Bandipur -> Wayanad -> Kozhikode -> Guruvayur -> Cochin -> Periyar
When you enter Kerala via Mysore-Bandipur–Wayanad road, you are stuck by the beauty of the thickly forested path swarming with widlife in Bandipur, and set high expectations for the road ahead. Chances are you will not be disappointed. Kerala has the ability to charm the traveller with a variety of options that draw him back to it again and again. I am no exception – Wayanad has been my favorite region in Kerala and I have already visited it thrice.
But Wayanad by itself is much different from rest of the state. It is more spacious, has good forest cover and open spaces. Its population density is sparse compared to rest of Kerala. But for the fact the people speak different language and have different way of living, it seems like an extension of Coorg. The less exploited Wayanad is a pleasant region and is a great attraction for wildlife lovers and also for laid back travellers who want to spend a few days in the wilderness.
On crossing Bandipur and hitting Wayanad, the contrast between the way of life becomes quickly visible. People on either side of the forest don’t speak the language of the other side(Kannada – Malayalam). It seems as though the forest in the middle has made these people completely apart. Food habits are different too – you don’t get Masala Dosas once you are in Kerala. And people in Karnataka don’t eat Puttu and are not as fond as coconuts as are Keralites. The way tea is made it different too and so is the way water is served in a hotel. Dressing habits of local farmers change too, but not a great deal.
Leave Wayanad and descend to the plains and you are once again in a different world. Population density increases remarkably and you hardly see some free space anywhere around. Drive on the coastal highway for hours and hours and you will see unbroken stretch of towns and villages extending as long as the highway does. There is never a moment on the highway when you are a good 100 meters away from human settlements. We saw many plush houses, buildings and shopping complexes even in smaller towns, and the guess is that most of the money comes in from the gulf. And Keralites in the plains love to show off. Highway is littered with large hoardings all along – at a frequency I have never seen elsewhere. And most of them are about jewelery or expensive silk saris – mostly the stuff you can use to display your wealth.
Tourism can take off well in a region only if people are friendly, and Keralites do seem to be friendly people – at least those in the tourism business we interacted with. When I walked around in Fort Kochi asking for things to do, I was answered by friendly people in tourism industry who explained things clearly with courtesy – a simple, necessary behaviour we often don’t see in rest of India. Also add to that, a lot of Keralites in tourism business seem to be well trained and would have gone through some coaching. I also found that a lot of youngsters are taking up hotel management to work with booming hospitality business.
Unlike most of India where you see plenty of budget travellers, Kerala seems to cater primarily to the travellers at the higher end. The backwaters and the beaches are littered with hundreds of upmarket hotels and resorts and a lot of them can cost Rs.10,000 or more a night. Some activities like staying in a houseboat do not have budget options at all, and prices start only from as much as Rs.2,000 a night. Other activities like Ayurvedic massages can be expensive too. To enjoy a complete Kerala experience, it is probably advisable to head there only after you accumulate some extra money. A wildlife journey can be expensive too, and a short customized trip in Periayr(other than the rides on big boats) can set you back by at least a thousand rupees.
The primary attractions of Kerala are backwaters, ayurvedic massages and the mountains. The backwaters area is huge and is littered by hundreds of hotels and resorts, distributed around Kumarakon, Aleppey and Fort Kochi. Beaches at Varkala and Kovalam also seem to be popular. Mountain region constitutes Munnar, Thekkady and Wayanad. While Wayanad is relatively more peaceful Munnar and Thekkady, like backwaters, are swarming with resorts, hotels and guesthouses. Tourism is a booming business and probably brings more income than any other profession in Kerala.
To be continued..