We travelled with Etihad via Abu Dhabi to Calicut Airport and were lucky enough to get upgraded to Business Class on the first leg. This being my first experience of Etihad I was suitably impressed. The comfort of the lie flat beds combined with the excellent menu made for a very comfortable 6 and half hours. Upstairs on the A380 was also very quiet. The second leg was somewhat different as we travelled economy and the flight was full! Although seats were comfortable and leg room was fine.
Upon arrival we were picked up by a Travelpack representative and made our way to the air-conditioned mini bus.
Then the experience of Indian driving began! It seems if there are any rules at all it is “if you see a gap, no matter how small – go for it”. Waiting even for a second is not in their way of thinking! Overtaking on blind bends, squeezing through gaps, driving on the wrong side of the road into oncoming traffic… you get the picture!
After approximately 5 hours of this driving -plus the last 20 minutes up an unmade road, twisting and turning with steep drops at the side, which is quite a ride, not for the faint-hearted – we arrive at Wayanad Wild. It is a fairly new hotel to the CGH Earth Experience Hotels. The hotel group has a great ethos of being eco -friendly. Everything is recycled as much as possible, and is sustainable. Set right in the middle of a luscious forest with the sound of birds, insects and frogs echoing through the trees. This is a place to get away from it all so there is limited Wifi, no TV’s or radios, just nature.
The rooms are very large, with a huge walk in shower in the bathroom, and a spacious balcony looking out into the trees.
The food was very good, with a nice choice of different curries, rice, salads and desserts.
Worth noting for those who like the odd drink though that there is no alcohol served at this hotel. Kerala is predominately a dry state and only certain hotels have a licence to sell alcohol.
You can partake in nature walks and travel into the heart of Wayanad to see local villages and the people going about their day to day life. You can take a jeep safari into the heart of the forest for the opportunity to see more wildlife.
We had a great guide called Sabu and because we were short on time, tried to combine many different aspects of the area in one day. He took us through the local village where everyone seemed to know him. We were invited into several homes for a chat and a cup of tea and children appeared out of nowhere to say hello. The people were all very friendly. They were not at all the chaotic begging and hassling type you may expect to find in India. They were just as interested in taking photos of us as we were of them! All beautifully dressed and carrying smartphones you get the impression this is not the poorest area in India.
Sabu spotted a couple of elephants in the distance behind a field so we pulled over and all ran across this roughly half ploughed field with our cameras! We all jumped up onto a low concrete wall which separated the fields and stood trying to spot it in the distance! It was very far away but we got a glimpse. Local farmers working on the land looked at us as if we were mad! Especially when we passed again later on in the day and did exactly the same thing! Sabu was very knowledgeable and explained many interesting things about the flora fauna, wildlife and people of the area.
After 2 nights here we set off for Kochi. So back down the windy mountain roads we go to Calicut Railway station. We had first class tickets to Kochi which was very comfortable for the 3 hour journey. There are people walking up and down the train all the time selling snacks and drinks but we had a lunch box prepared by our hotel, because it is generally not recommended to eat the food on trains!
There was plenty of green scenery to look at on this journey, including smiley faces of locals on the platforms we passed.
A Travelpack representative met us when we got off the train and arranged for our cases to be taken to the mini bus. This seemed to take some negotiation but eventually 2 men put 3 suitcases EACH on their heads and walked off! We could not believe our eyes!
I was pleasantly surprised by this city. Kochi Fort is the old part of the town on the water front with quaint little streets, some cobbled, with souvenir shops and market stalls.
The hotels we visited and stayed in, are ornate with carved teak wood. We stayed at the 8th Bastion Hotel which is another CGH Earth Hotel. Lovely big rooms and huge bathroom with walk in open shower. There is a small pool with sun loungers, however, it is not particularly private as it is right by reception and the glass fronted restaurant!
The food was excellent, with a vast choice for breakfast. We had a leisurely lunch on our last day and the chefs made sure we tasted a good variety of the fantastic dishes on offer.
We also visited The Xandari Harbour Hotel Kochin – just 16 rooms. Located right on the harbour with stunning views. The rooms, especially the suites were stunning, with enormous panoramic balconies overlooking the harbour. They treated us to “high tea” which among other snacks included the best onion bargee I have ever had!
In the evening we were hosted to a truly amazing dinner that really was quite special at the Hotel Brunton Boatyard. The interiors reflect an eclectic but tasteful blend of English, Portuguese and Dutch influences as seen in its high ceilings, hanging fans and a plethora of artefacts.
We were taken on a really comprehensive and interesting half day tour of the area. We walked around the lovely quaint streets and were told of the history of the Dutch and Jewish influences. The beach is vast and I am pleased to say is part of a huge campaign to clean it up for tourists! There is currently a scheme in place in which the hotel owners and managers all come together on a Saturday morning to clean up the area. This is working well… and a great scheme that everyone is proud to be part of.
We then did a further hotel inspection – Old Harbour House which was truly colonial and each and every room was beautifully furnished and none were the same.
There are sights and sounds around every corner in Kochi, from a herd of goats walking through a children’s play park, cows on the street corner and dogs lazily lying on the beach. It had a very laid back feel for being a major town and not much traffic. I would recommend 3 nights here at least.
Periyar – Spice Village
After lunch at the 8th Bastion Hotel we set off for Periyar. This was a long journey of about 5 hours along very windy road up to 700 metres above sea level. As we were later than planned setting off we ended up doing a lot of this in the dark! Our trusty driver got us there safely though and it was worth it. The Spice Village at Thekaddy is a lovely resort. All the rooms are large individual bungalows set in lovely gardens where all the plants and trees are labelled with their names and health benefits. There is so much to do in this area, from nature walks, bike rides, canoeing on the lake, boat trips, spice plantation tours, Treks in Periyar Tiger Reserve. The hotel offers paper making, cooking demonstrations, yoga, massages and traditional local dancers in the evening.
They will gladly show you and tell you about how they passionately grow their own produce, recycle, and harness their own energy from the sun. Their aim is to have as little impact on the environment as possible. There is no plastic on the premises and water is filtered and purified on site in glass bottles provided in the rooms.
After another fantastic meal we went to bed very tired, but slept well in the huge comfy beds.
The next morning we were up early for a boat trip on the lake at Periyar Tiger Reserve. We caught a bus from outside the hotel which took us to the boat boarding centre.
There were several large boats and lots of people, so admittedly quite a touristy spot. However the area is absolutely stunning, and the fresh air coming off the lake was very welcome after the stifling heat of Kochi the day before.
The boats meandered along the lake and we managed to spot plenty of birdlife like eagles and cormorants, Indian water buffalo, wild boar, Indian wild dog, a herd of deer and one bull elephant! Although named a Tiger Reserve unfortunately the tigers are very allusive and rare to see. But seeing the elephant in its natural surroundings and even having a bathe in the lake was amazing to see.
The rest of the afternoon we were free to relax or wander around the village or have a massage at the Spice Village Resort.
As I walked back to my room that afternoon I happened upon what was to be a highlight of the whole trip for me. A whole family of large black monkeys which I think were the rare lion tailed macaques, they were jumping and playing on the ground and in the trees right amongst the bungalows of the resort! We stood and watched them for a long time as they were not bothered by us at all. Babies were play fighting on the ground and larger ones were jumping from tree to tree making the branches rustle and almost crack! It was a great experience to see them in their natural surroundings with no fences!
That evening we were treated to a show of local dancing and music before dinner. Michelle, one of the other agents on the trip had her birthday that day and when we had finished dinner, all the staff gathered round and brought out a cake for her and sang happy birthday. It was a really nice touch and we got a feel of how personally they treat each and every guest here.
The next day we left and meandered down the long road we had come up a few days before. It was nice to see it in daylight this time, as the scenery is beautiful.
After another few hours travelling we got to the “back waters” area of Kerala. The bus stopped at the side of the river and we all got onto a small boat which meandered along the river for about 15 minutes to our lovely lunch stop. We saw the famous House Boats which are the must-do thing for a night or two when visiting this area. It’s a shame we didn’t get to stay on one, because gently cruising through the backwaters, spotting nature and taking in the scenery, and little settlements along the river bank where locals are going about their daily lives, is a lovely experience.
The hotel hosting lunch was Coconut Lagoon which can only be reached by boat. It was a very peaceful setting right on the edge of the lagoon and a great place to stay for nature lovers and bird watchers. The rooms were all unique teak constructions designed around actual houses from the village.
After lunch we set off again to our final destination – Mararikulum Beach!
We stayed at Marari Beach Resort which is another CGH Earth hotel. Another lovely resort with individual thatched bungalows spread out across the vast grounds. Huge palm trees dot the landscape and lead the way to the beach. All the common areas are open air as with many of the hotels we visited but this time you can sense the sea not so far away!
As with most of Kerala it seems, this place is great for nature lovers. The hotel have catalogued 97 species of butterflies, 350 species of endemic plants, 3 varieties of turtles, 10 types of frogs and around 80 species of birds that you could encounter depending on the season.
A large salt water pool with plenty of loungers create a very relaxing area to unwind. There is a spa with a range of herbal massages and relaxing therapies at the Ayurveda centre to restore you to a state of well-being – if you need it!
The food was, once again, excellent with an ever changing menu of local dishes either a la carte or buffet depending on the evening.
The manager of the hotel hosted cocktails and canapes on the lawn before dinner on our first evening. A beautifully laid table with white linen cloths, silverware and candles awaited us. We sat and chatted, nibbled and drank in the calm evening. Then the wind started picking up a little and the nearby palm trees started rustling more and more. We all suspected it was going to rain quite heavily soon so we politely asked the manager if we should move. He dismissed this idea with a wave of his hand and continued talking, leaning back in his chair very relaxed. The wind picked up to the point where a palm was whacking him on the back of the head but still he said “it will be fine”. We were all wondering if he was toying with us because it was obvious we were going to get soaked any minute! And as expected the heavens opened! We grabbed our drinks and headed for the nearest rotunda which was the bar a few metres away. However, this was not large enough to keep us all dry! The rain was coming in at right angles so we had no choice but to make a run for it to the restaurant. After only a few minutes the lawn was a lake so we ran ankle deep with a mojito in one hand and an inside out umbrella in the other! The lovely linen cloths and table ware had to fend for themselves out there in the lawn/lake in the early monsoon rain! We sat down for dinner looking like drowned rats but in fits of laughter!
In summary, Kerala is definitely worth visiting. If you have not been to India before it provides a relaxing, gentle introduction to the country without the hectic culture shock of other areas like the North. It has the same sort of vibe as South East Asia. However, it is also a good option if you have done the Golden Triangle, Delhi and Agra and want to experience the different pace, scenery and culture of Southern India. It is a nature lovers dream with something for everyone – wildlife, culture, history, mix of traditions, great food and friendly people.
Senior Travel Consultant