As mentioned, we’d booked a bespoke tour from someone on the internet and paid a deposit to what appeared to be a personal account. They answered all our questions and tuned it to what we wanted, but even so we were not entirely sure the company was genuine!
However, the on leaving the challenge we took a train to Kollum and then a pre-booked rickshaw to Munroe Island to a homestay, and our contact stayed in touch throughout, ensured we found the right train and all was OK.
Firstly, the train was amazingly simple and quick, and the station was cleaner and calmer than any in London. Total surprise! We expected organised chaos. The homestay however was, well, poor. Adequate maybe, but massively overpriced laundry that was barely washed, and home cooked food that was very expensive for not much tasteless basics. Its all about location I guess, and not much better around… But not a good start to this part of the tour. On Munroe island its all about quiet jungle and boating on canals, so we had a trip on the canal which was pleasant. The owner was very much a wide-eyed starer too – so probably some drugs involved. Glad to go.
Slightly concerned about the quality of our tour, we were glad our driver arrived on time and took us to Alleppey for a cruise/night on a houseboat. The random internet person came to meet us which was nice, phew. These boats are obviously tourist biased and we had no idea what was included on our tour as we never looked or asked. Some boats were tiny/poor, some big, some shared and some groups. Hugely pleasant surprise to find we had a large boat, captain and chef, and just us on it in a lovely ensuite AC room and sundeck. The guys could not do enough for us, and the food was totally amazing. The cruise around the backwaters was equally pleasant, just chilled site-seeing. Hugely recommended, and redeemed some points for the tour 🙂
Following day, over fed and fit to burst, we just dropped to a homestay in Alleppey town, explored the town and beach and just explored a bit. Homestay was brilliant, clean and large, and the only complaint was we were too full to try their cooking! A snack in town was all we needed for the day but still felt a bit porkie. The snack was in a very local eatery so always a gamble but we recognised a dish (Dosa Masala) and picked that for a safe bet. The beach could’ve been stunning, but instead was dated and sadly full, and I mean full, of rubbish.
(Kindly, the guest house took all our donations that failed to get to the Round Table to a local Orphanage)
From Alleppey we moved onto Thekkady inland in the mountains, mainly to see the national park and countryside. Quite a long drive – time rather than distance, and almost constant curves. Very slow going. We explored a bit and ended up at a martial arts show that was ok, cheap enough and entertaining, but didn’t blow your socks off. There was also a cultural dance show that we skipped which was fortunate as exactly the same shows ran at our next stop!
We managed to get into the national park for a nature walk which fortunately was short, and fortunately the other couple we randomly bumped into wanting to do the same thing (minimum group size) – one was recovering from a broken foot – so it was a short slow and steady walk ideal for Mel. This was just a short entry into the park across a bamboo raft, and seeing some interesting trees, plants and a few animals.
Our final stop with the organised Kerala tour package was Munnar which is the heart of the tea plantations, very busy town and market and stunning landscapes throughout – albeit with slight Indian haze. Here we were grateful for having a car driver on hand as its hilly and all sites are too far (and silly) to walk. The tea museum was very poor compared to the Lipton one in Sri Lanka, and really not worth bothering with.
The second day in Munnar turned out to be a lemon. On all trips, there is always a day or two that doesn’t work out – and this was it! We planned a few things to – the first one was to visit a spice garden, and Mel chose a paid one to minimise hassle, which was really interesting, but then the tour inevitably ends up in the shop where you are made to feel awkward if you don’t buy anything. We didn’t but as we paid to see gardens, conscience is clear! But even so, was a PITA.
The second stop was a park/viewpoint at the top of the mountains at a dam – but little did we know it was a public holiday so 10000s of people were driving up the twisty road and we must’ve been queuing for well over an hour, and when we got out it was just too busy to enjoy, so turn around. Our driver realising our time was almost up was starting to try and get us to go to all the tourist shops where they get commission which got a little tiresome so we just got back to the hotel bored of sitting in queues. Evening entertainment was the cultural dance (same as Thekkady) conveniently behind the hotel. But it was dire! Could not relate to it at all, not really entertaining, and very poor am-dram quality. The only positive is that it finished in an hour – and there was a good 4G signal. Urgh.
And that ends the organised tour….! Was it great? Errr… Probably not – but its exactly what we asked for, delivered well, and was fairly priced. The driver on hand was very useful and saved lots of walking and hassle, and the overnight stops (except Munroe Island) were great. But in hindsight the route was hugely inefficient and there wasn’t a huge amount of “super” sights to see – but can’t complain as the route was tuned to our requests and we’ve seen too many places on travels to be wowed by “average” things. Due to the low chance of us actually coming, we never really looked and planned anything in advance and never really considered the locations or distances/times between place.
So very nice, very pleasant and we enjoyed what we saw, but didn’t blow our pants off. But would we recommend the tour company? Yes. But do take longer than we did to plan the order or stops!