Kerala - Trekking the Western Ghats

India

Activity | Culture

Explore this UNESCO biodiversity hotspot on foot

13 days £2,145 pp This is the per person group tour price, based on 2 sharing. The price is subject to change with exchange rate and flight cost fluctuations.
Dates & Prices

Intro

Trek through Kerala and experience its peaks, valleys and backwaters. Wander through Munnar's verdant tea gardens, venture to the pools of the mighty Valara Waterfalls, and cruise the maze of canals in Alleppey. Visit the vibrant spice town of Thekkady and view the beautiful blanket of flowers in Meesapulimala's Rhododendron Valley. Cross over into Tamil Nadu to marvel at the Meenakshi Temple.

TOUR HIGHLIGHTS

  • Munnar's verdant tea gardens
  • Rhododendron Valley of the striking Meesapulimala peak
  • Visit Kolukkumalai - the world's highest tea estate
  • The towering Meenakshi Temple in Madurai
  • Spice plantation tour in Thekkady
  • Safari in Periyar National Park
  • Cruise backwaters of Alleppey

Places Visited

Cochin - Munnar - Suryanelli Village - Meesapulimala - Ellapatti Village - Madurai - Thekkady - Periyar National Park - Kumili Village - Kumarakom - Alleppey - Marari

What's Included

Arrival & departure transfers
Ground transport with driver
Domestic flights (if relevant - refer to itinerary)
Accommodation
Meals (refer to itinerary for meal plan)
English-speaking guides
Entrance fees to sites & parks
Itinerary
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Day 1 : Cochin

On arrival in the morning pick-up and transfer to hotel. The rest of the day is free and you can choose to take it easy after your long flight, or take part in a guided sightseeing tour which will depart from the hotel. Cochin’s winding streets are crammed with 500-year-old Portuguese houses, synagogues, palaces and forts, spread over a charming cluster of islands and narrow peninsulas. Accompanied by a knowledgeable city guide, we will visit the Mattancherry Palace and watch the Chinese fishing nets in action from the waterfront Vasco da Gama Square. There is plenty of opportunity too for souvenir buying today. After the tour, the rest of the afternoon is free for relaxing or further independent exploration.

Overnight in Tea Bungalow, Cochin

Meal plan: Lunch & dinner

Cochin, the 'Queen on the Arabian Sea', is a major port city that was once a much-prized pawn for the English, Portuguese and Dutch due to its strategic location and prominence in the lucrative spice trade. This history of foreign colonies has resulted in a diverse culture, with European influences visible in much of Cochin's architecture and overall development, aiding it to become the commercial and industrial capital of Kerala. 

The Mattancherry Palace, also known as the Dutch Palace, is situated in Cochin. The Portuguese palace was gifted to the king of Cochin in around 1555. Today, the palace is a portrait gallery, which is home to some of the best mythological murals in India - including Kerala murals that depict scenes from the historic kingdom of Cochin. 

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Day 2 : Cochin - Munnar

This morning, we drive up into the Western Ghats, passing through lush jungle low-down and then through a dramatic forested gorge, with impressive waterfalls at Valara. After a stop for lunch at a roadside restaurant, we arrive at the former hill station of Munnar, founded by the British during the period of colonial rule. After checking in to our hotel, we will go out to do some exploring around the town. There are many small shops, a covered bazaar area and a colourful Hindu temple. 

Meal plan: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

Munnar, located at 1,650m above sea-level, is the most breathtakingly-beautiful hill station on the Western Ghats. The area's pristine green valleys and mountains provide the perfect setting for anyone in search of peace and tranquility. Believed to mean ‘three rivers’, Munnar used to be the favourite summer resort of the British rulers during colonial days. It is the tea plantation capital of India and the local Eravikulam National Park, home to the endangered Nilgiri Tahr mountain goat, is a popular destination for visitors.

Valara Waterfalls lie hidden amongst the jungles, not far from Cochin. Velara features a chain of waterfalls, where mighty cascades of water flow down rocky steps into a tranquil pool. The dense rainforests are home to a rich array of flora and fauna, including beautifully vibrant birds.

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Day 3 : Munnar - Kolukkumalai

It takes about an hour to drive to the start of our trek, close to the village of Suryanelli (1550m). Setting off on foot, we follow a tea estate road through stands of eucalyptus trees (planted to provide firewood for the tea factories). We soon reach a pretty tea plantation village, complete with both a church and a Hindu temple. Beyond the village, the estate roads deteriorate and we find ourselves amongst the fields of tea bushes, which present a unique and very attractive landscape. If we are lucky we will encounter groups of colourful tea pickers, as we climb gradually towards the upper end of the Devikulam Tea Estate. Finally, we reach a ridge at around 2200-metres where the ground falls away to the north and east between dramatic rocky peaks. After a total of 4 hours very steady walking, we reach our campsite above the Kolukkumalai tea estate and factory. Our trek crew have driven to this camp by 4WD vehicle, the tents are already set up and tea and biscuits soon follow. After a chance to sort out our tents, we can hike down to the Kolukkumalai factory and have a quick guided tour of the various processes which are needed to turn the fresh green leaf into the finished product. This is reputedly the highest grown tea in the world and you can buy a bag at source. Returning to our camp, we have dinner in the mess tent and maybe enjoy a bonfire.

Meal plan: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

The Kolukkumalai Tea Estate was established in the 1900s by a Scottish planter and it is thought that little has changed. The estate continues to use the orthodox methods of tea processing, which it has been practising since the colonial era. It lies at an altitude of almost 8000 ft above sea level, and as such, it is thought to be the highest tea plantation in the world. 

The village of Suryanelli is surrounded by the rolling valleys of tea plantations. Its name translates in Tamil to 'no sun' as, long before human settlement, the area was covered by dense forests which prevented sunlight from reaching the land's surface. Today, many of the villages who live here are Tamil speaking Hindus, who live a traditionally rural way of life. 

Devikulam Tea Estate was established in 1900, and is thought to be one of the most ancient plantations in the region. Devikulam sprawls over an area of over 200 hectares, along the National Highway. Visitors can see the traditional production of tea, from picking leaves to brewing. 

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Day 4 : Kolukkumalai - Meesapulimala

Our camp is in a spectacular spot, facing east and looking out over the lowlands of Tamil Nadu. Given clear early morning conditions, the sunrise here is fantastic, with the sun framed by dramatic peaks. An early wake-up is recommended. After breakfast, we set out to skirt above the Kolukkumalai plantation to reach the open grassland that rises to Meesapulimala's upper slopes we can just see the top of this peak from camp. Leaving the tea estate behind, we trek for a short while through luxuriant 'shola' to rest and, once again, as this is a reserve area, we have a Forest Service guide who will show us an astounding number of weird and wonderful plant species. A short, sharp 250-metre grass slope leads to the top of Meesapulimala (2600m), which stands on the border between Kerala and Tamil Nadu and offers 360-degree views. On the ascent of this peak, we follow a trail made by elephants and we might also be lucky enough to spot the endangered Nilgiri tahr, a type of ibex. Dropping down from the peak, we find a sheltered spot to take lunch and then continue our gradual descent to Rhododendron Valley and our idyllic stream-side camp at an elevation of 2400-metres. 6 hours of walking today including the stop for lunch, with 700-metres of ascent and 400-metres of descent.

Meal plan: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

Meesapulimala peak is the second highest peak in the Western Ghats, standing at over 2,600 metres above sea level. Meesapulimala translates to 'moustache', after the silhouette of the peak's 8 hills. It is home to Rhododendron Valley, where there is a blanket of beautiful rhododendron flowers. The valley is famed as the only place where these flowers can be seen in southern India. 

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Day 5 : Meesapulimala - Ellapatti

Our trek today starts out with a gentle ascent on an overgrown track frequently used by elephants. After an hour, we reach a viewpoint and begin a winding descent towards the west, through rolling grassland, interspersed with gullies and narrow tracts of forest; here we might encounter Nilgiri langurs, a large and impressive species of monkey with a jet black body and white face. The bigger stands of shola forest that we encounter are home to Indian wild bison or 'gaur'. This is great birdwatching country, with falcons and buzzards riding the thermals and a number of rare, endemic species including the Nilgiri pipit and the laughing thrush - easier to hear than it is to see. After around 4 hours (and a lunch stop) we reach the tea plantations above the village of Ellapatti and traverse the plantation tracks to reach our next camp. Located on a saddle between two extensive tracts of forest, this site is known as Footprint Camp and, once again, it is brilliantly positioned for the sunrise. 6 hours of walking, including stops, with 450-metres of ascent and 800-metres of descent. Altitude at camp is 2100-metres. 

Meal plan: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

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Day 6 : Ellapatti

After another early start to witness the sunrise, we have breakfast, then set off uphill on a small game trail which follows a forested ridge for an hour, to finally reach an isolated grassy summit. From here, looking across a deep and well-forested valley, we can clearly see the start of our route of 2 days ago, including the upper slopes of Meesapulimala. Descending through forest, we continue our trek, and after a lunch stop, arrive at our camp at Top Station (1700m).

Meal plan: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

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Day 7 : Ellapatti - Madurai

After breakfast, we start the morning's drive eastwards into the state of Tamil Nadu. This is a fascinating drive, as we quickly leave the Western Ghats behind and find ourselves on a rich agricultural plain, with orchards and extensive rice fields. Passing a number of impressive rock outcrops and through lots of small towns, our destination today, is the town of Madurai, one of southern India's great temple towns. The centre-piece of the town is the Sri Meenakshi Temple, built between the 16th and 18th-centuries. This is a dramatic example of Dravidian Architecture, with its 'gopurams' (pyramidal towers) covered with images of gods, goddesses, animals and mythological figures. After checking in to our hotel in the city, we will have lunch, then set off on a sightseeing tour with a local guide. We will walk around the temple and surrounding bazaar area and also be invited by our guide to climb to the top of one of the five-story Kashmiri-run handicraft emporia which have viewing platforms on their roofs offer the best views of the temple's towers. Then, at 4pm, when it opens, we will enter the temple complex and mingle with the countless pilgrims who each day come to worship at the temple, to bathe in the Tank of the Golden Lotus and to wonder at the carvings of the Hall of a Thousand Pillars. Overnight at our hotel in Madurai.

Meal plan: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

Meenakshi Temple, also known as Meenakshi Amman, sits on the southern bank of the Vaigai River. The Hindu temple was built in dedication to Lord Shiva, and can be found at the heart of the temple city of Madurai. The ancient temple is an important pilgrimage destination within the Shaivism tradition - attracting over a million people during the annual Meenakshi Tirukalyanam festival.

Madurai is one of South India’s great temple towns. It was an important cultural and commercial centre in 550 AD. Sitting on the banks of the river Vaigai, it is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world.

Tamil Nadu, meaning, the land of the Tamils, is a state that lies on the southernmost point of India. The classical civilisation of the Tamils stretches back over 2 millenia, and remains very much alive today. The state is thought to remain largely distinct from the rest of India - where the practice of devotees from Chennai through to Pondicherry is steeped in tradition.

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Day 8 : Madurai - Thekkady

This morning, we drive back up into the Western Ghats and in so doing, cross back into the state of Kerala. We follow a part of the route that we drove yesterday, then continue southwards, through tea plantations and several small towns to the town of Thekkady, gateway to the Periyar Wildlife Reserve. We have some free time in the afternoon. Overnight at a hotel in Thekkady.

Meal plan: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

Centred around a large artificial lake, Thekkady is the location of the Periyar National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary -  one of India's largest wildlife sanctuaries, which spans across the entire district. Declared a Tiger Reserve in 1978, the sanctuary supports 62 species of mammals (many of which are rare and endangered) and 320 species of birds, as well as a host of reptiles, amphibians and fish. 

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Day 9 : Thekkady - Periyar - Thekkady

We will make the short drive to Periyar National Park, where we meet the forest guards who will be our guides on a full day hike into the reserve. The guards will set an easy pace as we head into the forest and will be keen to provide an insight into the wildlife of this important reserve area. They are quick to spot elusive deer and rare giant squirrels and will point out colourful birds and many other native animals. We will carry a packed lunch and find a place to eat. We may also get a cup of tea at one of the ranger stations in the reserve. Reunited with our transport by mid-afternoon, we will drive to nearby Kumili. Afterwards we will spend a second night at our hotel in Thekkady.

Note:  we may need to split the group into 2 parties and visit separate areas of the park, as group size is limited to no more than 8 persons.

Meal plan: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

Periyar National Park:  at the southern end of the Western Ghats, this reserve area extends over 777 square kilometres of hilly and mostly forested country. At its heart is the artificial lake formed by the construction of the Mullaperiyar Dam across the Periyar River. Declared a Tiger Reserve in 1978, some estimates suggest that there are as many as 40 tigers in the park, although that’s not to say that they are easily seen. As well as tigers, the reserve is home to sambar deer, wild pig, dhole (Indian wild dog), gaur (Indian bison), leopard, several types of monkey and numerous species of birds. Undoubtedly, the greatest attraction at Periyar, however, are the wild elephants that come down to the lake to drink and to bathe.

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Day 10 : Thekkady - Alleppey - Kumarakom

After breakfast, we take a scenic morning's drive, westwards and out of the mountains, dropping down via long switchbacks to the coastal plain and the town of Alleppey. Situated at the southern end of Vembanad Lake, Alleppey is one of the centres for exploration of the Keralan backwaters. At the jetty in Alleppey, we will board the houseboats which will be our home for the night. Based on the large traditional cargo boats known as kettuvalloms, these houseboats provide surprisingly luxurious accommodation. There are usually either 2 or 3 twin-bedded rooms on each boat. Setting off on our cruise, we will traverse wide canals and shallow lakes, with isolated hamlets and houses on the banks.  We will cruise for a couple of hours and then find a quiet spot to anchor up for the night, possibly in Vembanad Lake. Each boat has its own cook. Meals are traditional Keralan fare, using fresh local produce.

Meal plan: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

Kumarakom is a little village set on the scenic freshwater Vembanad Lake that is famous for its backwater tourism. There is a large variety of flora, fauna, sightseeing opportunities and boating experiences. The lake goes through a labyrinth of lagoons, brooks, canals and waterways. There is a bird sanctuary that is spread across 14 acres and is a safe home for many migratory birds like the Siberian storks, wild ducks, darters, herons, egrets, waterfowls and cuckoos.

Also known as the 'Venice of the East', Alleppey is a town with a large network of picturesque canals, backwaters, lagoons and beaches. In the past, Alleppey was one of the busiest trade centres along the Malabar coast. The way of life on the backwaters is based around fishing and the cultivation of rice, coconuts and cashew nuts. Birdwatchers will have a great opportunity to spot lots of exciting species, such as kingfishers, bee-eaters, bulbuls, darters, herons, cormorants and 2 types of kite. There are almost 2000 kilometers (1250 miles) of 'backwaters', interconnected lakes, lagoons and canals, which are mostly just inland of the Kerala coast. This is a unique and fascinating water world, enclosed by palm trees.

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Day 11 : Kumarakom - Alleppey - Marari

Awaking to the peace and tranquility of the backwaters is a special experience. We will enjoy breakfast on the boat deep within the backwaters, a place renowned as a stopping off place for many migratory bird species. Then, after a 1-hour cruise, we disembark at Alleppey and meet up again with our transport for the drive south to Marari. En route, we pass through forests of palm trees, rich farmland and lots of small towns. We cross several rivers and have occasional glimpses of the beach on our right-hand side. Arriving at Marari, we will check in at our hotel. The rest of the day is at leisure.
 

Meal plan: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

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Day 12 : Marari

This is a great place to spend a free day. Marari has a picturesque shoreline, dominated by a high rocky promontory. Lined with simple restaurants, bars and stalls selling souvenirs and handicrafts. Each evening, the local fishermen take their boats out and these are pulled up onto the beaches during the day. Meals are provided at the hotel, although you might choose to take your lunch at one of the beach cafes. We have a second night at our Marari hotel.

Meal plan: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

Marari is a small fishing village found in the Alappuzha District of Kerala. With most of the land forming a beach, the area has long been a popular resort, perfect for unwinding after visiting nearby sites.

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Day 13 : Marari - Cochin - Departure

Return to Cochin for transfer to airport and departure.

Meal plan: n/a

Accommodation

Accommodation

All accommodation subject to availability. Final accommodation choices will be confirmed after booking.

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Tea Bungalow

Cochin (1 night)

Tea Bungalow is a luxury heritage boutique resort. Each room is named after a port involved in the spice and tea trade from around the Indian Ocean.

Visit hotel's site
Extensions

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Reviews

A really well planned trip. We experienced life in Northeast India in just the way we wanted to. We loved the game reserves and saw a rock python which thrilled our guides as it is even rarer than the tiger! We visited villages and were able to interact with local people and loved the busy markets in Delhi and Calcutta. A special highlight was the Hornbill Festival in Nagaland; shown to us by our very own Naga guide Kezo. Kezo accompanied us for 15 days of our trip and ensured that we had many very special experiences - even taking us to the home of one of his Aunts where we spent a couple of hours sitting by the bonfire chatting.

Ann Holgate , Tailormade India

Thank you for organising our holiday in Kerala. I certainly wouldn`t have had the time or the knowledge to put together such a trip. Munnar was my favourite and the accommodation throughout was excellent.

Vik , Kerala Calling, India

What an excellent service! Rahul adapted, extended and improved our trip so many times without a qualm and we ended up with the trip of a lifetime. The destinations are unusual and interesting but everything has been checked out by the team and works brilliantly. I can`t wait to do another trip.

Penelope Smith , Assam & Nagaland Hornbill Festival, India

The tour was an amazing experience for our first visit to India. The country, its people and its cuisine were friendly,delightful, colourful and exceeded all our expectations. Travel the Unknown have put together a superb unique package that we have no hesitation in recommending to anyone with an interest in food and culture.

Elaine & Neil Smith , Delicacies of North India, India

I`m sure I could not have found a better operator for the type of complicated Indian tour I wanted to undertake on a limited budget. India is an intimidating country to visit, and I suspect that some operators look down on the first time visitor, or disparage their requirements. Travel the Unknown, by contrast, helped me all the way, and their local guides were superb.

Andrew Martin , Tailormade North East India

This was a very varied and interesting trip to a forgotten part of India. If you like off the beaten track travel it is definitely worth the effort but go with an open mind and keep a smile on your face.

Richard Williams , Monks, Tribes & Rhinos, India

This was my first experience of using Travel the Unknown having enjoyed small group adventure holidays for many years. I was attracted to the company because it seeks out the more unusual and lesser known areas of a country and I was not disappointed by my visit to Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. There is a clear contrast between the people and the scenery of these two regions and we saw very few western tourists particularly in Arunachal Pradesh. The tour was well organised with plenty to see and do.

Keith Lewis , Monks, Tribes & Rhinos, India

A fantastic trip to Arunachal Pradesh. Very well organised exactly to our requirements. Superb local guide. Would recommend this trip. Hazel and James.

Hazel Frost , Tailormade North East India

Another great trip from Travel the Unknown. I would recommend this company to anyone who wants to move outside the boundaries of the usual tourist itinerary.

Catherine Crawford , Kashmir & Ladakh Explorer, India

This trip was very well put together and ticked all the boxes that we had requested. The accommodation throughout the tour was of a high standard and our experiences in the national parks was wonderful spotting many different animals including tigers, leopards, sloth bears, lions, jungle cat plus countless number of birds. Thank you Rahul for tailoring this trip to our requirements.

Nigel & Margaret Turner , Tailormade India Wildlife & Birding tour

We went on the Spirit of South India Tour and had a great time on our honeymoon. There was a good variety of places visited and the hotels, drivers and guides were all very good. We would definitely recommend this tour.

Rachel , Spirit of South India, India

I would highly recommend Travel the Unknown to anyone visiting India. The service we received both prior to, during and following our travels was always timely and excellent. We were able to customize our trip to our liking and to enjoy a wide variety of activities. The guides in every location were outstanding! Honestly. Having travelled through much of the world I can truly say that we have never been more impressed with the quality of the guides arranged for us in each location, as well as the service we received. Similarly, the hotels were excellent and allowed us to live very comfortably while, at the same time, enjoy an authentic Indian experience. If you haven`t already booked your trip with Travel the Unknown, then either do so now....or at least give them a chance to show you what they can offer.

Tracey & Gary , Tailormade India
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