God’s own country: Adventures from Kochi

Located in the southwest region of India, Kerala is known for blending ancient practises – from centuries-old folk dances to their Ayurvedic healing tradition – with an urban twist. This rich heritage is complemented with a landscape that encapsulates long sandy beaches, verdant forests filled with wildlife, and rolling misty hills. At just a 4.5-hour flight from Singapore, Kochi is ideal for a short break for those look- ing for a combination of culture, beach holiday, wildlife watching and outdoor activities. 

KOCHI

Famous for its harbours, Fort Kochi is sur- rounded by bustling fish markets, and what makes it so unique is the local method of fishing – using Chinese fishing nets, dating back centuries when the Chinese once resided in Kochi. Operated by teams of up to 6 fishermen, each structure is about 10m high, with a cantilevered net suspended over the sea. 

A hang out spot for locals, Fort Kochi beach is a laidback area where you can watch fishermen in action while enjoying the views of the colonial architecture along the shoreline – these were once homes to explorers like Vasco Da Gama. 

If you have a spice for life then Mattancherry well worth exploring. Surrounded by the backwaters of the Arabian Sea, the streets of Mattancherry retained their ancient feel, where markets are filled with the aroma of spices; unlike other parts of Kerala, the locals here mainly follow Judaism. Mattancherry also hosts India’s oldest active synagogue – the Paradesi Synagogue, constructed in 1567 – which can be found in the literally-named “Jew Town”. 

ATHIRAPPILLY FALLS

Athirappilly falls is an hour’s drive from Kochi or 45 minutes from Kochi Airport. Named as the ‘Niagara of India’ the 25m- tall waterfall cascades down into three individual plumes. Below the falls runs a river that’s turbulent for almost 1km until it reaches Kannamkuzhi, after which it’s smooth sailing. Kayaking and canoeing trips are available here, and the guides can lead you to picturesque swimming spots. 

There are about 12 resorts in Athirappilly, ranging from budget to luxury, some offer- ing up close views of the gushing waterfalls from the balcony. 

Hiking trails dot the area – there is a 1km trail down to the bottom of the falls and lo- cal guides in Athirappilly offer guided hikes along nature trails. A haven for wildlife, Athirappilly is home to elephants, tigers, leopards and bisons, to name a few. It is also the only location where all four South Indian species of hornbills reside, one of which is the great hornbill – the state bird of Kerala. There are also teak, bamboo and eucalyptus plantations in the area. 

You can get to Athirappilly Falls by rail (Chalakudi is the closest station), private bus, and taxi. 

WAYANAD DISTRICT

A little further up north from Kochi, Wayanad offers breathtaking views of mountains, rivers and tea plantations. Within South India, Wayanad is known for its cool climate. 

The higher elevation here give this district misty weather and cooler temperatures throughout the year, although it is better known for having the second highest rainfall in the world. 

This pristine location is also dotted with history and culture, with the top cultural landmark being the wooden Thirunelli Temple that’s situated amidst the thick forest. In addition, local tribes here include the Paniyas, Adiyas and Kurichyas, who are known to be exceptional archers. 

One of the main tourist attractions in Wayanad is the Eddakal Caves. A cleft that’s almost 29m high and 7m wide, these natural caves host a series of carvings of human and animal figures, dating back to over 8,000 years ago. 

Bamboo rafting is available along the Kabini River, about 112km away from the caves. The backwaters of the Kabini reservoir are part of the Kabini Forest Reserve which is rich in wildlife, especially in summer (June to October) when the water level recedes. The lush forest surrounding the river is where you may have sightings of elephants, shikars and birdlife. 

There are three main mountains in Wayanad: Chembra Peak (2,100m), Banasura Peak (2,073m) and Brahmagiri Peak (1,608m). While many peaks are still unknown, however, the area attracts a lot of trek- kers. Popular trekking routes include the 3-hour Chembra Peak trek – famous for its heart-shaped lake – which is accessible from Meppady (guides are available), and the Pakshipathalam Peak (1,740m) trail which is known for its birdlife. 

Camping and hotel accommodation are available at the scenic Seagot Banasura, with a backdrop of the lake and Banasura Dam. Adrenaline seekers can participate in various activities such as jummaring, river crossing and zip lining. 

KUTTANAD

Running from Kollam to Kochi, this 75km stretch of backwater area is ideal for a scenic houseboat journey on a traditional Kettuvallam boat. The ride includes stopovers to the region’s tribes and villages which have long fascinated visitors. 

Besides exploring the culture, there are also opportunities to fish using their traditional methods and tools. 

Houseboat packages can also include cycling tours within the villages. Known as the ‘rice bowl of Kerala,’ the land is mostly surrounded by lush paddy fields and during harvest season you can catch the farmers engrossed in various traditional activities. Rich in avian life, you can often find flocks of parrots flying around the bloomed rice stalks. 

These villages are also surrounded by canals where you can find vendors on Kettuvallam boats selling groceries and other goods such as coconut husks and rice transported from nearby markets. 

For those interested in trying out the lo- cal cuisine, stop by the small traditional wayside eateries where backwater fish delicacies and tapioca are served. 

Houseboats can be booked online where there are a variety of boats and styles to choose from. Options range from budget to luxurious, day or night rides, with a number of bedroom options. 

The journey from Kochi to Kuttanad usu- ally takes about 2 hours by car or train. 

LAKSHADWEEP ISLANDS

A group of islands about 400km offshore from Kerala, Lakshadweep is India’s only coral atolls. Contain- ing 12 atolls and a number of reefs and submerged banks, most visitors come here for some excellent diving. Bangaram features smooth sands and a multi-coloured sea, while Agatti is home to some of the best swimming beaches around, with a lagoon that’s ideal for diving. 

Every visitor requires a special permit to visit Lakshadweep, which is easily arranged via a tour operator. Foreign visitors are restricted to the islands of Agatti, Bangaram and Kadmat; the most dramatic approach from Kochi is by plane, where you land on an airstrip that seems to float in the ocean. 

Kovallam

A 5-hour drive from Kochi, Kovallam is a village down south known for its pristine beaches. One of the oldest tourist enclaves, these beaches became popular amongst westerners in the seventies with the arrival of hippies, transforming it from an sleepy fishing village to a tourist hotspot dotted with plentiful accommodation options ranging from budget hotels to luxury resorts. Popular activities in Kovallam include surfing and traditional boat rides. 

Waves in Kovallam range from 0.5 to 2m – you can hire surfing and body boards from US$6 a day. Wooden boat rides in Leela Beach use ancient materials where the boats are rowed using bamboo paddles guided by the local fishermen; visitors can also opt for sunset cruises. 

Known as the world’s first Ayurveda resort, the Somatheeram Ayurvedic Resort sprawls over 15 acres of land and provides various traditional therapies including yoga. 

The star attraction is the Lighthouse Beach which stands tall on a rocky peninsula, overlooking Poovar in one direction and the famous Beemapalli mosque on the other. Offering a tranquil scene, this beach is ideal for long walks along the coastline where you can surf, play volley- ball and indulge in beach activities. 

GETTING THERE

SilkAir and Tiger Airways offer direct flights from Singapore to Kochi, with a total travel time of 4.5 hours. 

Singaporeans, Japanese, Kiwis and Indonesians are some of the 12 nationalities that now enjoy visa-on- arrival in India. 

For other travellers, visas can be applied online via this site: http://indianvisaonline.gov.in

Visit www.keralatourism.org for more information on Kerala.

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