This amazing ride takes the traveler through the heart of Kerala’s strand-in- opstuwing belt and ends at the southern tip of the coast of India to enjoy the spectacular waterscape of the confluence of the Indian Ocean with the waters of the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal. There is the added promise of enjoying a traditional Ayurvedic Spa experience along the way. I thoroughly soaked yourself Kochi historic offerings, it’s now time to hit the beaches and cruise leisurely palm-fringed backwaters.
Not even the mad highway toilers can take your spirits away from exploring this fabled stretch of green and golden sand along the Arabian Sea. Pack some essentials like bottled water, snacks and cold drinks and make sure the car is fit to go. Since most of the signage is in Malayalam, communication can be a bit hairy… It’s best to hit the road before nightfall. Leave Kochi early to avoid the crush at the toll gate and bridge to the mainland. Steadily follow NH47 (through a narrow stretch between Vembanad Lake and the Arabian Sea) all the way to Kanyakumari.
Your first impressions of enchanting Alappuzha, bordering the Arabian Sea with its old lighthouse bleached by countless storms and a punishing sun, can be even more significant than what all the tempting tourist brochures predict. Steeped in the old-world vibe of colonial homes and administrative structures, the township is faithfully reflected in the shimmering waters awash with kettuvallams or houseboats (fun overnight stays) and small fishing boats heading out for the catch of the day.
The battered old jetty, lined with the offices of the numerous agents of the hinterland, is a hive of activity, with tourists and residents of the township mingling in a frenetic mass of humanity. Alappuzha – Laid out onshore with a choice of hotels and resorts both large and small, it has all the airs of a traditional Kerala experience… the backwater boat ride, Ayurvedic massages, trips to the nearest beach breakwater and of course, that tasty cuisine served by fresh chased coconut water.
Alleppey Beach is accessed via the shabby Raj era 1000 ft long pier on the west side. During the snake boat racing season, there is no houseboat or boat to earn love or money as Alappuza is at the heart of this thrilling annual celebration, marked by the famous Nehru Trophy Boat Race (which used to be called the Punnamada Boat Race), which starts from the Punnamada Kayal, in the second week of the month of August, during the annual Onam festivities.
It is the most famous boat race in Kerala, with boats of all sizes, sometimes with sweaty, shiny 100 oarsmen. Once you’ve arrived, you may want to wander around the town, looking at the heritage structures, the women at work on coconut – a major driver of commerce. Follow the canal road to the beach (once an important trading hub for rubber, tea and products from the nearby hills). But the ‘wow’ factor at Alappuzha is without a doubt the backwater boat ride along the network of six navigable canals coming from Vembanad Lake.
Of Boat climber Alleppey is located on the Punnamada Backwaters. The backwater cruise opens the heart of river life along the canals – dinky villages, women doing their laundry, vapor rising from cooking pots making the midday meal, children taking the local boat to school, vegetable tappers pulling the juice for the intoxicating locals brewing.. The District Tourism Promotion Council (DTPC) office runs cruises on the state-run boats, but there are also plenty of private agencies along the jetty.
Bargain hard for a good price as it is very competitive. If you are a bird lover, you may want to go to one of the small offshore islands where there are all kinds of avifaunal riches. You can also indulge your taste buds with the most delicious seafood for sale at the local stalls here. Before you head out of town, perhaps shop for the region’s legendary pepper and other spices, sandalwood products, and stationery, as this area is known for its paper trade.
If beaches are ‘your thing’, the drive to spicy-scented Kollam (meaning pepper in Sanskrit) will take you to some of the finest stretches of sun and sand on the west coast. Marco Polo who visited here in the 13th century and not only wrote about its commercial offerings but also spoke of its natural beauty. The beautiful seaside town is adrift emerald green dotted with colonial architecture.
Thangaserri, once known as Dutch Quilon, has a beautiful beach (only three miles out of town) where you can relax at your leisure. On the beach, head down for a stunning view of the sea from the sturdy lighthouse, a much-revered gift in 1902, from the British who ruled these shores.
The Portuguese fortress of Thangaserri, built in 1517, now lies in ruins. About six kilometers from Kollam, there is another nice beach at Thirumullavaram. It offers a view of the stand of the rock known as Nyarazacha Paara at sea during low tide. On the beach, visitors also pay homage to the Mahavishnu Temple believed to have been consecrated by Parasurama, the ancient creator of Kerala. It contains images of both Vishnu and Shiva in the sanctum. Kollam’s beautiful octagonal Ashtamudi Lake is always a hustle and bustle with the holiday group arriving in droves for boat trips and picnics. Whether under a cloudless blue sky during the day or bathed in the silvery light of the moon, Ashtamudi is magical.
As you make your way down the highway to Kanyakumari (marked by lush fields, lotus-filled lakes and distant hills in a blue haze) in Tamil Nadu, take the detour to Padmanabhapuram Palace, India’s largest wooden palace, 55 km from Thiruvanathapuram, from the Thuckalay Junction. The palace can be reached via Neyyantinkara, Parassal Junction and Kuzhittura. Resplendent in its stunning woodwork, this ancient seat (16th-18th century) of the Travancore kings is a wonderful example of vintage Kerala architecture, with its teak and granite work. Check out the king bed – it’s made from 64 different kinds of medicinal woods. The arrival of the monsoon as seen from Kanyakumari, the southernmost crossing point on the Indian mainland, from where you can witness the confluence of the Indian Ocean with the Arabian Sea and the waters of the Bay of Bengal, can be quite dramatic.
Boat trips to the Thiruvalluvar statue on one of the two offshore rocks and the nearby Vivekananda Rock Memorial are the other major highlights here. The township has a significant number of temples (the unmissable Kanyakumari Amman Temple raised to Goddess Parvathi, located along the coastline of the confluence of the seas, is one of them) and several churches, along with a number of forts to explore. A ritual dip in the triveni sahngamam, the point where the three waters meet, is customary before entering Kanyakumari Amman Temple. Tradition has it that it was consecrated by Parusrama, the creator of Kerala. The temple is located at the end of the Beach Road near the shoreline jetty.