Auto rickshaw, the small three-wheeled 3-seater taxi painted black and yellow, popularly known as tuk tuk, is not only a rage among tourists but also among the local travelers as a handy and cheap travel option over short distances. There are many city dwellers who depend on autos to travel to and fro their workplaces and homes, to drop their school going kids or to go about their daily shopping errands. Auto is cheaper than taxi and is a good option to inch your way through the crowded streets of cities like Kochi where traffic snarls are the order of the day. The city roads would have been so different but for these noisy vehicles that come to our aid when we are stuck up at the middle of no where!
Simple and swift, these breezy vehicles are well suited to travel even through narrow roads, and it is difficult to spot a road in Kerala where autos don’t ply! Decked up in floral garlands and the pictures of an array of gods and goddesses every auto oozes an innate local flavour. The sprawling open windows on both sides would allow you to take a peek at the sights and sounds around unlike in a sealed air conditioned cab. Much to the delight of the tourists, most of the auto drivers double up as travel guides and explain about the various tourist attractions on the way as the vehicle winds its way further down the road.
This converted scooter, built to carry two to three people, is indeed a convenient travel option over a short distance that too at a small fee. However the charm of these handy transport options are being overly marred by the growing complaints of auto drivers fleecing the commuters, refusing to go on short trips, plying without meters and behaving rudely to the customers among many others. Though the shadow police do take the erring drivers into custody, it has not done anything to solve the city travel woes of the hapless commuters.
However, this does not mean that all of them are bad. There are auto drivers who comply with meter readings and offer a helping hand to the ailing and the aged travelers; however the bad reputation brought in by a majority of them, will remain as a blotch on the popularity of this handy public transport option that is a boon for budget travelers.
Punnamada lake, the venue of the fabled Nehru Trophy boat race has been a beehive of activities for the last few days as snake boats, each rowed by over 100 oarsmen in quick unison started their practice sessions, ahead of the grand competition on Aug 13. The last few days marked a surge in the number of tourists arriving at the Punnamada lake to witness this unique water sport.
The snake boat race is something exceptional to Kerala and the length of a snake boat varies from 120 feet to 140 feet and will have about 120 oarsmen, who will display a marvelous spectacle of rowing in unison well complemented by high pitched songs and resonant drum beats to add up to the mood. 16 snake boats and around 40 small boats will be participating this year in the 59th edition of the race, which is being sponsored by a single sponsor for over 2.50 Crore, which incidentally is the highest ever. Another highlight of this year’s event is that one of the snake boats of United Boat Club, Kainakary has roped in a group of 51 soldiers from the Madras Engineering Group in its team of oarsmen.
The boat race, which dates back to 1952 was held as an impromptu race in honour of the then Indian prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru who visited the state. Nehru, who was thrilled by the performance of the oarsmen had suggested to make it an annual event. On returning to Delhi, Nehru donated a silver trophy, a replica of a snake boat placed on a wooden abacus with an inscription and his signature, which is awarded to the winners in the snake boat race.
Preparations are in full swing and Alappuzha is getting braced up for the event, which is one of the most popular events in Kerala itinerary among tourists, including foreigners. So, make sure to be there to be part of this excepting spectacle, which is not seen anywhere else in India. It is interesting to note that it was featured in the online creative venture of the New Zealand community, the big idea, which shows its universal appeal and popularity.
Many of India’s not-to-miss tourist experiences like a stay at the Lake Palace or a ride on the Palace on Wheels are often noted as something which does not fit the budget of the middle-class. However, the economic slowdown has brought about a great change to the wishes and taste of the ordinary people to exploit and enjoy at least one experience within their reach — Kerala’s houseboats.
For long sought after by the rich foreign tourists, the backwater cruise industry in Kerala has woken up to new levels with the help of domestic tourists who had virtually kept it afloat when the waves of the global economic slowdown had hit hard on the Indian shores by 2008-end.
Now cheaper by atleast 20 per cent (if not more), than the period preceding the slowdown- An overnight cruise through the coconut lagoon is an experience which even the National Geographic Traveler has ranked ahead of viewing the Taj Mahal. At present a single bedroom houseboat can be hired along with all the meals for a couple at just Rs 6000 a day whereas there were days when the same ride would have cost one Rs 10.000- 15,000. These overnight cruises provide as much pleasure to tourists as compared to a ride on the Palace on Wheels; something that beats above the eyes of an ordinary tourist and would cost around Rs 2,00,000 per person per week.
India’s longest lake spread of over 1,512 sq.Km- the Vembanad Lake is where the typical backwater cruise takes tourists on a 40-km journey, with a stopover at night by idyllic fishing villages where people and tourists alike can shop from a floating market ‘Triveni’ operated by Kerala Consumerfed. With rates no longer being restricted, the cruises are likely to attract a lot of interest from the northern states, especially from Maharashtra, Delhi, Gujarat and Haryana. Based on their budget, tourists can make their choice from one, two and three bedroom houseboats. Motherships (i.e. houseboats with ten bedrooms) suit those who love luxury perfectly.
There are plans to create new landing points between Ernakulum and Alappuzha by the end of 2010-11 to ensure that crowds are avoided and do not spoil the fun. Adding to this, new backwater circuits in Kayankulam and Astamudi are also developed, so that people from Thiruvanthapuram in the South need not travel all the way up to Alappuzha for a backwater cruise. Listed among the world’s ten ‘Enchanting Escapes’ by AsiaSpa, the spa and the resort magazine- Kerala’s houseboats are quite in demand amongst the tourists and are also evenly spreading out delivering their premium experience to many.
The KTDC has taken steps to provide all materials of the GKSF at hotels, resorts and other units of the corporation spread across the State. Tourists who check in at KTDC properties in December and January (the peak tourist months in Kerala) will be motivated to visit the establishments that are partners of the GKSF. The GKSF authorities have asked the establishments who have become partners of the 45-day festival to distribute the coupons to the shoppers only from December 1. The GKSF authorities have also urged the festival partners to give wide publicity to the prizes and organise inauguration celebrations at the local level on December 1. Mahindra and Mahindra have joined hands with the GKSF by becoming gift sponsor of the shopping festival.
Kochi: The list of ‘firsts’ to the credit of Kochi seems unabated and the latest in the list is the proposed marina coming up on the Bolgatty Palace Hotel premises. Set up by the Kerala Tourism Development Corporation this eco friendly project is estimated to cost Rs.8.25-crore of which the Union government had already provided Rs.4 Crores. The first phase of the Marina is expected to be completed in 18 months.
The project will provide docking and maintenance facilities for the yachts on five acres of land. The three-storey marina house, inspired by the Dutch Palace architectural style will be the world’s first marina with a golf course as well. This marina, on completion will provide an impetus to tourism and water sports as it will ensure a convenient whistle stop to all yachts on the transit from the Middle East to the Far East. It will have a facility to accommodate 50 luxury yachts in the first phase, which is sure to bring in more seafarers to Kochi in the near future.
The advent of Marina will ensure the overall development of the area. Fuel stations and facilities to provide water and electricity to the yachts will be built on the side of the marina house all the while keeping the unique naturescapes and ecological equations of the region intact. A wooden plank that juts right into the backwaters would allow the visitors to sneak peek into the yachts. In addition, health clubs and guest rooms for well heeled tourists have also been proposed.
The proposed marina is not just a shot in the arm for the KTDC entity of Bolgatty Hotel but also would generate many jobs in the boat repairing and construction segment as well. KTDC has taken the issues of enhancing drinking water facilities and rain water harvesting on top priority. The proposed marina is expected to enable Kochi to carve a niche on its own in the world tourist map.
Guruvayur: The famous elephant shelter where over 65 elephants owned by Guruvayoor Sri Krishna temple devaswom are housed is all set to get a major facelift. With over 4 crores development aid from the Central Government in the anvil, this ambitious project is expected to complete in 11 months according to Tourism Secretary V Venu. Though the fund allotment of the project was completed way back in 2006 the work made little head way all these years due to an array of minor snags. The work was assigned to Kitco and now it is expected to pick up pace to ensure completion of the first phase in a time bound manner.
Punnathur Kotta is considered the single largest congregation of domesticated elephants in the world. Located at Kottapadi, 3 km away from Guruvayur temple, all these elephants were offered to the temple by the ardent devotees of Lord Krishna. The 10 acre elephant park set in a sprawling 10 acre compound is open to public where they can watch the timeless charm of these magnificent animals at close quarters and can see them being fed and bathed. There are six female elephants and two tuskless males and the rest are male tuskers.
This compound also has a naalu kettu, the traditional Kerala home in rectangular shape with an open central courtyard, which originally belonged to the Punnathur Raja. However now these remain in a bad condition for want of maintenance. En route to Punnathoorkotta visitors also stop by the giant sculpture of the legendary temple elephant, Guruvayur Kesavan.