Off I Go- On a week of backpacking around Kerala
“Should I wait till your friends are here, Madam?” asks the waiter at the huge and empty Friends Cafe in Fort Kochi when I signal him to take my order. “No friends. It’s just me”, I reply, to which he smiles sympathetically, eyes full of pity, before jotting down the order in his notebook. This was a routine during all meals in the seven days that I spend backpacking around Kerala, and truth be told, it was pretty condescending. But as I recall this, I remember that the same trip also introduced me to Sangeetha in an artifacts Shop in Varkala who proudly gifted me a small wooden elephant from her display for being the only (solo) female Indian backpacker she had met lately.
A lot of women from across the world travel on their own to discover India, but Indian women are still hesitant in making the decision of wandering solo around their own country. I was apprehensive myself but too many trips, too many festivals and too many chances had been missed out solely owing to the lack of company and it was time to be brave.
Before I could be completely sure and begin to pack my bags, I wanted to take care of the most difficult part in my opinion – accommodation. In India, you either have to splurge your pocket empty or pay peanuts and compromise on safety. Let me surprise you a little here, like I was, when I first discovered “Vedanta Wake Up!” a chain of backpacking hotels with four properties in Kerala. Booking a bed in a female dormitory here is arguably the most fun and economical decision I have ever made. Complete with a TV, books, Wi-Fi, air conditioner, espresso machine and board games, I met the most interesting travelers here. It is here that I sat explaining the concept of arranged marriage to a chef from New York who just wouldn’t grasp the idea; and here that I had a five-hour long conversation with my roommate, a student from North Hampshire, about being a woman in India among other fun and soul-stirring things. When walking alone on the streets past 9 pm is considered a silly thing to do, the backpacking hotel appears as your savior!
Once I knew I had a safe place to bunk at night, I was prepared to tire myself crazy during the days by exploring the beautiful state of Kerala as best as I could in a week. Not so surprisingly, my choice of accommodation became the factor around which I decided which towns to go to. I knew that, of the four Kerala towns that Vedanta Wake Up had properties in, Fort Kochi was going to occupy the first few days of my itinerary. The next preference was to be made from between the very famous coastal town of Kovalam, the backwater paradise of Allepey and the small town of Varkala. Of the four, Varkala was the one that I hadn’t read about earlier but that only made me more curious to go ahead and discover it myself. I finally decided to choose it over its other famous contenders.
As I recall the week now, I must say that the trip was everything I had hoped it would be and much more. It taught me so much. One of the most essential lessons I learnt being, never Google a destination too much and let yourself be surprised. The surprise, trust me, can never be very appalling considering how unique every nook and corner of India is. Even though Fort Kochi is spoken of as a unique cultural amalgamation of Indian and European cultures, little did I know that I would see cafes with modern art and streets with the most gorgeous Bungalows there. Varkala, similarly, left me spell-bound with its cliff beach and lagoons hidden behind backwaters that made the most stunning view from a dead-end construction site. All Google images were put to shame in comparison!
Another lesson was learnt while hungrily gorging on grilled fish in the company of the chirpy couple that owned the tiny restaurant in Varkala I was eating at. Sometimes, with the intention of keeping safe, we distant ourselves from the most interesting opportunities. Had I not decided to take local buses from Fort Cochin to go to the eco village called Kumbalangi, in spite of being advised against it for being a waste of time, I would have never shared a meal of clam curry and rice with the priests or had a great conversation about the way of life in villages there with a kind Deacon named Siju Solomon. While in Varkala, I was initially crept out by the way everyone said hi and wanted to make conversation. But the next evening, I walked the same route and probably made conversation with the same people only to talk about my hometown and in turn learn about theirs, which made me see how people from as far as Nepal and Kashmir had settled there. Today, it all makes up for the most interesting of my travel stories just because I began to breathe and trust the people around me a little bit. It is important to be careful, no doubt, but not at the expense of missing out on experiences.
As I write this, I am heading for another trip, this time to the north of the country. I pack my bags with the hope that I meet people like I did back in Kerala there, ‘cause then even if I am a little scared, I’ll know that I’d be safe.
|Want to backpack across these two towns of Kerala? Read on.
Fly to Cochin International Airport from all major Indian cities or alternatively take a Konkan Railway train to experience 20 hours of the scenic journey.To reach Fort Kochi, take the most affordable and convenient option – A/C Orange Bus operated by KSRTC that leaves the airport at regular intervals.To reach Varkala, take a jetty from Fort Kochi to Ernakulam. To cover the four-hour on ward distance, reach Ernakulam Junction and buy an instantly available ticket for any train going towards Trivandrum, since they all have a stop at Varkala.A bed in Vedanta Wake Up! can easily be reserved online, but make sure to do so in advance. Eat/drink in Cafe del Mar in Varkala and Kashi Art Cafe in Fort Kochi.