Places visited: Trivandrum, Kollam, Amritapuri, Allappuzha, Fort Kochi/Ernakulam.
After a fantastic 2 weeks in Poovar over New Years with my family, it was time for us to head back to reality. We enquired at the resort about a taxi to Trivandrum and the price they quoted was 1600 Rupees (£21), this was too much. Instead we managed to bag a free lift to Poovar Bus Station, a 5 minute drive after getting off the boat from the resort, with the bus to Trivandrum costing 22 Rupees (£0.28) and taking just over an hour. We were not originally planning on spending a night in Trivandrum but Holly had an issue with her 12 Month Working Holiday Visa application for New Zealand. Because we had been in countries that were not classified as ‘Low Risk TB’ for a combined total of over 3 months, she had to provide a chest X-ray in order to prove she didn’t have TB. As you can imagine this was great fun to sort out in the middle of India… but we managed to do it. There are only certain hospitals which are approved by New Zealand (you can find the list on the NZ Visa website) and one of these was in Trivandrum, The Kerala Institute of Medical Science. I had rung up 2 days previous and booked her an appointment, as she had no luck with them answering on the phone. The appointment was at 10:00 in the Visa Medical section of the hospital on the 9th Floor. We turned up at 09:00 and she was called in at 09:30 and we were out by 11:15. If you just need a chest X-Ray it costs 1200 Rupees (£15) and for the full body medical scan it costs around 5400 Rupees (£68), a lot cheaper then having it completed in England. In fact if you need a full body medical scan I think its cheaper to obtain an Indian Visa, book a return flight and have the scan done, then it is to have it done in England. When I was 18 I applied for one before I went to New Zealand and needed a full body medical as I was diabetic and I seem to remember them trying to charge me £800. I could be wrong, it was a long time ago. All I know is that I cancelled my Working Visa Application and got a Tourist Visa instead. India is part of the e-medical scheme so the X-ray and form were both sent electronically by the hospital, meaning she didn’t have to visit the embassy to submit the forms herself. The Visa cost £113 + £15 for the X-ray, not too bad for a year’s Visa and to follow her dream, anyway I digress.From Trivandrum the bus to Kollam costs 62 Rupees (£0.78) and takes around an hour and a half. We headed to a hostel that was recommended in the Lonely Planet books, Karuna Residency and it was disgusting. It was very cheap and we could see why, there was no way we were going to stay in there. We proceeded to walk around for an hour, as every hostel/hotel we visited was full. We eventually found Hotel Zodiac Regency which costs 1200 Rupees (£15, £7.50 each) for the night, which we were not too happy to pay but we had no other option. The hotel was lovely, with fantastic food in the adjoining restaurant and only a 5 minute walk from the dock where we were planning to catch a boat the following morning. Even though it was a little over what we wanted to pay I’m very happy that we did, I didn’t want to stay in another crack den.We ventured down to the dock to enquire about the boat to Alappuzha (Alleppey), with the intention of stopping in Amritapuri first for a 2 day stay in an Ashram. Five different people told us that the government boat wasn’t running and was under repair, including three in the ticket office and the man in the Tourist Centre. I still didn’t believe them, I think they were all I’m cahoots with each other. The government boat was due to leave at 10:30, costing 170 Rupees to Amritapuri and 400 Rupees to Alleppey. We arrived at the dock at 10:10 the following morning to see if the government boat turned up and were told by another 3 people that it wasn’t running. We were offered a place on a private, 30 person boat for 300 Rupees to Amritapuri but were told we had to get on and leave straight away. I didn’t know what to do, they were trying to charge me £1.60 more and I knew the bus would cost under a pound. It seemed weird that they wanted to get away before 10:30, when the government boat was meant to turn up, but I really wanted to get the boat. For me it wasn’t worth the risk to see if they were lying, when 8 different people told me the same thing, and it was only £1.60 more. The boat journey was brilliant, sailing down the backwaters with palm trees either side and it is definitely something you should do if in the area. We arrived at Amritapuri at 13:00, after a 30 minute break for lunch in a hotel on the river. The lunch was a very nice all you can eat buffet costing 125 Rupees and I would definitely recommend eating there, mainly because if you are heading to the Ashram, lunch would have finished by the time you arrive. To read about my time in the Ashram take a look at my Amritapuri Ashram – The Hugging Mother post.From the Ashram we decided to take a bus the rest of the way to Allappuzha as it is quicker and cheaper then the boat. We had already had 3 backwater boat experiences so opted for the bus. There are 2 options from the Ashram, catching a rickshaw to Kayamkulam Bus Station, 14km north for 250 Rupees, or 10km south to Karungapally Bus Station for 200 Rupees. We chose to pay the 50 Rupees more as we were heading north and didn’t want to go back on ourselves. The bus ticket cost 42 Rupees and arrived in Allappuzha after an hour and a half. When we boarded the bus there was only one seat available, so obviously being the gentleman that I am I let Holly sit down. I ended up standing at the front next to our fantastically dangerous driver. He spent more time on the wrong side of the road, he’s speedometer didn’t work and his rev counter was stuck on 1500 revs, no matter how fast he went… he went faaaaaasssst. Once in Allappuzha a Rickshaw from the bus station to the beach costs 70 Rupees. I asked around for a bus to the beach but everyone said it didn’t exist. Allappuzha itself was quite disappointing. The area down by the beach is a big building site, I imagine it used to be nice but it looks like they are building a bridge, which has ruined the area. We rented bicycles for 100 Rupees for the day and cycled along the canals which was quite nice but I wouldn’t recommend going unless you are starting or ending your backwater experience. There is nothing much to the temples and not an awful lot to do, as we’d already experienced the backwaters we didn’t fancy doing it again.From Allappuzha we caught a bus to Ernakulam, our last stop in Kerala before a night train to Goa. We caught a Rickshaw to the bus station and found a bus that looked like a city bus from England. It had comfortable seats and an electronic board displaying Ernakulam, a lot different from the beat up old buses we had been on before. We decided to go for it. The journey was very pleasant, however it was double the price of the beat up old buses, costing a whopping 119 Rupees (£1.48) for the 1 hour and 45 minute journey. We decided to stay in Ernakulam in John’s Residency, a nice little hotel a 5 minute walk from the dock (to catch a boat to Fort Kochi) and only a 30 Rupee Rickshaw ride from Ernakulam Central Train Station, where we were boarding a night train to Goa. The boat to Fort Kochi costs 4 Rupees and leaves every 15 minutes or so. There is a ladies queue and a gentleman’s queue and each person can buy up to 3 tickets, which was handy for us as the gentleman’s queue was very long, so Holly was near the front of the Ladies queue cutting the queuing time considerably. Fort Kochi is a lovely area, a mixture of France, Portugal and England, with lots of nice cafes, art galleries and shops to fill your day. My favourite cafe was called The Teapot Cafe which served over 18 varieties of tea in a lovely building resembling Yorkshire. Another lovely place was Kashi Art Cafe which serves a fantastic Granola with fresh yoghurt and fruits, and the portion is massive. Of course Fort Kochi is not all about the cafes, it’s a lovely little town to walk around, see some Chinese fishing nets in action and just relax in the quiet yet bustling seaside town. It was a lovely ending to our time in Kerala and we are now heading North to Goa to see what else this amazing country has to offer.