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julies Dec 27th, 2014 12:37 PM

Your favorites in south India & places you'd probably not recommend
As usual I am doing rather last minute planning for a long trip (early Feb. to mid-March). We're India veterans, having spent about 2 months there already. But, in the past we've done the northern half; now we are doing the southern half. We fly into Mumbai and out of Bangalore and have six weeks to play with for an itinerary.

I've been doing a lot of reading and research and have some definite ideas about places to go but thought I'd ask for feedback from those of you who've visited the south. We are pretty adventuresome and enjoy a mix of experiences, activities and places. From what I've read I can already see that certain itineraries could make one templed out very quickly. We don't want that to happen and want to do lots of different things.

I'd like to hear about places you particularly enjoyed and also those that now, having been there, you wouldn't recommend.

Thanks for your ideas.

dgunbug Dec 27th, 2014 02:52 PM

Julie - this is just what I'm looking for. I'm hoping to see another part of India as well, but don't want to get templed out or repeat what we've already seen. Also, for us...the beaches hold little appeal as we have beaches in our backyard being in Florida.

thursdaysd Dec 27th, 2014 03:25 PM

I really enjoyed seeing the temples, but there are plenty of other areas. Definitely Mysire, on the way to Bangalore. Time in rural areas like Coorg. Chettinad may be too far east for you, but there are the Nilgiri hills south of Mysore. See if you can take in a theyyam ritual, see:

julies Dec 28th, 2014 06:36 AM


I've read your trip reports, and we are planning to visit a place I know you didn't like--Hampi. Glad to hear the Coorg and Nilgiri Hills recommendations. And, I am seriously thinking about devoting time to the east coast and Chettinad. Michelin has published its first ever Green Guide to India, and it focuses on Chennai (zero interest in that) and Tamil Nadu. My guess is that they chose this area because of the French influence in Pudicherry, a place I've been vacillating about. Many places in Tamil Nadu sound fascinating so I think we'll be doing parts of that. If you have any more thoughts, I'd be happy to hear them.

thursdaysd Dec 28th, 2014 07:12 AM

julies - how are you getting to Hampi? It's possible some of the roads have improved since I was there, or the railway system has added some trains, and if so it would be worth trying to include Badami. But not if the roads are still as bad!

For me, Puducherry was a reasonable rest stop. If you don't have a burning interest in the ashram I'd say it was skippable. Maybe Mamallapuram instead. (For my 2001 trip that included Kerala and Chennai see )

The temples in Tamil Nadu really are worth seeing. Don't skip the one in Thanjavur. Have you watched this?

dgunbug Dec 28th, 2014 12:47 PM

Just reserved video from my library. Looks very good. Thanks for recommendation.

julies Dec 28th, 2014 02:15 PM

I've had this video in my Netflix queue for quite some time but haven't actually watched it yet. I'll bet my library has a copy too.

How to get to Hampi....I haven't figured that out yet since I am still trying to figure out somewhat of a logical itinerary. We fly into Mumbai (never been there before) and intend to take the train to Aurangabad to see Ellora and Ajanta before we start our trek south.

As is dgunbug I too am struggling with the beach and Kerala and Goa aspects of the trip. We live in the cold and snowy north so beaches aren't outside of our door, but we've seen many, many beaches all over the world. And, we're the type of people who can't just go to a place and lie on the beach in the sun. We need something more active. a morning or day of doing nothing on a beach is fine, but after that we get antsy.

dgunbug Dec 28th, 2014 03:45 PM

Julie - just came across The story of india on YouTube. We are starting to watch it now. Thanks for the link you sent me. So nice to be able to share info.

dgunbug Dec 29th, 2014 04:17 PM

By the way, you mentioned in your last report that you were considering southern India paired with Sri lanka. Is that still being considered?

thursdaysd Dec 29th, 2014 05:19 PM

Well, there is more to see in Goa than beaches. My first visit I split my time between the beach and Panaji, the capital. Old Goa has elaborately decorated churches, there are spice plantations, Hindu temples, and a rather nice waterfall a ways inland.

julia1 Jan 3rd, 2015 12:37 PM

How far south do you want to go? I can wholeheartedly recommend Kerala, where you could easily spend two weeks and leave wanting more. To quote some rather purple-ish prose from a book I wrote after a visit several years ago:

"This is Kerala, where coconut palms sway to the gentle music of salted breezes from the Arabian Sea. Where papaya trees shimmer in the heat and birds feast on fallen fruit bleeding sweet juices into the soil. Where the heavy air nears dew-point soon after daybreak and jewel-like flowers droop from the scrim of hibiscus overhanging the canals, veiling the dripping jungle.

"This too is Kerala, rolling hillsides where green, white and black pepper grow as parasites on coffee plants and rubber trees shade cardamom enclosed in thickets of white angel’s trumpets. Where large Indian parakeets shriek from tall flame trees and fat-bodied dragon flies dance and mate in the sun.

"And this is Kerala, where narrow roads twist and turn through tea plantations which blanket the slopes of the Western Ghats, divided by brilliant green hills which the British once called the “Scotland of India.”

You could plan a four-center holiday in Kerala, beginning in the Backwaters, a complex network of lagoons, lakes, rivers and canals fringing the coast of Kerala and forming the basis of a distinct regional lifestyle. The boats, named Kettuvallams, cross shallow, palm-fringed lakes studded with Chinese fishing nets and cruise slowly along narrow, shaded canals where coir, copra and cashews are loaded onto boats to be transported to market.

Stops can be made at small settlements where people live on carefully cultivated narrow spits of land only a few meters wide. Beyond the settlements are broad stretches of coconut palms and rice paddy fields. Many Kettuvallams have been converted into houseboats with varying degrees of luxury in the accommodation. Many offer two or three air-conditioned, ensuite bedrooms, and come complete with a pilot or captain, boat boy and cook. The houseboats cruise the waters in a leisurely fashion during the day and anchor along the banks for the night.

I arrived in Kochi early on a Sunday morning. Ninety minutes of bouncing and jouncing along at 20 miles per hour over barely paved roads brought us to a small boat landing. Half an hour later we landed in paradise! It's called Coco Bay Resort. It's on an island in a lagoon. Lovely little rooms with ceiling fan and, most importantly, air conditioning because it's at least 90 degrees and 90% humidity both day and night. Well, at night it may get down to 85 degrees. Lunch the first day was Indian food and dinner was Indian food and for breakfast, curried fruit and little steamed rice pillows in addition to omelettes made to order. Coco Bay Resort sits on the banks of Vembanad Lake, the great backwater lagoon that stretches south from Kochi for some 70 miles.

The area around Kumarakom, a collection of small settlements and villages in Kottayam district, is a vast network of rivers and canals that empty into Lake Vembanad. In all, there are more than 1,500 km of canals, both man-made and natural, and 38 different rivers that feed into them. Boats cruise the canals slowly. All sorts of canoes and boats are in use and very few have motors. Along the banks you will see people going about their lives washing dishes in the canals, bathing, cleaning fish, doing laundry, most offering smiles and friendly waves to those passing by.

After a few days exploring the backwaters, you could move on to Kumily, in the hill country, straddling the border between Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Within half an hour of departing Coco Bay, you will leave the rice paddies and palm trees and flat sandy country behind and begin climbing winding roads into hills covered with cardamom, coffee, pepper and rubber plantations, with pineapple fields sprinkled in clearings here and there. The drive can take a half day or longer on slow and narrow roads, interrupted by stops for freshly squeezed sugar cane juice, lunch and an hour at a weekly cattle market. Kumily is a small but bustling town and the center of the spice trade in India. It is filled with markets and shops and Ayurvedic massage centers.

One afternoon we set out from Kumily to visit small villages in the neighboring state of Tamil Nadu. There is a border post in Kumily controlling the traffic of goods between Kerala and Tamil Nadu. If you're a lorry you must stop but if you're a jeep or other passenger vehicle, you just speed on through. We were a jeep so, with horns blaring, we quickly sped around the other border traffic and headed down the mountainside on narrow, winding roads giving onto spectacular views out over the plains of Tamil Nadu.

Aftert Kumily we headed into the mountains. Very quickly we started climbing as the road twisted and wound it's way up the steep hillsides. Soon we could look down upon the tree canopy shading the cardamom plantations beneath. Flame trees smothered in brilliant red blossoms towered above. The going was painfully slow, something like ten miles per hour, and the road was terrifyingly narrow between precipitous drop offs to either side.

As we neared the ridge running along the top, cardamom gave way to tea undulating across the hills for as far as the eye could see. The tea is picked by hand and nestled into the tea plants were the pickers, their bright head coverings like blossoms scattered across the hills. The whole distance we travelled amounted to less than 100 kilometers and took the best part of the day, but the slow roads afforded stunning views and photo opportunities. We arrived in Munnar after dark. Munnar is situated at the confluence of three mountain streams, the Mudrapuzha, the Nallathanni and the Kundala. Located at about 5,500 feet above sea level, Munnar is a hill station town just on the Keralan side of the Western Ghats, the mountain range that forms the backbone of southern India. Tea plantations sprawl across the rolling hills surrounding Munnar and picture book towns snuggle into the valleys.

Munnar is a market town and crossroads kind of place, filled with farmers looking for supplies and tea planters doing business, a milk co-op just outside my window as well as a strip of small tin-roofed shops. It's lovely to have time to sit at my bedroom window and watch the morning activity. The milk co-op is busy with people bringing their small pails of milk by, to be emptied into larger cans which are packed into tuk-tuks and sent off in a rush. Next door the Nice Decoration & Hiring Centre has a large lorry parked outside and two men accepting trash from little ladies who bring anything and everything in large round woven baskets on their heads. The men sort through the baskets, take what they can use or recycle, pay a few rupees in exchange, then send the ladies on down the row to other dealers who might take a bit more. Nothing is wasted and people manage to make small businesses out of the most unlikely undertakings. A jeep filled with schoolboys in bright checked shirts and khaki shorts stops on the road above to pick up a few more while schoolgirls wait below for their bus.

While in Munnar there are tea estates, villages, tea producers and museums to visit. Tea is big business in these mountains where terraces of emerald green cover the rolling hills in clearings between dense stands of dark green forest. The Kanan Devan Hills, located in the High Range of Kerala, were once called the “Scotland of India” by British planters who found the soil and climatic conditions excellent for tea cultivation. Many spectacular peaks, including Anaimudi, the highest south of the Himalayas at almost 8900 feet, are found here.

Tea was first planted in these hills in the 1880's on land acquired from local tribes. In south India tea is harvested by plucking the new flush shoots with three expanded leaves and a bud, producing tea of high quality while maximizing the productivity of the fields and that of the workers, most of whom are women. During plucking seasons, workers spread through the fields like bevies of brightly colored butterflies.

Men from local tribes first worked on the tea plantations, eventually joined by their wives when it became clear that women were better suited for the work of plucking. Villages to provide housing for the workers and their families and schools to educate the children were built. Creches were set up, staffed by older women of the villages, to care for infants and babies so that the mothers could continue to work and bring in a second income for the family. The plantations now also provide special schools and sheltered work for the mentally and physically disabled dependents of the workers.

Chundavurrai Estate is situated at about 6,000 feet above sea level between Munnar and the border of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. It comprises four tea plantations commonly known as Top Station estates. Early planters used a Ropeway connecting Munnar and this estate. The Ropeway Station at this end is called Top station. The air up there is lovely and the views spectacular.

For a final stop, there is the port city of Kochi, or Cochin, known as the “Queen of the Arabian Sea.” Kochi was the center of India’s spice trade for centuries and export of spices is still an important contributor to the area's economy. The district known as Fort Cochin or Old Kochi was the center of colonial Cochin and is an unlikely blend of medieval Portuguese churches, 18th century Dutch mansions, Raj-era bungalows and British warehouses. Fort Cochin is the oldest European settlement in India, a melting pot of diverse cultures and an extraordinary time warp. The St. Francis Church, built in 1503 by the Portuguese, is the oldest church in India. The explorer Vasco de Gama was buried there in 1524 before his remains were eventually taken to Portugal. In the area known as Jewtown, a synagogue built in 1568 still stands and, closer to the water, there are installations of Chinese fishing nets dating back many centuries.

Centuries ago the Chinese brought their dip-net style of fishing to the Malabar Coast, and it is still practiced at the north end of the peninsula in the Fort Cochin area. The large structures, made of bamboo and teak, rope and netting, are faintly reminiscent of giant insects and are proficient at scooping up whatever fish swim in the way. They are stunning at sunset and interesting to watch in action. In short, several men raise some very large rocks to drop the net into the water and then pull them down again to lift the net from the water. It's a simple lever system, dating from the 14th century. Everything is done slowly so as to not scare the fish away and the fishermen are surprisingly successful.

Here is a link to a few of my (1000s) of photos, if you are interested.

dgunbug Jan 3rd, 2015 01:31 PM

Julia - your photos are outstanding and your report has definitely inspired me to get to Kerala. Do you remember which boat you went on, what the cost was and how you found them? How did you travel between destinations.

julies Jan 3rd, 2015 03:42 PM

Julia--The pictures are fab! And, you have so many great ones of people. Those are the ones I always vacillate about, wondering it is polite or not to take them. But, on earlier trips I found that many people in India delight in having their photo taken.

Your descriptions of Kerala came at just the right time since I just spend a day or so reading up on Kerala and have been trying to figure out how much time to devote to it. When were you there? I read your description of the 90 degree heat with the 90% humidity, and it has made me a tad apprehensive since we are also contemplating the idea of doing a 5 day custom bike trip on back roads in Kerala's lower elevations (we're too old for extensive hill climbing on bikes). Thanks for taking the time to post the extensive reply.

Kathy-- If you are still following this, how long did you devote to Panjim and the historic sites of Goa? Once again the trains are my nemesis, and I want to get tickets booked from Goa to Hospet for Hampi. I'm suspecting some trains are already fully booked so need to get on this now so I don't have to endure the train office scrum trying to get those special last minute foreigners tickets again.

We've booked the Kolkan railway from Mumbai to Goa in the daylight, and I went for 1AC tickets figuring that with only four people in the compartment we'd have a better chance of actually being able to see the scenery without our compartment mates wanting to pull down the shades to sleep all the way.

thursdaysd Jan 3rd, 2015 04:48 PM

Julie - dug out the journal:

Sat - arrive
Sun - place is dead - avoid Sunday!
Mon - bus to Old Goa for the St. Xavier day festival
Tue - visit spice plantation and not v. Interesting temple in nice location
Wed - Fri - at Vagator beach
Sat - beach and return to Panaji and come down with cold
Sun - nurse cold
Mon- Old Goa for churches
Tue - car to Dudhsagar falls, night in Magao

My notes say that I found the rickshaws expensive.

Note that your 1AC tactic will only work if the compartment is on the coast side of the train...

Note also that if you are doing a lot of trains the Indrail pass may be worthwhile. See: - that's who I used on my first trip. Plus it's worth using a local TA for train tickets rather than scrumming at the station yourself if you don't already have them.

julies Jan 8th, 2015 01:10 PM

I never thought it through about what you are saying about which side the train compartment is on. One would hope that since this is considered a scenic journey they might think that through in aligning the cars. I guess we'll see.....And, I may have screwed us up on this one. One of the reasons I did the 1AC is because seats were much more booked up on the 2AC, and since we are now officially "old" we can get the really good discount on the 1AC.

I've allocated us 3 nights and 2 full days to see Panjim and Old Goa. We don't intend to go to the breach at all in Goa. Then we're off on the train again down the coast for a trip to Kannur and a bit of beach time. So, we're doing a lot of places you've experienced.

And, I gave up on Hampi. Too many transportation hassles.

thursdaysd Jan 8th, 2015 01:46 PM

On the train ride being scenic - these trains are primarily used for transport, not sightseeing.

On Hampi and transport - yes, indeed!

linawood Jan 8th, 2015 07:44 PM

bookmarking. Thanks!

progol Jan 9th, 2015 02:32 AM

Julia1 - Stunning photos! And your photos of people are wonderfully spontaneous! Love the trip report, too -- it captures a great feeling of the region.

I'm curious -- did you work with a guide? The pictures in the tea estate are so intimate, are you able to walk through on your own or do you have someone taking you through?

Curious -- where did you stay and did you arrange these yourself or did an agent take care of this for you?

cokesmith Jan 9th, 2015 02:55 AM

Southern India was great - we were there last Christmas - here is our trip report:

Might get some more ideas...



julies Jan 9th, 2015 09:58 AM


As always, your photos are absolutely fabulous. And, your commentary gave me a good start on thinking things through for nature-oriented objectives.

But, and it's a big but, we visited Corbett park a couple years ago and were less than impressed with India's national park scene. Our visit to Chitwan in Nepal last year was MUCH better, and we even had a tiger sighting for a half an hour, not that seeing a tiger was our primary objective.

So, we are really torn about whether to even subject ourselves to a national park. So, here is my question for you taking into account all of the places you visited in the Western Ghats.

Which areas/places would you recommend most highly for people who like nature and gorgeous scenery and who like to do active things and who like being immersed in a culture and its landscapes that are different from home? Fascinating villages and small towns we can walk through also call to us a lot. We don't need major tourist sites or objectives, and while we enjoy seeing varied wildlife, it is not our major objective in traveling.

Thanks much.

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