First Day in India: Kerala beaches and Tamil Nadu traffic

In 2010, I was working with an online education start up called Ukindi. As a part of the development process, I flew over to the South of India to work directly with the engineering team for a week. I did almost no sightseeing, yet it was still one of the most memorable trips in my life thanks to the people, the food and the surroundings. These posts are snippits of that amazing trip!

Arriving in Trivandrum
For most people, the gateway to South India is the international airport of Trivandrum. Or, if you want to challenge the Indian naming, Thiruvananthapuram, located in the well-known State of Kerala. I flew in with Air Asia from Kuala Lumpur. Check the end of this post for intel and tips about that leg of the journey.

I’ll never forget the flight into Trivandrum. India is one of those mythical places in the minds of travelers, and to see it from the air as we followed the coastline from Kanyakumari up to Kerala was really something special. I landed at about 8am, then spent 6 hours retracing the 90Km route by land back to Kanyakumari as shown in the map below.

The less than 90Km drive that took 6 hours. Love it!

The Ultimate Roadtrip
Why did it take 6 hours to do 90Km? Well, as you’ll see in a video a little further down, it’s rather chaotic when you drive through town centers, and there are plenty of small towns on the way. It was also due to the frequent stops by the man who picked me up at the airport, “Sekharan.” Sekharan was the father of Leo Sekharan, whose engineering firm I had flown to work with.

Sekharan was an amazing man. A former university professor, he was full of local knowledge and LOVED showing visitors the sights and sounds of India, so we stopped dozens of times on the journey to see a sight or notice some detail. It was an amazing introduction to the country. Sadly, he passed away since I was there, but I’ll never forget him, or that first day.

Sekharan at one of our many stops in Kerala

Captive Lobsters and the Beaches of Kerala
The first place Sekharan showed me was just outside of Trivandrum. We stopped at the boat pier to have a snack, and also so that Sekharan could pop the trunk and show me the two lobster-looking creatures he’d bought waiting for my flight. They were still alive and kind of reached up to us like you see in the movies when some mafia guys have been locked in the trunk and are about to get whacked. Actually, that might have been more merciful as they definitely weren’t moving after being locked in there for the 6-hour drive home!

Standing on the pier gave me my first glimpse of the Indian sea shore — the Arabian Sea, to be precise (or, possibly imprecise; my geography sucks.) And looking back from the pier I could see the church shown below.

Just outside of Trivandrum, Kerala, India

Yes, that’s a Christian church. I was quite surprised to find out that Christianity is the third most popular religion in India (Thanks, Wikipedia!), particularly in the south. Many of the people who worked in the company had Christian names, like our driver, “David,” and Christian icons were common.

The Beach at Kovalam (கோவளம்)

Moving right along, Sekharan took me to see the beach at Kovalam, which is in the incredibly green and lush State of Kerala. The beaches are decent, but I think the main reason I’ll eventually go stay there is to chill for a couple of weeks and just get to know some of the locals and local culture. It’s incredibly relaxed there, which I’m told is in stark contrast to the larger cities in the north.

Kovalam Beach

Another view of Kovalam Beach

Driving Through Kerala

The thing I loved most about the drive through Kerala was that it was just so green everywhere you looked. Sekharan often stopped the car to show me unique plants, including some kind of snapping plant. We also stopped at quarries, scenic spots, a traditional cremation pit (kinda gross) plus stops for fresh palm-seed juice drinks and other refreshing snacks, including one of my favorites — bananas. And I’m not talking the COSTCO Chikita bananas. India has a billion different types of bananas, and I think I tried them all. Super delicious!

Although I didn’t get much on video, here’s what I did get of the first views of Kerala to the chaotic driving in Tamil Nadu. Their full-time driver, David, was just an awesomely nice guy. But it was tough to communicate as he didn’t speak much English, and my Tamil was non existent. But still we got on like a house on fire. I think it’s because I loved his taste in music. Everywhere we went we had Tamil pops, Tamil hip-hop and Tamil rap blasting in the car. To his credit, Sekharan didn’t mind the music at all.

After hours and hours of the onslaught of sound, smells, dust and new information, my brain started to overload. It really was one of the most full-on sensory experiences I had ever, well, experienced. But before I fall into overstated traveler talk, let’s get back into the photos. This time, a few random pics of Kerala before getting into the “getting there” section.

Kovalam. Green everywhere you look!

Kovalam, India.

And my apologies for the wacky colors in the photos. My camera was on its last legs and whatever part controls the color seems to have packed it in. I welcome any Photoshop gurus who might want to take a crack at the originals (I tried, with the results shown in this post. hmmmm)

This next photo is the same area as in the video. One thing I loved about south India is that the women all wear saris. I mean, everyone. This helps make India one of the most colorful and beautiful places I’ve yet to visit.

The chaos of driving in Tamil Nadu.

And finally the view from my hotel, looking out over the Indian Ocean / Arabian Sea. More details on the “Sparsa” hotel to come in a future post. (I have a sudden urge to scream, “THIS…IS…SPARSA!!!”)

View from the Sparsa hotel in Kanyakumari.

Getting to India via Kuala Lumpur

I flew in by Air Asia from Kuala Lumpur. KL isn’t my favorite place on earth, but it’s convenient as a gateway to South India, and it has some nice views of its own.

View of Petronas Twin Towers from my hotel room

Travel Tips for KL and Air Asia
1. The Air Asia hub airport and KL International Airport are in separate locations that can take up to 30 minutes or more by taxi to transfer. So make sure you have hours between transfer flights.

2. Even if you are flying in and out by Air Asia, since Air Asia is a point-to-point carrier, you almost always have to enter Malaysia, then turn around, check in for your ongoing flight and leave again through immigration, even if you don’t have check-in luggage. This can be a VERY slow process, so again, plan accordingly.

3. KL center is quite a trek from the airports. I found the best way to get in is to take a bus shuttle to the train station and take the train into the city. It’s much faster and less hassle than taking a taxi. Or, if you want to avoid the trip altogether, there’s an Air Asia “Tune” hotel very close to the Air Asia terminal.

Stay tuned for future posts about this trip. If you have ever been to South India and can recommend some great places to stay or visit in Kerala or Tamil Nadu, please leave a comment.