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Some Like It Hot - Kerala, India
Posted: 8 August 2007
Auhor: J.P McLeod

As a first time visitor to India, Cochin in the district of Ernakulam, state of Kerala is a highly recommended tourist destination. Surrounded by tranquil backwaters, the natural beauty comprising lush flora and exotic fauna is set to delight and amaze both young and old. Watching the sun rise over the glorious Malabar Coast of the Indian Ocean against the backdrop of ancient Chinese fishing nets, and hand-crafted fishing boats floating over the serene waters is a breathtaking once-in-a-lifetime experience.

The Stay
Several high quality 5-star hotels can be found in and around Cochin; notably, the highly reputed Taj Malabar. Located on Willingdon island amongst the heart of the backwaters, the Taj offers top-notch accommodation in hotel rooms and suites at very reasonable (European) rates. Transfers are available directly through the hotel, or private air-conditioned cars can be hired at half the cost.

In and Around Cochin
Elephant riding
When one thinks of traveling trough India, what instinctively comes to mind are profound images of riding atop a majestic Indian Elephant, guided by sherpers, slashing through dense forest (or crowded city streets!!). Yes, elephant rides do abound: for instance at Kodanadu (near Guruvayur temple), you can enjoy a bareback elephant ride for a mere $4 (American). I can assure you that after 5 minutes of holding on to a makeshift harness on these glorious animals is enough time to take a few pictures to impress the folks back home before undertaking some serious seat therapy! All in the fund though, elephant riding is a must in Kerala.

Local transport
We found the best way to get through the city to be on the so-called “motor rickshaws” or 3 wheeler scooters. These are available plentifully anytime of night or day, and fares are a mere pittance – commonly 1-2 US$ for up to a 20 minute ride. I’m certain that the drivers of these machines would perform remarkably well at the most intense obstacle course imaginable. Nonetheless, you would get a thrill out of riding this highly efficient mode of transport. Kids in particular will find it quite amusing, being swept around busy streets, dashing through crammed lanes, and dodging the various human, animal and vehicular traffic that pervade the city streets.

On to the last experience of note: boating through the backwaters. We found the quickest and most efficient way to traverse the backwaters to be the local ferry service. The cost is an astonishing 2 rupees (4 American cents) on a perfectly functional and safe vessel. Schedules are available at most hotel receptions, and of course at the ferry terminals themselves. Expect a ferry every half hour at peak times and every hour at off-peak times, with the last ferry being at around 10pm. For a more personal experience, nothing can beat chartering a private boat to cruise the Cochin backwaters. At about 20 US$ for a 2 hour hire, you can enjoy a peaceful cruise through the gentle waters, taking in the beauty of the natural splendor of Kerala.

Chauffeur-driven cabs
For longer distance terrestrial travel, I would highly recommend renting a private care with a driver. The need for a driver cannot be under-emphasized: routes in most cases are highly convoluted and confusing, roads tend to be in less-than-perfect condition, and if that wasn’t enough, driving amidst the chaos requires a fine balance of skill, patience, boldness and a lot of luck! So for a very reasonable daily rate (expect about $50 US) you can sit back and take in the sights & sounds of this bustling city while a local expert weaves and plunders to the beautiful destinations.

Kerala is by far a fantastic introduction to India, being less densely populated, enjoying higher standards of living and supported by a warm and receptive population. A trip to India is for many people a life-changing experience. A land renowned for its ironies and stark contradictions, one is amazed, that by all logic and calculation, this should never work YET life emanates from every nook and cranny, harmonious, splendid and spiritual.

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