India! When Eric and I first started talking about our trip around the world, I said to him that we can go anywhere, but I didn’t want to come back here. It’s beautiful but so overwhelming. Here you see things you’d never expect – all the good and the bad. They call it “Incredible India” for a reason. But I soon realized that no RTW is complete without a jaunt through the subcontinent. Besides, we heard the south was more laid-back and less traveled, and there’s so much to see it just boggles the mind.
Looking back, we’re really glad that we decided to start in Kerala and work our way north, even though we had to move quickly so we could attend the Elephant Festival in Jaipur. We’d go back for more in an instant.
For us, India began with a flight from Colombo, Sri Lanka to Kochi in the state of Kerala. We had planned to take a ferry across the Palk Strait, but the service was cancelled in 2011 when the ferry was impounded for not paying their bills. The flight was more costly than the ill-fated ferry, but it only took 45 minutes to reach our destination.
After touching down in Kochi we made a beeline for the Fort area. While it’s enjoyable and offers a lot of sights to the history buff, we found that the area was saturated with other tourists. In itself this isn’t bad, but heavily frequented areas often have watered-down food and overpriced drinks. The main attractions in the Fort, the Chinese fishing nets, are really neat. Operated by a team of up to six fishermen, the nets are fixed to the shoreline. They function by using a cantilever system whereby one end holds a large fishing net that stretches out over the sea, while the other consists of heavy rocks that weigh the whole thing down when the nets are to be lifted out with the fish.
The catch that is brought in using this method is modest, and the nets are mostly a tourist attraction these days. Still, it’s worth heading down to the shore to see these unique structures, used by fishermen for five hundred years (and slowly disappearing, as they become less and less practical as a way to make a living).
Kerala is famous for its backwaters, and many companies offer boat tours that meander through the network of interconnected canals, rivers, lakes and inlets that form over 900 kilometers of waterways. Villages dot the shoreline, meaning that visitors often get to see more traditional ways of life in India. We decided not to go, not only because the tours were costly, but also because the influx of visitors and unscrupulous guides have caused a great deal of pollution to the fragile ecosystem there.
If we make it back to Kerala, we’ll definitely venture outside of the Fort into Kochi proper to explore all the city has to offer.
Oh, yeah…Kannur. Kannur is located in the northern part of Kerala, about 170 miles north of Kochi. There wasn’t a whole lot to do or see there. Home to Payyambalam Beach, Kannur shows up on some “Best Beach” articles for the Malabar Coast, so we decided to spend a few days there before heading inland toward Mysore. The beach itself was nice, but completely undeveloped. In some cases this would be wonderful (like our private island), but in this case it was just a bit odd, verging on eerie. The wide swath of beige sand was completely lifeless save for tiny crabs and a handful of fully clothed men strolling along. There were one or two places to buy pre-packaged ice cream, but no restaurants and sadly, no beer. It definitely wasn’t a place to throw down a towel and sunbathe. It was clean and peaceful, though, and the sea was warm as bathwater. Maybe at other times of the year it’s more happening, but in March it was pretty desolate.
We booked a room at the Mascot “Beach Resort”, which ended up being one of the more disappointing places we stayed in all of India. The room itself was well furnished and had a nice sitting area with views of the Arabian Sea. But the views couldn’t make up for the many cockroaches that accompanied us, nor the blasé food, lack of alcoholic drinks, and a rocky shoreline that didn’t live up to the “Beach” in the “Beach Resort” name.
The hotel did have a decent swimming pool, but there were no chairs or people to sit in them as the place was, again, almost completely deserted. We were pleasantly surprised after all of this to find that the town of Kannur, while devoid of major sights, had some great local food. Also, there’s an odd but entertaining bar in the Blue Nile Hotel that has a retro pool with underwater disco lights. The bar may have been one of the more entertaining places in town, and as a woman I wasn’t uncomfortable going there. Earlier we had gone to a bar a couple blocks down that was frequented only by local men despite a prominent sign that read “Tourist Bar”, and I received some rather perplexed stares when we entered. It is less common for women to partake here, and it’s almost unheard-of for them to be seen in bars like that one.
Overall, I can’t say we’d recommend visiting Kannur based on our experience. If you’re looking for a peaceful place to be for a few days, it does offer a break from more frenetic Indian cities. But we were ready for something a bit more dynamic…so we were off to Mysore!