I have only twice, and all to briefly at that, dipped in and out of India. Nonetheless its personality and charm have always stayed with me. The South-West region is the most affluent and logistically facile in terms of transport links and its set up for travellers and tourism. It also has a good range of accommodation options. There is also a strong variety, as is always the case in India of things to do. The region mixes history with archaeology and stunning hill walks and beach life with river cruises – in short all tastes are catered for. This is my run down of the top three things to do. I would also mention a visit to serene Fort Cochin and nearby Cherai Beach, and a walk in the tea plantations in Munnar as fantastic options.
3. Spend a long weekend in Varkala
Varkala beach is one of my favourites places in the world. The beach is essentially split into two sections. The main beach area with sea facing guesthouses, restaurants, a small smattering of bars, gift and book shops dotted across the cliffs and to its southern part a black sand beach. The black sand beach is popular with yoga enthusiasts, especially at sunrise.
Varkala has become a centre for yoga classes with many aspiring teachers from around the world coming to here to learn their craft. Varkala’s peaceful surroundings and vibe, as an almost more chilled out Goa serves as the perfect setting for not only yoga but also a few days R&R.
Unlike many places in India there is a good bar scene here and it’s possible to go dancing until the early hours. Throw in a number of excellent restaurants and its easy to see why Varkala’s burgeoning popularity is all likelihood only going to increase in the coming years.
Accommodation Tip: New Heaven Guesthouse.
Sightseeing: Janardanaswamy Temple with its wall of lanterns.
2. Cruise the Kerala Backwaters from Alleppey
A South-West India classic, this really is a must do. Do not let the flooding of 2018 affect your plans as the backwater cruises are running as usual. There are options here – ranging from hiring a luxurious houseboat for several days with your own chef and crew to doing a day tour in a smaller canoe style cruiser that start from as little as £12. All transport on the backwaters is done by boat so there is no traffic and as such little noise. Your main problem will be dodging the waterlilies as you lazily cruise along. I would recommend going in March when mangoes are in season, and stopping for a chilli mango on banana leaves lunch washed down with fresh coconut juice. Tours can be arranged via your guesthouse, online or at any of the numerous operators.
Accommodation Tip: Try a local homestay.
Beach tip: While you are in Alleppey find Cherai Beach – you won’t be disappointed!
Hampi has long been known as something of a hidden gem amongst travellers. It is a very small town in Karnataka of around 5000 that is best reached via train or bus from Mumbai to Hospet followed by a short rickshaw journey. Guide books will tell you that you may plan for 2-3 days here but end up staying longer. The town’s main sightseeing draw are the numerous Hindu temple ruins dotted in and around the main traveller area. Some are easily reached via bicycle tours, others are a bit more challenging to find but absolutely worthwhile. The town itself is made up of guesthouses and a many good quality restaurants and cafes serving excellent smoothies, fresh juices and lassies and vegetarian food for the most part. Across the river is the “wet” side where alcohol is permitted. This is not the case on the dry side which is in my view a better option. That said, venturing across the river for a scenic and peaceful countryside walk is also a great choice for an afternoon. Hampi’s vibe is so blissfully laid back that after you have taken in all the temples you may well spend a day lounging around the chill out bars with a book. Climbing Matanga Hill to watch the sunrise the left as one exits the main town thoroughfare is another travellers favourite activity.
Accommodation Tip: The Dry side, with one night on the wet side (if you’re so inclined!).
The best time to visit this region is November – March. By late March temperatures in the day time are into the mid thirties. This is less of an issue in Varkala where the sea breeze will cool you nicely.