Madurai Airport is the nearest.

Mahe beach, Puducherry

Mahe

Mahe was originally a French colony and now forms a municipality in Mahe district (which forms part of the union territory of Puducherry). It is surrounded by the state of Kerala on all sides.

The pristine waters and palm fringed shorelines offer an enchanting getaway for all those wanting to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life. Enjoy a quiet stroll along the beach while taking in the quaint fishing hamlets dotted along the shore. Or what about a glorious sunset while taking a dip?

How to get there: As few trains stop at Mahe railway station, the best option is to drive down. Roads from major destinations like Bangalore and Kochi are well-maintained and many buses ply from all nearby towns. The Calicut International airport is the nearest airport with many flights operating from different parts of the country.

Mararikulam beach, Mararikulam

Mararikulam

The fishing village of Mararikulam is situated in Alappuzha district in Kerala. This is a must visit for adventure seekers with a ton of activities like parasailing, water skiing and sea surfing. There is much in store for nature lovers as well. One can contact a naturalist to take you on a guided tour and fall in love with nature at its best. With swaying coconut trees and beautiful skies, this is a haven for a stress-free holiday.

Oh, and dare we mention the amazing resorts and food?

How to get there: Easily accessible by road, with cabs readily available from Cochin. Cochin International airport is also nearby from where one can take a cab and Mararikulam has its own railway station, but better check since only few trains stop.

Malpe beach, Karnataka

Malpe

Just 6km from Udupi, this idyllic, neat beach is irresistible for busy city dwellers. Many attractions are dotted around or near the beach. Few of them being St Mary’s island, the Fort of Daria-Bahadurgad and the temple of Balarama. But, a hit with beach lovers has been the Free WiFi!

How to get there: The best way to get there is by road, as the route from Mangalore to Malpe is considered one of the most beautiful. One can get down at Udupi railway station if traveling by rail or fly into Bajpe Airport.

Yarada Beach, Andhra Pradesh

Yarada Beach

Located around 15km from the busy city of Visakhapatnam, this hidden treasure is located on the west coast of the Bay of Bengal. It offers panoramic views of the skyline and crystal clear waters. A favourite with lovers wanting some quality time, the beach provides peace and quiet. Want a stress-free weekend? Head to Yarada!

How to get there: Availability of cabs is many from Hyderabad to Yarada beach with some operators offering a full day cab in Visakhapatnam as well. Both the nearest railway station and airport are located in Visakhapatnam.

 Did we miss out on your favourite beach in south India? Tell us in the comments below!

#60DaysOfSummer – Relaxing in Munnar

If your idea of a perfect holiday during the summer is to go to a hill station to just relax and take in the view, Munnar may be a great option. With waterfalls, national parks and tea estates, Munnar really has it all.

If it’s the time of the year when you realise you’ve earned yourself a holiday where you do absolutely nothing, we recommend you head to this lovely hill station in Kerala. Munnar is a one-size fits all kind of hill station where you can go hiking, trout fishing, walking through tea estates and mainly relaxing in the lush greenery of the hill station. You’ll find a great collection of spices, honey and coffee at local markets.

If you feel like you should get some activity, can also take a leisurely stroll to see how tea is made at the Tata Tea Museum, head over to Echo Point to challenge family and friends to an echo competition or go to Blossom International Park and see how many flowers you can identify.

HOW TO GET THERE

Take a train or flight to Kochi, and then book a cab from Kochi to Munnar.

 

#60DaysOfSummer – Backwaters of Alleppey

Summer may not be the ideal time to visit Alleppey or Alappuzha as it is locally known, but we can guarantee that the laid back and rustic life in the backwaters will take your breath away. If you’re comfortable with slightly higher temperatures, you’ll find that Alleppey has a ton of very cheap places you can stay.

If you’re on a tight budget but need a relaxing vacation, we can’t think of a better place to go than Alleppey. If you’re someone who loves a lot of activity, you’re out of luck. Alleppey is all about relaxing by the backwaters in a house boat, or taking a canoe out in the water to explore village life.

Alleppey has some lovely local markets that sell a lot of artisan wares. Towards June, Snake Boat racers begin their practise sessions, and make for a spectacular sight. If you’re looking to go off the beaten path, we highly recommend going down to Kakkathuruthu (Island of Crows), a lush green island in the middle of the backwaters.

If you’re looking for a cheap place to stay, we highly recommend Artpackers. Life and Wind’n’Waves, both great budget stays in Alleppey. Alternatively, if you’re looking for a house boat experience, head to the Punnamada area in town to find agencies that rent them out.

HOW TO GET THERE

Take a train or flight to Kochi. Alleppey is an hour’s drive from Kochi, and you can get from Kochi to Alappuzha by cab. You can also club your holiday with a visit to Munnar, which is four hours away.