We recently sent our travel specialist Cherylle out to southern India, to experience the laid-back atmosphere of this part of the country. Here, she tells us all about her trip…
Having backpacked northern India for a month a few years ago, I was left with mixed emotions about this crazy, colourful country. Being a huge fan of Southeast Asia and having spent a lot of time there over the last 15 years, I always found the simplicity very attractive. India on the other hand was an experience I was not really expecting. A bittersweet combination of madness versus sanity! But when I was offered the opportunity to visit India again recently I jumped at the chance. This time I was heading to the south. I had read many articles in travel magazines about Kerala, so I must admit I was excited to see this area for myself.
I arrived in Mangalore and the instant heat was very much welcomed; it made a pleasant change from the British winter. I met my driver Sujith and we set off towards our first destination, which was on the beach. It was late by the time we arrived so I couldn’t see much, I had my dinner and went straight to bed, planning to get up at 6am the next morning to take in the sea air over a nice fresh cup of Indian tea. I was staying at Neeleshwar Hermitage, a delightful small beach hotel. I had breakfast overlooking the sea and the smiley faces of the local waiters made it clear I was going to like it here!
I was heading towards Cochin, but I would stop in a few destinations along the way to break up the journey. I couldn’t believe how green and tropical Kerala was, swaying coconut trees and an abundance of birdlife made a gorgeous backdrop to my travels, not to mention the huge numbers of beautiful butterflies I spotted. I stopped at a homestay, which was my first experience of doing this and something I would now thoroughly recommend. The hosts where absolutely incredible and really made me feel part of the family, while my sleeping quarters, a beautiful treehouse overlooking the tropics, felt truly special.
As I moved further towards Cochin I stopped in a small town called Tellicherry. I hadn’t heard of it before, and it was such a cool place, with women wearing beautiful coloured saris, rickshaws driving up and down the streets picking up their clients, and one of the oldest spice shops in southern India.
When I arrived in Cochin I could instantly feel the rich history of the city. There is so much to see and do; it is definitely worth a visit. From 16th century synagogues and Portuguese churches, to Dutch architecture and giant Chinese fishing nets, it is a cultural melting pot and the city’s colonial past is still so visible. My next stop was half a day spent on a houseboat in the Backwaters, which was a wonderfully relaxing treat, with exceptional food and service. From there I spent a few days chilling out on Marari Beach, before moving onto Tamil Nadu.
Tamil Nadu is the state next door to Kerala; it has a completely different vibe and temples galore. I stayed at Rajakkad – a beautiful and quirky estate in hill country, which was set well away from any hustle and bustle. It had a huge yoga platform and served up organically grown food – it really had one of the coolest vibes I have ever experienced. Nearby was a lovely village where the locals were so happy to welcome a new face and the children were playful. I made a visit to the local school, which was a great experience.
The last leg of my journey took me further into Tamil Nadu, via the French quarter of Pondicherry to the soaring temples of Madurai. Like most people who have travelled extensively in Asia, I have seen my fair share of temples and felt dubious that the temples of Madurai, often described as the most incredible Hindu temples you will ever see, would be able to impress such a seasoned traveller. But I can truthfully say they did not disappoint; I have never experienced such emotion when visiting temples. The Meenakshi Temple has an estimated 33,000 sculptures, full of colour and each one telling its own story. It was one of the most incredible places I have ever seen. When I thought things couldn’t get any better I arrived in Tanjore to see the Chola Temples. This is architecture that dreams are made of! The temples are believed to have inspired Angkor Wat, which struck a chord with me as I worked as a teacher in a Cambodian village close to the temples back in 2008.
I didn’t want my time in southern India to end, what an adventure! Gorgeous weather, great wildlife, delicious fresh food, incredibly kind and warm people, lush tropics and amazing Hindu temples… the list is endless. If you haven’t added southern India to your bucket list it’s about time you do!