A solo trip to Kerala
May 3, 2020
I did an epic solo trip to Kerala in the month of October 2019 and it was the best trip of my life. It was also the longest solo trip I have forayed. I visited a bunch of places last year. Among them, Kerala stands out as the most amazing and beautiful one. Here’s the details of what happened during those 5 days.
It was Diwali time in 2019. Everyone was looking forward to go home during the weeklong holidays lying ahead, i.e. from 25th October to 2nd November, a total of 9 days. I started planning for going on a grand trip a couple of weeks prior to it.
So one fine morning I woke up and decided that this is the perfect time to explore Kerala. The reasoning behind it was, most of the places I haven’t explored so far in southern Indian can be covered in 2–3 days. Kerala is the only place where there is so much to see and explore that it will take me really long. I have seen people travelling and exploring Kerala for months! So this was it! I started exploring the geography of Kerala by reading about it on blogs and watching vlogs made by people.
Geographically, Kerala can be divided into 3 zones, North, South and Central. Usually for a 3 day trip you can plan to cover any one zone. Each of the zone has its own magic. North Kerala consists of Wayanad, Kozhikode etc. Wayanad is a hill station, and a beautiful one. Kozhikode might be famous for its beach but its food culture is its biggest attraction. When it comes to Central Kerala, Kochi stands out the most. While there are other places, Kochi has a different culture altogether which you will start feeling the moment you set your foot there. Going down south, you have places like Alappuzha, known for its backwaters, Varkala, Kovalam etc.
The above list is just a few among the most interesting places I found while researching about Kerala’s geography. One of the most important things to remember while doing a solo trip(or any kind of trip as a matter of fact) is that you need to do extensive research about the geography of the place. It will help you plan better and during instances of any uncertain circumstances you can come up with an alternative itinerary quickly. Also, solo backpacking means you book cheap lodges/hostels or crash at a stranger’s house. It’s less of a luxury trip and more of an experience building exercise.
I was making a rough plan about the trip and where to visit on each of the 9 days. Each zone should take 3 days and I can travel for 9 days to cover the best places in the God’s own country.
Nature’s entropic nature
Everything was going according to plan. But nature had its own ideas. One week before my trip it started raining heavily in Kerala and within a couple of days, the state was in high emergency orange alert. An orange alert means that things are really bad. If it gets worse then there will be red alert which will likely result in a major flood. I started realizing that probably I have to cancel the trip.
It was 26th Oct, the day I was supposed to start my trip, but I was still sitting at my home thinking about the missed opportunity. By then the conditions were better in Kerala but it was still raining heavily all over the state. Even if I managed to reach Kerala, the rain is going to spoil the fun because half of the time I will be scouting for shelters. But towards the end of the day, I had an epiphany. I had this sudden urge, feeling that I need to do this somehow.
Come what may, I will have to explore. I made up my mind. I will go to Kerala. I looked up the trains that are available and the stations from where I can get to the places I was planning to. I had to change the plan a bit to accommodate for the raining conditions. Most probably I won’t be able to visit Alappuzha because the backwaters would be flooded. I reworked on the places I need to visit and most importantly, looked up the restaurants I need to try (foodie instincts you know). So on that Saturday night, I was all set to explore Kerala for a week. The final plan for trip was 5 days of exploring Kerala and 2 days in Pondicherry. Let’s do it!
Day 1: Kozhikode & Wayanad
The plan was to start on Sunday night from Bangalore and reach Kozhikode early morning around 8AM. I will be travelling around Kerala using the public transport of buses and trains. They have amazing transport connectivity in Kerala, even in the most remote areas.
I was thinking of taking a bus to Wayanad from Kozhikode (later on I realized that there is much shorter route, I could have taken a bus from Bangalore and got down at Kalpatta to go to Wayanad instead of getting down at Kozhikode). The situation in Wayanad was unclear so I had to go there and see if it’s possible to explore. Fortunately, the sky was clear and there were no signs of rain, which was relieving. Now that the sky is clear I should get going and explore as much as possible before it starts to rain again. The thing about Kerala is that the weather can change instantly.
The journey to Wayanad was 3 hours long. It was a picturesque route. The private buses in Kerala play old malayalam movie songs and they are really soothing and takes you back in time. I finally reach Wayanad. With all the amazing view on the way, the 3 hour journey wasn’t boring at all. In the junction, I enquired about the situation there and whether I could visit the places I was planning to. On my list I had Thollairam kandi, Chembra peak, Soochipara and Kurumbalakota. But apparently all of these places were closed because of the heavy rain. I was disappointed. Coming all the way till here and realising that it’s all closed. But one of the auto drivers offered me to show around a few places and take me to some of the regions near Chembra peak. He said that there will be a lot of scenic views on the way. It wasn’t an auto he was driving, some kind of a blue van. He was very friendly and gave me a lot of knowledge about the region and the routes. I enjoyed the ride and saw some really beautiful peaks there. The view from the topmost point was breathtaking. Although I couldn’t cover Wayanad properly, I found this worth the 3 hour journey.
At the highest point I could reach and totally feeling on top of the world
After this I returned to Kozhikode. It was around 3PM. Kozhikode is known for its food culture. It has lots of varieties of food. They are known for their great biriyanis. Being my favourite food item, I couldn’t resist but visit Kozhikode solely to taste their biriyani. When I was doing my research, I came across the fact that the best chicken biriyani is available at Paragon restaurant while the best beef biriyani (alright, people who are rolling their eyes now, I love beef) is available at Hotel Rehmath. So I decided to go to Paragon for lunch and have my dinner at Hotel Rehmath. Paragon was extremely crowded. I had to share my seat with another family and it was really hot. I was served with the famous biriyani and it actually tasted really good. It wasn’t exceptional, but it was different. The biriyani rice doesn’t have the masala as a normal dum biriyani does but it did have some good flavour to it.
After the meal, I went out and started planning for the rest of the day as I had a few more hours left. It was sunny and really hot, just the opposite of what I was expecting. But I was happy that it wasn’t raining at all. There was a shop outside which was selling something to drink. I figured out that it was sherbet. I have tried sherbet before, but this shop had something different. They were selling milk sherbet. Do try it if you are there.
After this I planned to go to Kozhikode beach, watch the sunset there. The beach wasn’t much crowded, but there were a lot of people here and there. There are a lot of snack items being sold on and around the beach. They have stalls which sell various fruits and vegetables which are pickled. They call it ‘uppilittathu’. I had pineapple, carrot and Indian gooseberry(amla) uppilittathu. As I sat there, I recorded the sunset in timelapse and it was beautiful.
Post that I explored the markets of Kozhikode. The bag I was carrying was heavy and was weighing my shoulders down heavily. I went and bought some kozhikodan halva. Kozhikode is known for it and I just love them. After that I had my beef biriyani at Hotel Rehmath. It was delicious. I haven’t had a better beef biriyani before. After my gluttonous exploration of Kozhikode I am on my way to Kochi, the Queen of the Arabian Sea.
It was around 8PM when I reached Kozhikode railway station. My train to Ernakulam, which is where you get down if you want to go to Kochi, was at 11PM. I waited at the railway station for my train. And when it came, I realized that I have never seen a more crowded train than that. Apparently all the Bengali workers were returning home during the Diwali. I was travelling in a general boggy because I wasn’t planning to go to Kochi the same day. It was so crowded that you can’t even properly stand in the general compartment. It was a real struggle. And my journey was of 5–6 hours. I boarded around 11PM and was supposed to reach around 5AM.
Day 2: Fort Kochi
Chinese fishing nets in Fort Kochi
I reached Ernakulam around 4–4:30AM. I was first thinking of going to a hostel since hostels are cheap. But they were very far from the railway stations and autos at this time will charge you a lot. So I took a cheap hotel nearby the railway station. I slept and woke up around 9AM and I look outside and it’s raining! Goddammit. It started feeling like this trip is already ruined. I couldn’t explore Wayanad much and now it’s raining in Kochi. But the best was yet to come.
In half an hour, the rain came down. It was drizzling but that was okay. I reached the bus stop and waited for the bus to Fort Kochi. After a while of waiting in vain without getting even a single bus, I asked an auto driver whether he could take me to Fort Kochi and his reply was “Why would you want to waste your money on auto? It will take around ₹300. It’s better if you can catch a bus”. I was flabbergasted by his attitude. He could have easily got 300 bucks out of me. I am already loving Kerala.
Boats near Marine Drive
Eventually an uncle came along and he suggested that I should be taking the ferry instead of the bus. He said that the ferry ride is something I don’t want to miss. And…he was right. I took a bus to Marine Drive and from there I took a ferry to Fort Kochi. That ferry ride was wonderful and it was just ₹4! By then, it stopped raining completely and the sun was out. On the other side, there were fishermen who were using Chinese nets. It was a view you don’t want to miss. I was going through the narrow, concrete path and there were tourists from abroad and various parts of the country there. One of the fish selling guy was apparently selling “jellyfish” to some bengalis who didn’t know how a shrimp looks like. I then headed to Qissa cafe to have my breakfast. I had some beef salad and an amazing coffee there. There I sat and planned all the places I need to cover in Kochi. I placed pins on all the relevant places and then made a roadmap out of it. My list had the following places:
- Chinese fishing nets (which I already explored)
- Mattancherry Palace
- St. Francis CSI Church
- Jew Town
- Indo-Portuguese Museum
I roamed around Kochi the whole day. It was sunny and hot. I mean really hot. I was roaming around with a gorilla tripod taking as many photos I can. I saw a bunch of kids, probably 10 year olds, playing football. And they were playing really well. I even saw a Tamil movie shoot going on.
Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica
At the end of the day, I was back to Fort Kochi, ready to take my ferry back. It was calm and peaceful on the Fort. There was no rain and I could visit everywhere I was planning for. Ferry ride back to Marine drive at night was quite a thing. It was beautiful with lights and you are in the middle of water. I texted a cousin of mine in Kerala and we decided to catchup at Lulu mall. Lulu mall is grand and it was amazing. We were meeting after 7 years. We had Kapsa and a tea and he dropped me off at my hotel. I really needed some sleep. After the day in the sun I was really exhausted.
Day 3: Vypin Island
I explored the entire Fort Kochi and Mattancherry on the previous day and on Day 3 I planned to cover Vypin Island. I had my breakfast from Pai Brothers Fast food. They were known for serving 175 varieties of Dosas! It was hard to decide on which one to try, but I went ahead with Salt and pepper dosa. That dosa had 6–7 kada mutta (quail eggs) among other fillings. It was a really heavy breakfast and I would recommend everyone to try this place if you are in Kochi.
Salt and pepper Dosa from Pai Brothers
After that I took the ferry from Marine drive. and got down at Vypin. From there I boarded a bus and got down at Kuzhuppilly beach stop. I had to walk around 1–2km to reach the beach. But the route was really beautiful. It was like you are transported to some really amazing and calm place. I saw a fisherman throwing a net in the water and catching the fish just the way we saw in the malayalam movie Kumbalangi nights.
Finally I reached Kuzhuppilly beach and it was clean and almost empty. I took a few photos and shot a few slow-mo videos of the crashing waves. I walked on the beach for about 3km. Kuzhuppilly beach is connected to Cherai beach, which is more of a rock beach. On the way you can find a lighthouse. Vypin is a remote village and it’s not so commercialised. You will feel that natural vibe the moment you step in there. Unadulterated and pristine. If you sit there on the beaches for a while you will feel a different kind of calmness. This is inexplicable in words and something which you need to feel on your own. By this time it started raining, and I knew that it’s going to get worse from here. It was 2PM by then.
I enquired at a shop about the next bus to the boat jetty and they told me that there will not be a bus anymore. So I had to take an auto to the junction and catch a bus from there to the boat jetty. I wanted to spend more time at Vypin, but I figured out that the weather was becoming worse and there’s no way I can roam around now. I returned to my hotel and checked out. I reached the railway station and caught the train for my next destination. Varkala!
Varkala oh man, what a place. Wish I could find all the words to completely describe my experiences there. I reached Varkala around 9PM. From there I headed to the first ever hostel I have stayed in, The Lost Hostel. I took an auto to the hostel and it took me through a very dark route. Apparently, Varkala doesn’t have a lot of street lights and the entire path was semi dark. But it was a full moon night so I could see something. Finally I reach the hostel and I check in.
Day 4: Varkala
The Lost Hostels, Varkala
I liked the concept of The Lost Hostel. It was more of a hipster’s paradise. It had a big common area where people hang out and talk and play music. people of all races come there. Most of them are backpackers from abroad and they bring with them their culture, which affects the vibe inside the hostel in a good way. When you converse with them, you get a different perspective.
I woke up in the morning and was about to go out to have breakfast when I met Fran. Fran was checking in and the hostel manager introduced him to me. He was from Seville, Spain and was travelling around the world since the past 4 months, and he was planning to travel 4 more months. We went to the Coffee temple, one of the best coffee places in Varkala, and had the english breakfast. Then we went to explore Varkala beach.
Varkala has a beautiful beach alongside a cliff. It’s a high cliff and there are rough steps to go down but mostly it’s a vertical steep. You can walk along the sides of the cliff while enjoying the beach view. The cliff has a bunch of stores, cafes and restaurants on it. The coffee temple is a pretty popular one there. I love their coffee.
Varkala beach, view from the top of the cliff
I went on a walk with Fran that day and explained to him the culture of India. It was a long walk on the beach. I told him about the perceptions of Indians and how we approach things like love marriage and career choices. Apparently I figured out that Spain is quite similar to India in terms of open mindedness. He asked me why Indians are bathing with all of their clothes on while the foreigners are cool with just the bare minimum. “Is it because they are too conscience about their bodies?”. That was indeed a question to ponder upon.
Varkala is pretty peaceful. It is one of the most chilled out places I have been to. After 3 days of roaming around and getting tired, I needed to chill out a bit and think about life in general. Varkala was the place for it. There ain’t a lot of places to visit in Varkala. The cliff on the beach is the main attraction. And that’s all that’s needed. It’s too good to miss out.
Day 5: Varkala
Next day I wake up and go for breakfast with Fran. I was planning to go into the water that day. The waves were great and I couldn’t resist. I made chitchat with a mallu guy I met there trying to beat the waves. He turned out to be a movie director who has done a couple of movies. I haven’t seen them though. He told me about his trip to Gokarna. He said he and his friends slept on the Paradise beach there the whole night under the stars. Now, the Paradise beach in Gokarna is very peaceful and usually empty. Read my solo trip to Gokarna to know more about Gokarna.
That’s Fran and me!
After the swim, me and Fran went to the Tibetan Kitchen for lunch. Those were my last moments in Varkala. I had to leave Varkala for Trivandrum and go to Pondicherry and meet my friends there. I sat there in the restaurant soaking in everything I had learnt and seen during this trip. I knew that it will be really hard to pen down everything in the exact way I experienced it. Whatever I have written is only half of what I have experienced. Kerala is a place you need to explore on your own to get it. Everyone is going to have a different story to tell. You will meet new people, you will get to know about their countries. Fran completed his 8 months long trip last month. Fran and I are friends till date. He keeps inviting me to visit Spain. And I swear I will do a solo trip to Spain and will be writing about it.
The coolest tattoo ever