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The best of Kerala: from the hills to the sea

Surya Samudra
Image courtesy: Pallavi Pasricha

LPI author Pallavi Pasricha, recently on a trip to Kerala, saw the best of the hills and the sea and everything in between. Here’s her account.

“I spotted a tiger. And elephants. Oh yes, and also bison, the great Malabar hornbill, giant squirrels, black monkey and wild chicken.” I couldn’t contain my excitement as I blurted out the list to the general manager of Niraamaya Retreats Cardamom Club in Thekkady as soon as I got back from Periyar Tiger Reserve. He looked at me astonished and said, “Consider yourself really lucky. The last time a guest saw a tiger was about six months back.”

I smiled contentedly and slowly walked back to my cottage thinking how differently this trip was turning out to be from my previous two visits to Kerala. This was my third encounter with God’s own country and this time I was all set to experience the best of its two contrasting worlds – the hills and the sea. I was starting my journey at Thekkady, where low-lying hills are home to lush plantations, and was going to end it at Kovalam, a serene seaside getaway that has emerged as one of the top beach destinations of the country with a good mix of gorgeous palm-fringed sugar-white beaches and a plethora of cafes and resorts.


Tea plantations on the way
Image courtesy: Pallavi Pasricha

People had warned me about the long drive from Kochi airport to Thekkady, but the five hours passed by in a flash as I spent my time soaking in the lush scenery. The roads were flanked by tall coconut and rubber trees and tea and coffee plantations as we wound our way up the hills. It was monsoon season and Thekkady was covered in gorgeous hues of emerald green.

The cosy and quaint Niraamaya Retreats Cardamom Club in Thekkady was going to be my home for the next two days. Six cottages – named after spices – were sprawled across a cardamom plantation and each one had its own unique charm. They overlooked the lush and stunning Spring Valley and the resort’s location in the midst of verdant nature instilled a sense of solitude and peace.

I can never forget the spice plantation trek organised by the resort. Early morning we began to walk through thick plantations covered with cardamom, pepper, coffee arabica and robusta plants. It was a narrow path and sometimes our guide had to cut through bushes to make a way for us. Since it was monsoon season, I was told to wear leech socks.

I got back famished and the dinner I had was absolutely spectacular – the authentic Kerala cuisine turned me into a glutton. The setting contributed to the charm of the meal – Café Samsara is surrounded with glass on three sides and eating piping hot food overlooking the plantations is a great experience. The Konju Rawa Fry (red chilli marinated prawns in a crisp semolina crust) and the Meen Mappas (snapper fillet in coriander seed flavoured gravy) were really delicious and so was the appam and vegetable stew.

Trekking at Periyar Tiger Reserve
Image courtesy: Pallavi Pasricha

Early the next morning, I was off to Periyar Tiger Reserve, the best place for a wildlife fix in Kerala. The Eco Tourism Centre, run by the forest department organises a range of treks and trips into the reserve. I opted for a trek and then bamboo rafting on the lake, as this is one of the few places in the country to do this. The exhilarating, 4-km walk in the reserve took us through thick jungles where massive trees virtually blocked out the sun. After a couple of hours we reached a slight clearing where we parked ourselves and tucked into a packed breakfast. Sitting in the midst of thick greenery with the manmade Periyar Lake as the backdrop makes one truly appreciate what nature has to offer.

After our trudge, it was time for a more tranquil experience – bamboo rafting. Gliding languidly on the lake, we rowed our raft to another area of the reserve where we picnicked and had lunch. The area was so beautifully draped in greenery that it seemed straight out of a fairy tale book. We ate lunch and then I sprawled out on the grass for a siesta, something I haven’t done in years, while others took a dip in the water. Suddenly one of the guides said, “Look there’s, a tiger,” and we turned to catch a fleeting glimpse of the elusive animal disappearing into the jungle. Soon after, we spotted a herd of elephants, followed by bison and giant squirrel, black monkey, wild chicken. It was quite a successful trip.

The next day after a delicious breakfast, I made my way to Kovalam. I had been here earlier, so on this trip I just wanted to take it easy and chill at the resort. The Niraamaya Surya Samudra is quite a classic property overlooking the Arabian Sea. They have 23 cottages and 8 rooms in five different categories sprawled across the resort. Their most luxurious room, The Octagon, has a view of the sea from three sides. With two restaurants, a bar, an infinity pool, an exquisite spa offering a range of Ayurvedic and international therapies, and two private beaches (Surya and Chandra), you are spoilt for choice at Niramaaya Retreats and don’t need to step out at all. I pampered myself by indulging in massages, digging into spicy and authentic Kerala food and taking long, lazy walks on the beach.

The resort
Image courtesy: Pallavi Pasricha

What was unique about the cottages in the resort was that each one had an open shower. I enjoyed the lullaby of the sea as I slept and woke up the next day in the luxurious Octagon room. In fact I didn’t let the blue waters go out my sight for too long – the vast ocean somehow imbued a sense of peace and calm in me.

The only time I went out of the resort was to take the 45-minute speed boat ride on the Poovar backwaters. We went past mangroves down the narrow water canals that eventually opened out into the Arabian sea. The backwaters and the Arabian Sea are bifurcated by a small stretch of sand, the Golden Beach it’s a sight to behold.

Back at the resort I relaxed and took it easy, leaving Kovalam with a sense of peace and calm. As I waited at the airport to catch my flight I wondered what my next trip would be like. Whatever it maybe, I can’t wait to return to this paradise again.

AUTHOR'S BIO: A traveller and foodie at heart, Pallavi Pasricha has explored many destinations across the world. But that never seems to be enough and she’s always ready to hit the road again. Her obsession for travel is combined with a love for photography. She is currently working as a senior commissioning editor at Lonely Planet India.