After finishing my around the world trip in Sri Lanka, I always felt I’d missed a trick by not going to India. I’d heard so many different good and bad things from other travellers about India that I really wanted to experience it for myself, so I set out on a short, independent overland trip between Cochin and Trivandrum on the south west coast.
Travelling independently for me has always been my thing, as I find that half the fun is trying to get from A to B. Like in other countries, not everything went exactly to plan, but the best stories I have from India are because of this.
Travelling in India under your own steam is a great way to have the flexibility to see what you want when you want. You will also find that the locals are always curious about who you are and where you’re off to. In such as short time, I managed to go on a fishing trip with a local lifeguard I met on the beach as well as being invited to visit a typical family for dinner and whiskey. Travelling independently will also make this region very cheap.
After an overnight flight from the UK with Emirates, I arrived into Cochin early morning. On arrival I organised a cheap taxi from inside the terminal which took me to Fort Kochi. This is the best place to base yourself if you are short on time, as the majority of sights are found here.
Along the main promenade is where you will find the Chinese fishing nets and fish stalls. You can pass an hour or two watching them work and watching the world go by, while having a drink or local snack. A popular thing to do whilst here is to buy a fish from one of the stalls and take it to a cheap local restaurant for them to cook. This is where I came across a local speciality of this region called Fish Molee!
If you walk around this area, you can visit lots of colonial churches and the Dutch cemetery. If you fancy getting out of the tourist hub then you can take a tuk-tuk to Jew Town, or the local ferry across to Ernakulum, both of which I recommend.
Visiting the backwaters is absolutely essential when visiting this region. There are various ways you can witness this insight into local life. The cheapest way and the way that I did it was to take an 8 hour slow-boat between Alleppey and Kollam. The cost of this is only £3 and they stop off for lunch, which consists of a typical dhal curry on banana leaves, which will set you back another £1.
Along the way, you’ll get to see the locals fishing, washing, swimming and going about their typical daily life. This is also a great way to travel if you’re on your own as you will find mostly backpackers making this trip.
If you fancy something a little more luxurious, but still very affordable, then one of the many houseboat trips could be for you. They vary in price but with a little negotiating you should be able to pick one up for about £30 per person, depending upon the numbers on the boat. For this you will get all meals and drinks with a personal chef and overnight accommodation on the boat. These houseboats will stick to the larger rivers, as they cannot get down the smaller canals.
The final option is to hire a private small boat for a few hours. There are many of these down on the port and again are very affordable. These are a great option to visit the smaller canals and see the local life up close. If before you take the boat you fancy an overnight in Alleppey, then the town offers a great beach where you will find little tourists, and a great place to pick up some bargains.
These two beach destinations offer some of the best beaches in India. Varkala is very much a backpacker resort which has numerous bars and restaurants dotted along the cliff edge overlooking the Indian Ocean. This is really the only existence of any nightlife that I saw in Kerala, but it was worth the wait!
There are also a number of daily activities you will find to keep you busy such as hand-gliding, scuba diving and fishing trips. Kovalam is a little different as it caters more for the people on package holidays and is a great place to treat yourself to a luxury hotel for very cheap!
Lighthouse beach is a great place to spend your day and in the evening you will find many restaurants offering locally-caught seafood. You get to choose the fish you want and I managed to get a large red snapper for about £3. It is also located only about 15 minutes from Trivandrum airport which has daily flights all over India.
If you think that independent travel in India is not for you, then there are great affordable group tours you can look at. The one that I would personally recommend is the 7 day beaches and backwaters tour, starting from £379 per person (I can book this for you). If you want to find out more about how to incorporate Kerala into your round the world trip, please get in touch with Mark.
Here are some ideas for how to include India in a multi-stop ticket:
London – Dubai – Cochin // Chennai – Bangkok // Singapore – Kota Kinabalu – Denpasar – Melbourne // Sydney – Auckland – San Francisco // New York – London Flights from £1,699 pp including taxes
London - Cochin // Chennai - Kuala Lumpur // Singapore - London Flights from £749 pp including taxes