We boarded the train in Mangalore for a trip down south, through Kerala and Tamil Nadu! It’s spectacular, and it’s no wonder why it is quickly becoming the new tourist hot-spot.
Our overnight train journey dropped us off in Ernakulam (very close to Cochin). We toured Cochin and went to a museum of Ravi Varma’s old palace. After a few hours in Cochin, we made our way to the town of Munnar, a hill station, high in the Western Ghats. The resort was beautiful and overlooked the mountains, and mountains, of tea plantations. We took a jeep safari ride through the mountains, and went to the highest tea factory in the world (at 8500 feet!), where they still process the tea leaves in exactly the same way as they did in the 1800s, when the factory was first built by the British. Sufficed to say, my father definitely closed his eyes a few times on the way up, around those hairpin turns! We saw the highest mountain in South India, and were able to look across the mountains from Munnar to Kodaikanal (in the neighboring state)! At the resort, Club Mahindra, we relaxed, played carem, sipped tea, and enjoyed the cool climate (we even had to turn the heater on at night!). But we soon had to be on our way.
Our next stop was Thekkady and the Periyar Tiger Reserve! We arrived and prepared for what Thekkady is known for, ayurvedic body massages! We also took a boat ride through the reserve, hoping to spot some tigers or elephants! (elephants are very common there—one lady I spoke with had seen three just one month prior!) But unfortunately, there had been a lot of rain in the past month, so the elephants didn’t need to come to the lake for water. We didn’t see any elephants or tigers, but we saw a huge monitor lizard, wild boar, monkeys, and an elk. Periyar was just the beginning of our boat rides...
We left Thekkady well-rested and massaged, and drove to Alleppey. We stopped briefly in Kovalam for lunch—a beautiful and famous beach! In Alleppey (formerly known as Alluppuzha), we boarded a houseboat and set sail on the tranquil backwaters. We enjoyed lunch and dinner, Kerala-style, complete with fish, paripoo (dal), and rice. For breakfast, we had idlis! The waters were beautiful and very serene. People live all along the banks of the waters, but to travel from one side to the other, a boat or water taxi is needed! At night, the men tied the boat to the bank and we chatted and played cards by moonlight. We drifted to sleep by the sounds of the crickets and the water lapping against the side of the boat. We arose at sunrise and watched as not only the people, but the river, awoke. People were taking their morning baths, washing their clothes, gathering water for cooking, and children were on their way to school. We cruised a little more and then headed back to the town of Alleppey. What a marvelous experience to see how these people lived, and to see their world for one night.
From Alleppey, we continued farther south... until we couldn’t go any farther! We had arrived in Kanya Kumari—the tip of the Indian subcontinent. That evening, we watched the sun set over the coast, where the Arabian Sea, the Bay of Bengal, and the Indian Ocean all converge. It was an awe-inspiring evening. Directly south of that point, there is no land until Antarctica! (Technically Sri Lanka is to the south east of India, in the Indian Ocean)
There is a Gandhi museum, dedicated to the life of Mahatma Gandhi and it is a very interesting building made to have characteristics of a church, a temple, and a mosque and represent peace and understanding between all of the religions. There is also a tsunami memorial built for the people that lost their lives on December 26, 2004, when the tsunami killed about 1000 people from Kanya Kumari. It was a sobering experience to imagine that I was standing in the same place that was covered in water only one year ago on that fateful day.
We also went to the Vivekananda Memorial where there is a temple and a building built in the memory of Swami Vivekananda, who walked all through India in the 1800s and then decided to walk to the tip of the country. When he couldn’t walk anymore, he stopped. But he saw a rock off the coast and said, "I am not to the end yet, there is more!" So he swam from Kanya Kumari to the rock. And there he meditated for 3 days and nights with no food and water. He later went on to be a world-renowned swami and traveled to Chicago in the early 1900s to spread the principles of Hinduism to the western world. Presently, there is a meditation room in the memorial, where you can sit and meditate for as long as you like. Being there on that rock really invokes a sense of spirituality and introspection.
Recently built was also a statue of Thiruvaluvar, a famous Tamilian poet (Kanya Kumari is actually in Tamil Nadu). The statue is huge and stands more than 100 feet high. We were told that the tsunami (which came from the Indian Ocean side), in fact created a wave that went over the statue and stranded some 1500 people on the Vivekananda rock. These 1500 people were later evacuated to safety via helicopter.
We drove from Kanya Kumari to Trivandrum and went to two final museums, one of Ravi Varma’s art work (a famous Keralan artist, one of the few recognized by the western world during his time, in the late 1800s/early 1900s whose palace we visited in Cochin upon arrival in Kerala), and one with historic sculptures and artifacts, some over 1500 years old (the Napier Museum).
The train ride home led to stories recounting the past 5 days with treasure and glee, until we dozed off with fatigue. The sunlight awakened us and we arrived in Mangalore around 9am.
And so, it was quite appropriate that our trip concluded in Kanya Kumari—we simply could not go any farther south. It began with a stop in the mountains, to the highest tea factory in the world, and even viewing the highest point in South India; it ended with our feet in the confluence of three major bodies of water at one of the lowest points in India.
They call Kerala "God’s Own Country" and after our trip, we realized why. It truly is beautiful and has so much to offer. The people are friendly, the food is delicious, and the views are unrivaled. It will always remain a serene memory ingrained in our hearts and minds.