Oh Kerala, how good you were to me.
A little nervous about travelling alone on my first trip to India, I decided to take it pretty gently this time. I will definitely go back to do ‘real India’ one day but I’m going to save the long bus journeys, busy cities and hustle and bustle for when I have a friend with me…
I had two weeks before my yoga course began, so I decided to give myself some time to relax after a pretty hectic two months busing around Sri Lanka.
I spent the first five days in Varkala, a charming cliff-top town in the Southern part of Kerala. I treated myself to a few nights at a nice hotel, where I took some surfing lessons, did a lot of yoga and met some really lovely backpackers and holiday makers. Soul & Surf came highly recommended by a friend, and I’m so glad I decided to splash out and spend a few days there. We did surfing or yoga early each morning before a massive communal breakfast, and then spent the rest of the day sunbathing or exploring the North Cliff. I would absolutely love to go back to Varkala for a holiday with friends, but next time I’d stay at a cheap homestay right next to S&S on the South Cliff and then just pop next door for yoga and lunches! (just a tip, in case you fancy going to Varkala on a budget!)
One morning, we did 108 sun salutations on the beach to raise awareness of human trafficking. It was such a #India #Gapyah thing to do, but I really loved it.
The best thing I did in Varkala was definitely an afternoon tuk tuk tour with charismatic driver, Anil. Along with a couple of Brits I’d met at the hostel I spent the afternoon driving around the area and really getting a feel for Keralan life. We visited a famous Ashram, climbed to the top of a lighthouse for stunning 360 degree views of the region, stopped off at some beautiful temples and a gorgeous green palace and watched Anil decorate his snazzy tuk tuk with the offerings he stole from the Buddhist temples we passed. The best part by far was the canoe trip on Golden Lake, which was apparently far better than any boat ride in Alleppey. Kerala is famous for its gorgeous backwaters, but most travellers fork out quite a lot for an afternoon or even a night on a houseboat in Alleppey, which lies a couple of hours north of Varkala. This means that the backwaters are completely packed, and I’ve been told that all serenity is somewhat ruined by the influx of tourists. Here, however, we were the only boat on the lake. It was extremely peaceful and a very special experience. We rowed across the lake to Golden Island, where we were blessed at a temple before finishing our trip.
Another top tip for anyone planning on going to Varkala is to go for dinner at Kumari’s, the home of a local woman who cooks the best food in the region. For 300 rupees (about £4), you are treated to an enormous meal of twelve Keralan dishes, topped off with a delicious pudding of chai ice cream. Be sure to book in advance, though, and you absolutely must have more than four people. You eat with your hands off banana leaves (although my friend caved pretty quickly and asked for a spoon), and feed any leftovers to the family’s enormous cow which lies outside the dining area. An absolute must-do if you’re in the area. (I also have Anil’s phone number, by the way, so hit me up if you’re ever visiting. I have since sent three different groups of friends to Anil for his signature tour and they have come back with rave reviews!)
From Varkala, I got the train north to Cochin, skipping out Alleppey after my amazing canoeing experience. The train was far easier than I had anticipated and actually much more comfortable than the ones in Sri Lanka. I sat in the sleeper carriage, but I was obviously only travelling for a few hours during daytime, so I had no need to actually sleep. I got chatting to the lovely old lady who was sitting next to me and was amazed to hear that she was going all the way to Delhi – a 52 hour journey in total! We just cannot imagine those kind of journeys in little old England…
Cochin was wonderful. I really liked it. The Arts Biennale runs from February to late March, and there were all sorts of exhibitions and installations going on. I paid for a general ticket which gave me access to various galleries dotted around the Fort.
I particularly loved the Cochin street art and had a really enjoyable time wandering around and looking at the beautiful little lanes.
Must-sees are a trip to ‘Jew Town’ (or Mattancherry) where you can buy clothes, spices and jewellery, a morning watching the fishermen with their famous Chinese fishing nets and a visit to the touristy Princes Street.
I had some of my best meals in Cochin, at places like Mary’s Kitchen and Oceanos, where I had the most delicious aubergine curry of my whole trip.
I had a lovely couple of days in Cochin, and really needed that time to myself to gather my energy and collect my thoughts before my trip to Goa which was no doubt going to be exhausting.