Kerala's landscape is not all about blue backwaters and sandy beaches, as a chunk of the display about the state's tourism would lead the outsider to believe. The southern Indian state has its nature revelling in great variety. It has midlands that are semi-hilly and still upper regions that are mountainous along the Western Ghats.
If there are traditional-looking houses and villas, there are also Ayurveda resorts and wellness centres that can rejuvenate the visitor. No wonder God's Own Country keeps fascinating people abroad and woos them to the state as tourists. One place they particularly flock to is the coastal district of Alappuzha.
Beaches and houseboats
Known as the Venice of the East, Alappuzha is arguably the hub of Kerala's tourism. It is one of the world's best places to enjoy what are called backwaters. To experience it, taking a houseboat would be a good decision.
The thoroughly decked-up houseboats, locally called Kettuvallam, with their ornate exteriors is quite a sight along Kerala's backwaters. Unmissable, they are quite an experience also going by the food these boats serve. It's not just the tapioca plucked from the local soil you get boiled with its condiments giving a unique taste, the visitor is also served with fish as fresh as caught in a hook while the boating is on. Mind you, these are only a part of the ethnic dishes the visitor gets during the journey.
The beach here is of attraction next only to the backwaters of Alappuzha and its houseboats. The sandy stretch gives sight to an old pier of a now-defunct port as well as a lighthouse, both of which are one-and-a-half centuries old. The waves are forceful, yet they have a charming lilt that makes their arrival and retreat least menacing. The air also smells of certain oily dishes that vendors prepare by the sea: bajji and chana-masala. Plus, there are glass jars loaded with pickles of various kinds. Made of mangoes and gooseberries, they lend the air a different kind of intoxication.
The small slice of earth around the watery expanse in Muhamma panchayat is a haven for birds of amazing variety. It's a paradise for ornithologists of all shades of knowledge. The particularly pretty locale is a huge hit among foreigner visitors. Lying east of Kayipuram jetty and Kumarakom, Pathiramanal offers also a boat trip that can prove unforgettable.
One can enter the island, walking down its tiled pavement. Beyond the mangroves are thickets of trees enchanting even more with twines hanging from their branches. It may be a wild place, but there are modern facilities that welcome the visitor.
From Alappuzha city, you just need to travel 15 km down the Thanneermukkam road to reach Kayipuram jetty. Another 30 mins of boat trip will take you to Pathiramanal, which is not accessible by land transport. From Kayipuram jetty, one gets motorboat as well as speedboats to Pathiramanal.
History and myth make a beautiful blend around the ethos of this Hindu temple. It's one of Kerala's three most famous Sreekrishna shrines. What’s more, the unique sweetness of the palpayasam which is a kind of milk pudding offered to the god makes it a big hit even world-wide. Another holy dish is the jaggery-mixed rice-cake called unniyappam.
The deity of Vishnu is cast in as Parthasarathy, who has his whip on the right hand and the panchajanyam conch on the left. It's a rare sight at any shrine. The temple has been a witness to several historical, cultural and artistic events. The ashtamirohini festival associated with Krishna's birthday in the post-monsoon Malayalam month of Chingam is a major event of celebration in the temple's calendar.
This is one of Kerala's prettiest beaches. One that is gaining increasing popularity. It's a resort beach 11 km north of Alappuzha. The beach has a long line-up of coconut palms facing the sea, making the sight its USP. For all its fame, the place is not too crowded usually, thus the sunsets here are strikingly pleasing. Marari is accessible through both road and rail ways. It’s an all-weather beach, but non-summer November to March is the best season.
A 47-km travel southward of Alappuzha will take you to a heritage structure called Krishnapuram Palace. It is close to Kayamkulam, another coastal town of cultural importance. The structure also houses a museum which is under the state archaeological department. The repository has several artefacts of historical significance.
Built in the 18th century by Anizham Tirunal Marthanda Varma (1729-58), the palace has its historical objects having been collected from places beyond Travancore or even Kerala. One of its walls features what is the state’s biggest mural done in the local style. The theme, Gajendramoksham, is elephant-centric with devotional fervour and occupies 154 square feet space.
Outside the gable-roof building, there is a quiet garden within the walled compound. The museum opens at 9.30 in the morning and closes at 4:30pm. It is shut on Mondays and national holidays.