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INTRODUCTION – KERALA

Kerala is a narrow fertile coastal strip between the mountain ranges of the Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea.  Endowed generously by nature, this tropical paradise has as many as 44 rivers, lakes, virgin forests, backwaters, lagoons and some spectacular beaches.

When the south-west monsoon breaks over Kerala in all its fury, the highlands get covered by mist and you can have a breathtaking view of the tea, rubber  and coffee estates.   And swaying enticingly in the gentle breeze are the pepper creepers which have all through history brought fame to this legendary land.

Kerala has a lot to offer to the tourist.  It will therefore be advisable to select a city as your base and visit nearby places conveniently.

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM (TRIVANDRUM)

Thiruvananthapuram which is also known as Trivandrum is the capital of Kerala .  It is a coastal city built on seven hills.  It was also the capital of the erstwhile Travancore state under the reign of Raja Marthanda Varma and has retained its magical ambience.  The city is at its best during the annual festivals held in the Padmanabhaswamy Temple in the month of March-April and also in Sept-Oct.

TOURIST ATTRACTIONS IN THIRUVANANTHAPURAM

Sri Padmanabha Swamy Temple : This renowned temple is in the heart of the city.  Only Hindus are allowed inside the temple.  Built in the Dravidian style with a magnificent seven tiered tower, it is an eye-catching landmark of the city.

Napier Museum : This museum has an attractive range of exhibits including ancient musical instruments, bronzes, stone sculptures and ivory carvings.  A model of the typical Nair (caste) joint family dwelling can also be seen here.

Sri Chitra Art Gallery : This art gallery is attached to the Napier museum.  It contains paintings of Ravi Varma, a royal scion of Kerala, and also the highly evocative paintings of the Roerichs, the father and the son.  There are also canvasses by painters of some other countries in Asia.

Zoological Gardens : Set in sylvan surroundings, it is acclaimed as one of the best zoos of the country.  Has an interesting collection of reptiles.

Veli : This is a lake situated at a distance of 3 km from the airport.  It is noted for its scenic beauty and quiet atmosphere.  Boating facility is available.

Tourist Spots Around Thiruvananthapuram

Kovalam : The famous Kovalam beach is 14 km away from Trivandrum.  It has small palm fringed bays seperated by rocks, and is very beautiful.  The waters offer a good swim though one has to be wary of strong currents.  A visit to the near by fishing village offers the tourist an insight into the tranquil lifestyle of the people.

Aruvikara : This picnic spot on the shores of an artificial lake is 16 km away from Trivandrum city.  You can enjoy the enchanting scenary and also have a look at a small temple on the banks of the Karamana River which feeds the lake.

Neyyar Dam : This is yet another picnic spot 30 km away from Trivandrum.  Boating facility is available.  The near by Kallipara Hills offer facilities for trekking.

Ponmudi : Ponmudi is a small hill station 61 kms  north-east of Trivandrum and it is located at an altitude of 912 meters (3000 feet) .  It is a health resort cum holiday resort and nestles amidst tea and rubber plantations.  Tourists can stay at the sanatorium.

Padmanabhapuram Palace : Padmanabhapuram is 55 km south of Trivandrum and is now a part of Tamil Nadu.  The palace is set in a wildly beautiful locale, and is considered the epitome of the Kerala style of architecture.  This was the seat of the erstwhile Travancore Maharajahs and contained many old relics of historical and artistic value, including some murals.  But what strikes the eye is the aesthetic and traditional architecture using wood and black polished floors.  The council chamber, the Mother Palace, the Dance Hall and the corridors fascinate visitors.

Varkala : A pilgrimage center dedicated to Lord Vishnu, it is also a seaside resort with mineral water springs on the beach.  Varkala is located 51 km away from Thiruvananthapuram, and is only 19 km away from Quilon(Kollam) on the Thiruvananthapuram -Quilon route.

Kollam (Quilon)

Kollam is a 9th century city built on the banks of the Ashtamudi Lake and is about 75 km away from Trivandrum.  Surrounded by cashew and coconut groves, Kollam is the gateway to the spectacular backwaters of Kerala.

A boat trip to Alapuzha through these placid stretches of water filled with lotus, lilies and water-birds flapping their wings is an out of the world experience.  The journey through these backwaters also provides an insight into the lives of the people for whom water is an inseparable part of life.  People belonging to all faiths co-exist in harmony here.

Thangassery : Thangassery is about 5 km away from Kollam and is the site of the ruins of an ole fort built by the Portuguese and later acquired by the Dutch.  Cantilevered Chinese fishing nets are in extensive use in the waterways.

Alappuzha ( Alleppey)

The main attraction of this town is the snake boat race conducted annually on the second Saturday of August.  On this day scores of long low-slung  dug-outs with highly decorated stems and carrying up to 100 rowers compete for the Nehru Cup.  Thousands of spectators watch this colorful, fantastic event.  Hindu tourists can visit a temple located in front of the India Coffee House to see the elaborate woolen carvings.

Kottayam

Kottayam is situated on the foothills of the scenic Western Ghats with its rubber, tea, pepper and cardamom plantations.  The delightful backwaters are to the west of the city.  There is a regular ferry service between Kottayam and Alleppey.

The ancient Syrian Christian community have a number of churches here.  The two noted churches are the Cheria Palli and the Valia pally which are 5 km away from the railway station.

Sabarimala : Sabarimala is situated near Kottayam and is considered the abode of Lord Ayyappa, the son of Shiva and Mohini (the female  form of Vishnu) according to Hindu legend.  Hence this deity is also known as Harihara Puthran.
Soaring high among the forests of the Sabari Hills, it sttracts millions of pilgrims during Vishnu held in April and then in December -January.  The third major event is Makara Vilakku (Divine Light)  when multitudes of pilgrims try to catch a glimpse of a strange light appearing in the temple.

Kumarakon : Kumarakam is 10 km away from Kottayam.  Migrating birds can be seen here.  The near by islands also provide a haven for these birds.  This typical Kerala village is located on the eastern bank of the Vembanad Lake.

Idukki

Idukki literally means a narrow gorge.  The presence of streams , valleys and hills have enhanced the beauty of the place.  An arch dam has been constructed across the Periyar River here between two granite hills known as the Kuravan and Kurathi, who as per legend turnedinto rocks on being cursed by Lord Rama.  Idukki is 100 km away from Cochin.  The Idukki hydrolic project is the biggest in Kerala.

Thekkady Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary : This is one of the finest wildlife sanctuaries of India.  Cruising across the man-made Periyar Lake, one can watch wild elephants moving around in gay abandon.  If one is lucky, a tiger or a sloth bear can also be spotted.  Dambhar and deer also show up regularly.  A variety of birds like Darters, blue-winged Parakeets, Egreets, Herons and Babblers also seek refuge in Thekkady.  The best time to watch the wildlife in action is either dawn or dusk.  And the best season to visit the sanctuary is between November and June.

Munnar : Munnar is situated at an altitude of around 1650 meters on the Western Ghats.  It is a charming hill station and a nature lover’s paradise with its sprawling tea plantations.  The misty hills with tea plantations appear like velvet lawns.
Situated at the confluence of three mountain streams, the place abounds in lakes, reservoirs, green forests and several tea estates. Munnar also has the highest peak in South India, Anamudi.  The tranquil Mattupetty Dam is located near by.  The Indo-Swiss Project for the development of livestock is located at Mattupetty, 15 km from Munnar.  The Mattupetty Lake and Kundala dam are other attractions.  Tourists are allowed to go trekking up to Anamudi, subject to the issue of a permit by the Wildlife Warden.  The permitting authority is the Wildlife Warden, Idukki Division, Painavu.

Kochi (cochin)

Kochi is the largest city in Kerala with a population of 10.5 lakhs.  An all weather harbour , Kochi is an important centre of commerce and industry.  It has a maritime history that began in ancient times.  The Portuguese , the Dutch and the English had established themselves here at  one time or the other.  In fact the Cochin fort was built by the Portuguese with the permission of the native ruler. Kochi consists of mainland Ernakulam, Willingdon Island, the Fort Cochin-Mattanchery peninsula, Bolgatty and Gundu and Vypeen island.

Tourist Spots in Kochi

St.Francis Church : This Protestant church was built by the Portuguese in 1510 and is also the oldest church built by the Europeans in India.  Vasco-da-Gama’s graverstone is located here, though his mortal remains were taken back to Portugal several years later.
Originally the church was built of wood. Later it was demolished and rebuilt in stone probably after 150 years.  The Dutch and the English were also masters of the church during their occupation of Cochin.  It is now belongs to the Church of South India.

Cochin Fort : This fort was built by the Portuguese in 1503 and is at the entrance to the port.  The spiderly Chinese nets at the entrance to the harbour, form a silhouette against the sky, creating an ethereal picture.

Santa Cruz Church : This cathedral was also built by the Portuguese in the 16th century.  Strangely enough it was blown up by the English in 1795 in their anxiety to prevent the Dutch from occupying  it.  It was renovated subsequently.

Bolgatty Island : This picturesque island has a palace built by the Dutch in 1744 which is a now run as a hotel by the Kerala Tourism Development Corporation.

Jewish Synagogue : This magnificent prayer hall was constructed in 1568 and is the oldest Synagogue in the Commonwealth.  The original building was destroyed in 1662 in Portuguese shelling and was rebuilt a few years later.

Mattancherry Dutch Palace : This palace was actually built by the Portuguese in 1557 and was gifted to Veera Kerala Varman, the then ruler of Kochi, probably to seek  trading favours.  However the Dutch undertook the renovation of this two storied quadrangular building after 1663.  Since then it is being referred to as the Dutch Palace.  It is also known as Mattancherry Palace as it is located there.

Aluva (Alwaye) : This industrial town is located 23 km away from Ernakulam.  The Periyar River and the Shiva temple are its attractions.

Kaladi : Kaladi which is also on the banks of the Periyar is 19 km away from Aluva.  This is the birth place of the great Indian philosopher Adi Shankaracharya.  There are two shrines here.  One is dedicated to this monotheist and the other to Goddess Sharada(Goddess of learning)

Kodungallur ( Cranganore) : Once the capital of the  Cheraman Perumals, Cranganore is 32 km away from Cochin.  A mosque said to be the oldest in India, a fort built by the Portuguese and the famous Bhagavathi Temple are its attractions.

Kallil Temple : This rock-cut temple of the Jains is 13 km away from Perumbavoor.  It has a statue of Mahavira, the founder of Jainism, carved out of a rock.

Thrissur ( Trichur)

Thrissur is situated 74 km north of Ernakulam and is famous for its magnificent tample called the Vadakkunathan Temple dedicated to Shiva.  But more famous than this 17th century temple is its Pooram festival held during April – May in the sprawling grounds outside the temple.  During this festival a procession of bejewelled caparisoned elephants carryingceremonial umbrellas take the deity on a chariot around the precincts.  Fireworks add dazzle to the show.
Thrissur has a museum and a zoo with a sizeable collection of snakes.  Near by is the Peechi Dam which is a good picnic spot.

Guruvayoor : A Hindu pilgrimage center, Guruvayoor enjoys great popularity.  The installation of the idol of Lord Krishna is attributed to Guru(Brihaspathi), the precepter of Gos.  A festival is held in the temple every year during Feb-March.  The highlight of this festival is the performance of Krishnanattam which is the Precursor of Kathakali.  Only Hindus are allowed inside the Guruvayoor Temple.

Malampuzha Dam : The Malampuzha Dam built across the Bharathapuzha River on the foothills of the Western Ghats can be reached via Cheruthuruthi from Thrissur.  The highly attractive terraced garden with green lawns and colourful flower beds is illuminated during weekends, and it looks like a set straight out of the movies.  The huge dam is awesome.  There are some attractions for children and also a provision for boating.

Kozhikode ( Calicut)

From Malampuzha, one can go to Kozhikode either by road (145 km) or by rail from Shoranur (87 km) .  It shot into history as Vasco-da-Gama’s first port of call in India.  It was also the capital of the Zamorin.  Tipu Sultan had also captured this place.  Finally it passed into the hands of the British in 1792.  Tourists can use Kozhikode as their base to visit the following places.

Kannur (Cannanore)

This sea-side resort is 87 km from Kozhikode.  It has an old fort built by the Portuguese.

Sultan’s Battery : Suktan’s battery is 97 km away from Kozhikode and it nestles among the coffee producing hills of  Wynad and Lakkidi .  It derives its name from Tipu Sultan who built a fort here.  This hillstation is very beautiful.

Kottakal : This is a renowned Ayurvedic centre dealing exclusively with the Indian system of medicine.  It is 168 km away from Cochin.