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Monday, 25 April 2011

Kerala: 'God's Own Country' - Page 2

Written by Brian W Fisher
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Getting There

Kerala has two international airports – Cochin and Thiruvananthapuran (the latter more commonly known as Trivandrum). Trivandrum caters to charter airlines flying direct from Europe, while Cochin is truly the international hub for many of the world’s scheduled carriers.

The differences are quite marked. Anyone who has experienced ten or more hours crammed in a chartered aircraft will certainly not rate it as a leisurely or enjoyable experience. The carriers are mostly allied to Tour Operators where the wholesale cost of a package deal, including flights, must be cut to the bone to maximize profit.

The alternative is to choose one of the many scheduled airlines that operate to Cochin. The main difference here is that they all include a stop en route of around two hours. If avoiding that is not important, then flying by a scheduled airline has benefits such as more legroom, superior (and free) food and beverage, much more flexible timetables and often newer aircraft. Many ticketing agents are adept at negotiating substantial discounts. For this tour, it only took three telephone calls to obtain a return fare with a scheduled carrier, on exactly the dates of my choosing, at the time of day I wanted to fly and at a cost 15% cheaper than most advertised charter fares.

Just do some digging and make your choice. It always pays off.

The Tour & Hotels

My planned tour began in Cochin, a city of two parts, really. The quickly expanding mainland section and the historical area named, Fort Cochin. The former has little or no interest for tourists but the Old Fort area certainly has. The old city area is known the world over for its Chinese Fishing Nets and for being at the center of the Oriental spice trade, but this is for you to experience yourself.

A couple of days is usually enough time to 'see the sights' of Cochin. The choice of hotels range from one to five stars with many 'Home Stays' available as well. I had selected what can best be described as a Guest House cum Hotel, called Victory Dawn.

Victory Dawn is, in fact, a converted home. Many of the original features have been preserved. The rooms are large, the bed comfortable and the staff willing and friendly. Its location made it easy to walk to most of the interesting areas like the promenade, the many restaurants, the myriad of hawker stalls, shops and to the popular venue where traditional Kathakali Dance can be experienced in close-up. The only meal served is breakfast but even that menu is very limited. However, as a place to lay one's head for a couple of nights at a reasonable price, then, it was more than acceptable.

My rating...5/10

The drive in the car from Cochin, at sea level, to Munnar, at an altitude of almost 5000 feet, was really spectacular. I soon realized that John, my driver, was extremely flexible; with no time restraints or deadlines, I could, and did, stop to admire and photograph the scenery or to use a loo whenever I wished. Over the coming weeks, I would learn much more about him and benefit from his uncanny willingness and ability to introduce me to people and places not normally available to Package Tour members.

Upon arriving at Munnar, I checked into The Windermere Estate Hotel Nestled among the high, manicured mountains of tea shrubs, this place must rank as one of the best located hotels in all of Kerala. Truly stunning!

DSC 0282

Accommodation is in semi-detached bungalows. Each is beautifully furnished and very comfortable. Balconies allow uninterrupted and spectacular views; bougainvillea and other exotic plants are in abundance. Small paths meander here and there through the estate, which, when taken, afford the walker surprise view after surprise view.

(Page 2 of 5)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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