The nice places

Bethlehem3 (25K) Bethlehem5 (42K)
Kochi City was an excellent choice for a base. The first reason for liking it was that it has lots of good accommodation at different price levels. On our return visit we stayed in a homestay called Bethlehem, run (of course, with that name) by a Christian family. Their house was a kilometre from the tourist centre in an area with many nice houses. It was set in a thick wood, with 2 stories and a covered roof terrace for lazing and eating. The bedrooms on the second floor were comfortable and spacious, and there was sitting room on both the second floor terrace and the roof terrace. Breakfast and dinner for us both were included in the R500 daily rate for our room.

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The Chinese nets
Second, there are plenty of nice bars and restaurants. Our favourite place was a juice bar by the Chinese nets, overlooking the channel from the sea into the backwaters. The nets are quite fun, though I suspect they are kept going just for the tourists. The channel has a lot of traffic - fishing boats, ferries and large ships.

Third, there are some interesting places to visit in Kochi. There is a 16th century synagogue, completely undesecrated, unlike those in Europe. (Though the Portuguese had managed to uproot the Jews from their original base just up the coast.) There is Dutch palace, with wonderful hand-painted murals. And you can see the foundations of the original Fort Cochin (destroyed by the English) in a well-maintained ecclesiastical museum.

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Ann with cows on Vipin Beach
Fourth, with a bike, you can cross to Vypin island and cycle to a pleasant, almost deserted beach a kilometre beyond the lighthouse. You need a deserted beach to swim in comfort, especially if you are a woman, otherwise you get a crowd of over-inquisitive sightseers. The "almost" comes from the fact that it is used by a few fishermen, whose boats are pulled up the beach, and by the locals as their toilet, which means you need to search out your bit of undefiled sand!

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Car ferry near Thattekkad Bridge in the bird reserve
Thattekkad has a big bird sanctuary. We are not particularly bird enthusiasts, but we think we saw more and more varied birds in Periyar and Alappuzhar. However, it is a wonderfully peaceful and scenic place, where it is possible to be alone all day. The Periyar river here is excellent for swimming. The first day, we stayed in a hotel called the Thattekkad Resort, in a decent room costing R500. When it is finished, the resort will be a very nice place, with a garden beside the river. They have a quay by the river, from which you can dive. They said it was too dangerous for swimming! When I asked why, they said it was because it was deep. I don't think many Indians can swim, and they regard deep water as inherently dangerous.

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Munar market Our hotel
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Tea plantation and workers' housing The waterfall
Munar is an undistinguished small town set in superb scenery. We stayed in a small hotel called Aida, with a private balcony overlooking the high-altitude sports ground (unfinished) and tea plantations on the surrounding hills. From Munar, there is an excellent excursion for some 30Km to Top Station, on the border with Tamil Nadu. The views are probably the best of all, but we got into cloud just as we reached the top! There is also a lovely local walk to the waterfall at just off the road to Kochi. However, it is hardly worth visiting the Eraviculam national park, as they now confine visitors to a short stretch of road by the entrance.

Periyar is worth visiting for the wild life sanctuary and the excursions available around. However, between the adjacent small town of Kumili and the park entrance is a pleasant road with several excellent homestays and restaurants. We stayed in Green View, which has some luxury rooms for R1200 looking out over the sanctuary, with private balconies. Also, every evening, at sunset, thousands of fruit bats fly directly overhead on their way from the bamboo groves in the sanctuary to raid the fruit trees the other side of Kumili. We ate at Chrissies, a surprisingly good Italian restaurant with home-made pizzas and pasta.

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Houseboat on the Backwaters
Alappuzhar is a centre for visiting the backwaters. The backwaters are a long tidal inlet, open to the sea at Kochi, and running south to Alappuzhar, with canal connections all the way to another inlet at Kollam, some 150Km away. In fact, it's a bit too crowded near Alappuzhar, with processions of noisy, motorised houseboats. We had been on an afternoon backwater trip from Kochi, on a small punted boat, with a visit to a small village, and this was most enjoyable. However, in Alappuzhar we stayed in a homestay called Malayalam Resort on the main waterway leading to the town. Here we sat in the shade watching the boats pass and, more enjoyably, seeing a local fisherman dive from his canoe to collect fish from his nets, with numerous birds overhead. Rather than go on a conducted trip, we hired a grotty old canoe and paddled around the nearby channels. Although the backwaters are very rural and tree-lined, they are also highly populated, with houses all along the banks. Each house had its steps down to the water, with the lady of the house doing her washing in the channel. We visited a boatyard where they built and maintained traditional boats - made from planks on edge stitched together with coir and with the gaps filled by more coir laid lengthways, and then painted in a tarry substance probably made from coconut oil. Our canoe didn't leak, but did leave our clothes in a mess!