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India: Kerala: Ashtamudi, Kovalam, Munnar, Poovar
Ashtamudi, Poovar & Kovalam, Kerala: Just waters
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
Splendid beaches, serene back waters, cascading waterfalls best describes the State of Kerala. Whatever little land remains is densely occupied by palm & rubber trees. And of course lot of people. Since many occupy the small land mass, I could hardly see any open spaces along the highway. As we crossed the boundary of one town, the boundary of another commenced. Only the road signs and addresses on the shop boards were the differentiator. Unlike most of the Indian States I have traveled, I found the towns to be generally clean and well kept. Probably, the 100% literacy of the State's population has something to do with it.
As I traveled hundreds of kms, the wealth was also obvious. Both sides of the highway had many bungalows, some of them palatial. Courtyards, verandahs and sloping roofs glazed with terracotta tiles were a common feature. While some homes were painted white, most of the others had flashy colours. Green, blue, yellow, orange were all screaming for attention. They indeed got mine.
My gateway airport was Trivandrum now known as Thiruvanathapuram. The city has an international airport with excellent connections to major destinations in India as also some other parts of the world. I hired a cab (internet came in handy) for my entire journey which would commence from Trivandrum airport to Ashtamudi to Poovar to Munnar.
I was the guest of Lahotis - Ujwal & his gracious wife Jaya. They had booked rooms for us at Club Mahindra at each of the destinations. Our first destination was Ashtamudi, about 70 kms from Trivandrum. Since the traffic is heavy, giving distances in hours rather than kms would be more apt. It took us 3 hours to cross the distance. Club Mahindra's property is on the backwaters of Ashtamudi and not Ashtamudi town itself. We didn't realize this until we reached Ashtamudi town. With a little detour we finally reached Chawra village where the property actually is.
Ashtamudi lake is the second largest in Kerala, the first being Alleppy (now known as Alippuzha). The lake is 16 kms in length and the back waters of Ashtamudi link all the way up to Alleppy, 80 kms away. I am told the back water cruise in a house-boat on this route is quite captivating. We couldn't do this; however, we did manage a mini version of a house boat cruise the next morning.
We were lucky to get the floating cottages. In fact, we were the first guest in a newly built floating cottage. The thought was scary in the beginning, but when we stepped in and saw that everything within was working fine we were quite delighted. After a nice dinner, we crashed for the day.
It was dark when we checked-in the previous evening. I had no idea how massive and how beautiful the lake actually was. I was on the edge on a floating cottage, just inches away from the tranquil waters. I woke up early to watch the sun come up. It was about 6 in the morning. As I opened the doors, I was greeted by an orange hue and by passing fishermen from their small boats. Not too far away were fishermen at their Chinese fishing nets calling it a day. These fishermen work by the night and go home at dawn. The Chinese fishing nets are cast in the dark. These nets have lights that attract the fish. The nets are hauled up at regular intervals. Dusk to dawn these fishing folks work. And from dawn to dusk they make merry. Liquor is a major source of inspiration in Kerala. Why else would there be long queues at liquor stores at all times?
Mahindra's Ashtamudi property has an excellent floating restaurant too. After breakfast, we opted for a house-boat cruise that would take us, for about 2 hours, along the shores of the lake. We would also make a landing on one of the island - a private property. The lake is dotted with few islands each privately owned. The not so lucky, get to live on the shores. Those who own Chinese nets just wade through the waters in front of their homes to reach the fishing platforms. Those who don't own one, take their fishing boats in deeper waters and to the open sea which is about 8 kms away.
It was a great ride. We got some spectacular view of swaying palms, few species of water birds, fishermen mending their boats & nets, colourful garments hanging on the clothesline and scores of small boats. On one of the island we were welcomed by the lady of the house. She was kind enough to cut a large, low hanging sweet-lime and offered us all plenty of morsels.
When in Kerala one must experience the various massages. That afternoon I opted for a full body massage. The therapist worked on my body for 60 minutes making sure that tons of medicated oil seeped in. After the massage was a 15 minute steam bath followed by a hot shower. These 90 minutes were sheer bliss. That afternoon I slept like a baby. And that evening I ate like a full grown adult.
The next morning, after breakfast, we checked out and left for Poovar - our next destination - about 30 kms from Trivandrum. Poovar is strategically located sharing its land with the Arabian Sea as well as with the back waters. It's strange that within a distance of few hundred feet, you have the taste of salty sea water and sweet back waters. In about 3 hours we reached a jetty in Poovar. A motorboat took us and our baggage on a 15 minute cruise to Club Mahindra's property in Poovar. Actually, the property is owned by Island Resorts. Only a few rooms and floating cottages are with Mahindra. While we did have an option to stay in one of their floating cottages, we opted for the rooms on land instead. With heavy rains lashing Poovar the previous evening, we just felt more comfortable that way.
The resort is a sprawling 25-acre property. Highlight, in my opinion, would be their excellent restaurant and a very well appointed Ayurvedic treatment centre. However, the rooms were not up to the mark. House keeping certainly called for some overhauling. The room service was a bit slow too. The whole of afternoon we were glued to our rooms since it was pouring outside. It was early to bed that night.
It was nice and shining the next morning. We took the motorboat to cross over to the beach. With strong winds and a high tide, the Arabian Sea was at its full might. We spent an hour walking on the beach and chatting with locals - the fishing community. Thereafter, it was back to the resort for lunch, afternoon siesta and a face scrub at the treatment centre. Skies were clear that evening, enabling us to organize a private candle lit dinner under a gazebo and a thousand stars. Indeed an elegant way to celebrate the wedding anniversary of Ujwal & Jaya.
After wishing the couple well, we parted company. They were to head back home. And I would leave early to drive all the way up to Munnar with a breakfast stop at the famed Kovalam beach - almost midway between Poovar and Trivandrum. We were on the motorboat at 8 AM and were in our cab about 30 minutes later. Talking of cabs, I would definitely suggest using them whilst visiting Kerala. The State's bus service is not comfortable. And trains run only between major destinations. Typically, cabs would cost Rs 8 and up per km depending upon the vehicle. I paid Rs 10 per km for a Toyota Innova - a comfortable SUV. At the time of writing USD 1 fetched Rs 43.
At about 9 I was at the Kovalam beach. After walking the beach for some time, I headed for The Leela Hotel & Resort located on a cliff right on the edge. The view from up there was absolutely outstanding. It certainly is the finest location in Kovalam. No wonder, the guys charge a bomb for a stay. A 2-night package was going for about Rs 25,000. A must for those who can afford. After a little brunch at The Leela, we began our drive to Munnar. It was just about 300 kms but the drive was endless.
We reached Club Mahindra, Munnar at 8 in the night. Grueling 12 hours of driving save for the few hours we spent at Kovalam. It being a Sunday, every temple, every church (and there were many) on the highway was hosting a wedding. The celebrations certainly added to the traffic. We crossed Ashtamudi and touched Cochin before taking a right towards Munnar. In hindsight, we could have avoided 140 kms and about 5 hours of our total journey time had we interchanged the dates between Ashtamudi & Poovar.
You will be happy if you plan it that way.
Ashtamudi, Poovar & Kovalam, Kerala Image Gallery Photo viewer
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