Traveling to Kerala is not for the faint of heart, however, it is absolutely worth it! In September 2016, Keri and I braved the journey to Southern India to attend the Kerala Travel Mart. We were fortunate enough to be invited on a tour beforehand, taking us from Bangalore to Cochin for 10 days.
We arrived in Bangalore after 30 hours of travel. We were immediately surprised at how modern it is. As Bangalore is the tech hub of India, the majority of the population is a younger, richer generation. Bangalore also happens to be the beer capital of India, so for our first night, we went to a craft brewery for dinner. We got a flight of beer, which made Keri extremely happy, and the most delicious lamb chops and prawns.
After our stay in Bangalore, we headed south towards Mysore, which was previously the capital of Southern India. We visited some sights around the area, including a massive monolithic statue at the top of many stairs, and the Mysore Palace.
After our visit to the palace, we went to the market in town. The market was wonderful – we were the only foreigners there, and they had everything from scented oils to jewelry to fruit and veggies. Just outside the market, as we were waiting to head back to the hotel, a group of 10 elephants came down the street. Turns out they were the royal elephants, practicing for a parade that was happening the next day. We were amazingly lucky to see them by chance!
After Mysore, we headed to Kabini, where Nagarahole National Park is located. On the afternoon of our arrival, our group did a game drive in the national park. Keri and I were in a separate car from the rest of the group. We started off the gave drive strong, with seeing a herd of wild elephants, including a big male with huge tusks to the ground, and a mother with an adorable baby. After another 20 minutes or so of driving the park, our driver stopped the car and said that the animals were making warning signs. We camped out and stared hard at the bushes. Luckily, the safari gods heard our prayers to see something magnificent – we heard some rustling, and all of a sudden, a leopard ran out of the bushes, along the ground, and then ducked back into the tall grass. We couldn’t believe our luck! We spotted the elusive leopard, on the ground! Usually they are only seen in trees, or from a far distance. After our leopard sighting, we came across the other group. Keri and I were doing a happy dance, and perhaps celebrating a little too enthusiastically, as they hadn’t seen anything yet. We parted ways again, on the hunt for some more big game. Unfortunately, we turned up empty-handed, and make our way back to the lodge. The rest of the group arrived back to the lodge buzzing with excitement. Turns out, on the way back from their safari, they saw a mother tiger with not 1, 2, but 3 “teen” tiger cubs along with her. Needless to say, Keri and I were fairly disappointed. Perhaps it was karma for us excitedly showing off that we had seen a leopard earlier in the day.
Regardless, Keri and I enjoyed the rest of our stay at Kabini. The lodge we stayed in was called Orange County, and it is one of the most amazing places either of us have ever stayed in. Everyone had their own little cottage, with either a private plunge pool, or private full-sized pool. We enjoyed massages and nice glasses of wine to get over missing the tigers.
As the excitement of the safaris were wearing off, we started making our way through the hills of Southern Karnataka, through stunning tea and coffee plantations. We were dropped off at a train station, and look a public train into the next state over, Kerala.
Kerala is absolutely stunning. We headed down to the backwaters, where we stayed in beautiful resorts, ate amazing food, and took a houseboat through the backwaters.
The houseboat was one of the best experiences that Keri and I had. It was after 3 days of the hectic Kerala Travel Mart, and we were both exhausted from meetings all day, and early mornings after enjoying a few too many libations in the evenings. We were finally on our own after 2 weeks, and it was glorious. We spent the afternoon reading our books on the beds in front of the houseboat, then eating like princesses, dining on fresh-caught fish, spicy curries, and home-made papadums. We watched the sunset from our dinner table, and had an early night, to catch up on some much-needed shut-eye.
The people in Southern India are incredible. Not once were we asked for money, and if we were at an attraction (ie. a temple or palace), people would ask if we wanted to buy a souvenir. If we said no, they would say “ok” and leave you alone. This is nothing like visiting Northern India, where you say “no” but they continue to follow you around, pestering you for the next 10 minutes. The service there was some of the warmest and most genuine service we have ever experienced in the world. The locals we encountered were amazing as well. Everyone wanted a “selfie” with us, and as we drove through the towns and villages, we were met with waves and warm smiles. We stopped at one point to watch some kids practice their drumming in the street, and one of the kids said “photo, photo!” Keri took his photo out of the car rental, and HE handed HER a candy for taking his photo. We were astonished!
The food was unbelievably tasty as well. The flavors were so varied, and in Kerala many of the curries were made with coconut milk, so they had a delicious creamy texture. There was something for everyone, with plenty of vegetarian and non-veg options. Since we were so close to the ocean most of the time, the fresh fish was incredible. We ate strictly Indian food for 2 weeks, and never got sick of the food – which is quite the statement!
Southern India is truly one of the most incredible places that Keri and I have ever visited, and we will definitely be back to this special place, hopefully, one day soon.
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