Kannur and Wayanad
Having got the taste for tipping about on my own during my few days in Varkala I decided to head a bit further afield for my second week. This time I set off for the north of the state which I’d heard gets fewer tourists despite having plenty to offer in terms of things to see and do. Kerala is pretty big so to get to the north meant travelling around 500 km from Trivandrum. The great thing about travel in India is the fantastic train network which allows you to cover huge distances very cheaply. It’s especially cost effective if you travel by night as you save on a night’s accommodation. I had very little idea what to expect but was pleasantly surprised to find that the trains are pretty comfortable. The bunks can be a little cramped and the ‘mattress’ wouldn’t be the softest but they supply you with spotlessly clean bed linen and a pillow . There are several classes on the long-distance trains and although it can be a bit confusing at first there are basically two main options – regular sleeper or the more expensive air-conditioned carriages. The regular sleeper is very cheap and most passengers would choose this option but for a pampered Westerner like me it apparently lacks a bit of privacy as the berths aren’t closed off. You also have to bring your own bedding. The AC carriages have a similar layout to the sleepers – six berths on one side of the aisle and two on the other side but each berth has a curtain that you can use to seal yourself off. Security wise it seemed to be fine although I was taking no chances and had purchased a padlock and chain to secure my rucksack. The lower berths are used as normal seats during the day so if you’ve booked one of those you could be waiting for your fellow passengers to go to bed. Most people seemed to climb into their berths more or less straight away though.The toilets are pretty grim but then that’s the case on public transport anywhere. Even though I’ve had better sleeps in my time I had few complaints over the course of my two trips. The fare for the AC worked out at around 9 euro one way. Sleeper would have cost around about a third of that. Incredible value.
I reached Kannur at 8am, bleary-eyed but glad to be able to stretch my legs after ten hours or so on the train. The guidebook had recommended checking out St. Angelo’s Fort so I decided to visit there before checking in to my accommodation which was located a few miles outside the town. The fort was pretty impressive and extremely well maintained. It was built by the Portugese in the 15th century but changed hands a good few times over the years. Kannur was a pretty important spice-trading port in its day apparently. It’s now a busy town with little to recommend it aside from the Fort. Back in town I grabbed a pretty average breakfast in the local Indian Coffee House and got a rickshaw to take me out to my homestay.
Kannur Beach House was lovely. It’s located a few miles south of Kannur beside where a small river flows into the sea. There’s a stunning and more or less deserted beach nearby where local fishermen cast their nets. The whole area aound the house is covered in palm trees and my room had a great balcony from where you could look out over the garden towards the sea. It was a pretty fantastic place to just sit and read and while away the hours. The hosts, Rosie and Naseer, were great company and their kitchen staff served up some amazing food. They also organised a trip to a local handloom factory and to a theyam performance (an form of Hindu ritual theatre where an elaborately costumed dancer takes on the role of a god and blesses the congregation).
I could have happily stayed longer in Kannur but I was keen to visit Wayanad district as I’d heard that the scenery there was stunning and that there was a good chance of seeing plenty of wildlife including wild elephants. Rosie had recommended another homestay outside Mananthavady, one of two main towns in the region, so I hopped on a bus and spent the next three hours gaping out the window at amazing mountain scenery. Kerala is a long narrow state bordered by the sea to one side and the Western Ghats to the other. Once you travel inland for 30-40km you start ascending into the foothills of the Ghats and before long you’re winding up hairpin after hairpin until you’re surrounded on all sides by densely forested hills.Much of the land is taken up by paddy fields and large plantations – rubber, tea, coffee – and everything is green.
My next homestay was a few miles outside Mananthavady, on the fringes of theTholpetty wildlife reserve. Once again the hospitality was incredible – delicious home- cooked food and great conversations with the hosts who were happy to fill me with information about the local plants, animals and insects. Shortly after arriving they organised a driver to take me on a road safari around the fringes of the sanctuary. It was a far cry from the Masai Mara but really enjoyable in its own way. The fact that it was in a forest meant that spotting animals felt like an achievment whereas in the Mara they were everywhere. I managed to see several types of monkey, spotted deer, bison and, the highlight, several wild elephants. It’s pretty sweet to have now seen elephants in the wild in two different continents. Apparently though, like in Africa, they’re seen as more of a nuisance than anything else by the local population. They destroy crops given half a chance and they will attack humans if they feel threatened. Varghese, my host, was showing me the trenches and electric fences they had to erect to keep the elephants off their land. The local tribal people build treehouses overlooking their paddy fields to keep a lookout for elephants at night so they can chase them off before they do damage.
I spent the rest of my time in Wayanad hanging around the homestay and gorging myself on their delicious food. I also went for a guided walk arounf the locality. Very scenic but also very hot. Still, I probably worked off some of the food! I also became quite fascinated with taking pictures of the ridiculously large insects that were constantly appearing out of the garden. My favourite is this lad:
I was really impressed with what I managed to see of northern Kerala. Both Kannur and Wayanad are beautiful areas in their own way, one with amazing beaches and the other with gorgeous mountain scenery. It would be impossible to choose a favourite between Kannur Beach House and Varnam Homestay. The homestay option is definitely the way to go in Kerala because hotels here seem to tend towards the bland, functional business type and hostels are practically non-existent. In all the homestays I’ve visited to date I’ve had amazing food, clean, comfortable rooms and helpful, interesting hosts who couldn’t do enough for me. The only drawback (if you call it that) to travelling at this time of the year is that the season hasn’t really got going so you can sometimes end up being the only guest in the place.
So, it was back to Trivandrum on Friday night to catch up with Ollie who had the whole weekend off for a change. We decided to treat ourselves (well, Ollie) to a night away from the guesthouse and its dreadfully uncomfortable bed so we went out to Kovalam, a beach resort a few miles south of Trivandrum. It’s a proper busy resort, not a million miles away from what you’d find at home. It’s popular with Westerners but also with locals which makes for some interesting people watching. The locals tend to bathe fully clothed and don’t do the sunbathing thing at all. Indians try to avoid tanning and seem to prefer paler skin. The cosmetics section of the supermarket does be full of skin whitening products, both male and female. Kovalam was fun and we had a few drinks some great seafood which was a nice change from all the vegetarian food that we’ve mainly been eating (seems to have worked too as so far neither of us have been sick). We caught a lovely sunset too.
So that’s it for the moment. I’m writing this from Kumily, back up in the mountains, and there’ll hopefully be a further report from there in the next day or two. Ollie has her final exam on Friday and is studying away back in Trivandrum and she’ll no doubt be back blogging in full effect come next week
Dodging mosquitos status: You win some and you lose some. Though surrounded by insects for most of the week I managed to avoid getting many bites. They made up for it at the weekend though and they wreaked a bloody revenge in Kovalam on Saturday night. They’re relentless!