A Photographers Guide To Kerala
Kerala is a beautiful part of Southern India. It’s mix of tropical beaches and waterways and the cooler foothills mean a great variety of culture and wildlife. This was my first experience of India and from what other travellers told me it is definitely one of the most relaxed parts of the country. The foothills are a mix of tea and spice plantations as well as large areas of natural jungle along the Western Ghats. Kerala is probably most famous for its house boats on the backwaters of Alleppey but there are other places we visited that are just as interesting and slightly cooler which is more to my taste!
What Camera Equipment To Take
This can be difficult to decide in India because there is so much to see. It would be nice to take all your camera equipment but you will soon regret it once your carrying it all around in the heat. I’d recommend a good lens you can use for portraits and landscapes like the Nikon 24-70mm and then a good zoom or telephoto like the Nikon 70-200mm or 300mm for the wildlife. It’s probably worth taking a travel tripod as well as well for some of the landscapes, rivers and night time exposures. Battery life shouldn’t be an issue in the warm weather but charging your batteries can be as the electricity supply is not always constant so take a few spares and charge them when you get chance.
Guided Tours Vs Exploring On Your Own
In India I would always say travelling on your own is much cheaper and you can essentially go and see the same things that you might pay thousands to see if you book the full trip before you go. I would recommend researching the places you would like to visit and maybe booking your first hotel before you set off. Once your in an area you can usually book anything you want to do locally. We met a tuctuc driver on the second day who just gave us his number and said to call him anytime we needed to go anywhere. He also recommended places to visit and took us to some less well known places that we would never have found otherwise.
Thekkady & The Periyar Tiger Reserve
Thekkady is a small town on the edge of the Periyar Tiger Reserve in the foothills of the Western Ghats. It’s about 4 hours from Cochin by taxi. Your chances of seeing a Tiger are slim but there is still some amazing wildlife to see! The area has numerous tea plantations as well as a lot of jungle area, most of which is off limits for your own safety as much as for safety of the wildlife. Most of the guided walks and the areas you can visit are no more than 5 miles into the Tiger Reserve but there is no need to worry because even the edges of the reserve are rich in Wildlife. You can book tours locally and there is everything from guided walks to rafting and boat trips. In the town you will see the Bonnet Macaques loitering in the streets and we were even lucky enough to spend an afternoon on our balcony with a troop of Nilgiri Langur Monkeys in the trees directly opposite. In the town there is Kalarippayattu Centre which does regular displays of this impressive martial art and it’s definitely worth a visit, there is even the opportunity to have a go yourself at the end. Thekkady also has a a few Elephant centres if you have not been lucky enough to see them in the nature reserve you can see them here but be warned they are captive Elephants which were used for logging but since the introduction of more modern forestry methods there Mahoots now take tourists for rides with the option to help feed and bathe the Elephants afterwards. They all seem well treated but obviously it’s always better to see them in the wild!
Tea Plantations and Foothills Of The Western Ghats
The foothills of the Western Ghats are a very rural and relaxed place compared to other parts of India. There are numerous Tea and Spice plantations surrounded by endless jungle. Most people are happy to have their picture taken but it’s always good to ask first and it’s always polite to tip them for letting you take a picture, although they might not always want money. At one plantation all they wanted in return for us taking pictures was some pens for their children to use. Nearly everyone we met was friendly and happy to talk to us and often people would run up wanting there picture taken. Even if you’re not a big tea drinker it’s still worth visiting some of the plantations.
The Backwaters Of Kerala
Probably the most famous area of Kerala is the Backwaters. The endless stretch of waterways is teeming with life from the birds and other wildlife to the people that live along the waters edge. Compared to the foothills the heat is much more noticeable, and one of the river cruises is a perfect way to spend a day or more if you choose to stay on one of the house boats. Alleppey or Allappuzha is the nearest city with numerous temples and other places to visit but for the relaxation and wildlife it’s best to spend your time on the backwaters. You’ll be able to stop of for fresh coconuts, watch the endless array of birds and see the locals going about their day.
The Beaches Of Cochin
Not far from Cochin (Kochi) is Vypin (Vypeen) Island. The long stretches of beach have numerous small hotels and some beautiful views over the ocean with endless rows of palm trees and large Chinese fishing nets around the harbours and estuaries. It’s worth booking a few days here but remember to dress modestly on the beach as most tourists will be Indian and while you will be ok sunbathing in shorts or a bikini in the hotel area it’s respectful to be more covered up on the public beaches. It’s worth going down to the beach for the sunset and to watch the hundreds of Brahminy Kites that circle the fishing boats. Most hotels and restaurants will have a few as pets so you are likely to get a close encounter with these birds at some point.
Weather & Seasons
There are two main monsoon periods in Kerala and they are not as intense and constant as further north. We travelled in February when it was fairly dry weather but I’ve been told there is also a lot of wildlife to see during the Monsoon seasons of June and October. It really depends what your intrested in seeing as the temperatures are pretty warm all year round.
There are plenty of hotels and home stays costing as little as £10 a night. I’d say the home stays are the best places to stay as they are always very welcoming. If you’re staying in Alleppey or Cochin it’s worth paying the extra for an air conditioned room! In the foothills a room with a fan is normally enough.
Cost Of Meals
Meal costs are relatively cheap and you can probably live on about £10 a day per person if you’re on a budget. Coconut is in most things in Kerala and you can buy them fresh nearly anywhere. I’d recommend sticking to the rice and vegetable dishes on the whole but there are a few expat restaurants where you can pizza and other things.