Our Trip To Kollam, Kerala, India- What To Do, See and How To Get There

If you've been following me on Instagram and Facebook, you know that my brother Arif and I recently visited Quilon, or Kollam, in Kerala, India, to attend the wedding of one of our close friends. I usually despise weddings, but since this was our friend Rahul, the guy who was responsible for Silver Kick being born. {Read the full story of how that happened, by clicking here.} So of course, I had to go. Plus he was getting married in Kerala, a place I always wanted to visit. This is the full travel blog of our trip, and the truth about Kerala and India, which you must know before you travel. So keep reading.

Kollam is a 3-hour taxi ride away from Trivandrum/ Thiruvananthapuram Airport. We went directly from the airport to Kollam in a taxi. The ride was terrible as all the highways are two lanes and traffic sense does not exist. So we had to endure 3 hours of our driver speeding up and honking to overtake the car in front, and then slowing down. It gets really nauseating.

The first two days of our stay were spent attending the wedding ceremony and reception. After which we were free to explore the place. We had just 4 days. We moved to Harisree Residency, a 3-star hotel 30 minutes away from Kollam Town. The hotel was terrible, to say the least, but it was super cheap. On booking.com not many hotels are listed for Kollam and this one looked like the best amongst its peers. Note to self- for India, look for hotels on Indian hotel websites and not on booking.com.

Here's what we did and saw in the next few days. Click on the pictures to zoom in. Photos are by Arif and me.

Day 1: Thangassery Lighthouse

When we went to book our houseboat tickets for the next day at Ashtamudi Lake in Kollam, the kind ticketing officer told us that we could visit Thangassery Lighthouse right now as it was just 20 minutes away. He told us to go to the top of the lighthouse, and also check out the fort in the area. So we did.

The lighthouse is located on the coast of Thangassery in Kollam. It was built in 1902. We paid just Rs 50 to go to the top via an elevator that was conveniently installed inside the lighthouse. 

The view from the top was exquisite, with a sea of green coconut trees all around, buildings popping up through them, and the beach with the fishing port making its way into the sea. The weather up here was incredible, with a cool breeze blowing. I wanted to sit here all day.

The fishing port on the right

The lighthouse still works, by the way. After we got down, we explored the fishing port and trampled over lots of plastic waste to get to the beach. One of the advantages of travelling with a photographer is that they always want to explore the unexplored in search of photogenic scenes.

After walking a bit along the beach, we came across the Portuguese Fort that the houseboat officer had spoken about. The Thangassery Fort or St. Thomas Fort was built by the Portuguese in 1518. Today the remains of the fort stand facing the beach. The government of India has taken over the fort and it is being considered a historical landmark. We were told that the restoration of the fort is ongoing. There is no information about the fort at the location, unfortunately.

After exploring a bit more of the beach and the fishing town, we headed back.

Day 2: Houseboat on Lake Ashtamudi

The previous day, we had booked a houseboat cruise on Ashtamudi Lake for the next day. We did the booking at the DTPC stand- District Tourism Promotion Council, which is a government agency that promotes backwater tourism. We bought the package tour of the 6-hour houseboat cruise for two people. It departs at 11 am and arrives back at 5 pm at the same place. These boats are available with 1 or 2 bedrooms {we chose the 1 bedroom, we didn't need the room anyway}and they provide lunch on the boat.

I can safely say that this was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. The calm waters, tall green coconut trees as far as the eye could see, beautiful exotic birds perched on stumps in the water or on the trees, and boats passing by on the water made the experience unforgettable. I even spotted a turtle swimming in the waters!

Our lunch!
There were three boatmen on our boat- the driver, the engine driver, and our chef. The engine driver spoke English but all three of them were lovely and welcoming. He informed us that Ashtamudi is a sweet water lake, but the salty waters of the Arabian Sea mix into it in some places, thus making it 'backwaters' as well.

As soon as we got on the boat we were served freshly made lemon juice and mini-bananas that are native to Kerala. The lunch- we opted for fish curry- was massive. There were so many curries! All of this was made fresh by the chef in the small kitchen in the back of the boat. Even though I didn't want to miss a single scene, the food made me feel so relaxed and full that I had to take a nap in the pretty little room in the boat. I was woken up by my brother calling me to have tea and snacks as we made our way back. They really did think of everything!

Arif in front of our boat when it stopped near an island so we could have our lunch
On the way back we stopped at Asramam Adventure Park which is a huge garden with lots of play areas for children and shaded with trees. We were told that the boat would fill up on sweet water at this stop. Our beautiful journey ended after this, as the boat took us back to the port.

Day 3: Palaruvi Waterfalls

The next day, we went to see the Palaruvi Waterfalls at Thenmala Ecotourism. We hired a private car with a driver to take us there. It was about 3 hours from our hotel. These falls are located in the Southern Western Ghats of India, and the journey up these picturesque hills was amazing in itself. This entire area is made up of reserve forests protected by the government. The area is guarded by the staff of the Thenmala Forest Development Agency and is a plastic-free zone.

Once we reached the base of the falls, we were pleasantly surprised as to how organized everything was. Our driver had to park the car in the allotted parking space, after which only the Palaruvi bus could take us to the falls. There were forest reserve officers in smart military uniforms everywhere. They were polite and very helpful, and while we waited for more people to turn up to fill the van, we shopped at the eco-shop. We bought sandalwood, lavender and neem soaps, pure forest honey, black pepper and lots of herbs and spices. The prices were extremely cheap as compared to other gift shops. Even the ticket to see the falls was super cheap- just Rs 70 per person! 

Once ten of us tourists had arrived, a bus took us to the base of the falls. Again, we were happy to see how organized everything was. There were neat stairs with railings that went all the way up to the falls. Officers sat at mid-points, keeping an eye on us. There were signs reminding us not to litter and not to tease the animals. There were platforms with railings, as lookout points so it's easy and safe for tourists to take photos. 

The falls were beautiful to look at, being the third highest falls in Kerala. The name Palaruvi translates to 'stream of milk' in Malayalam. True to the name, the falls are pure white as they pour from the top of the cliff. They join the Kallada River at the bottom. 

We really liked that we could take our own sweet time to explore and look at the falls and that there were lots of monkeys all around, running up the rocks and stair railings beside us. One cheeky fellow tried to make a grab for Arif's camera bag and then refused to leave our side as we took photos. 

Thenmala Ecotourism and Dam

After the falls, we had a Kerala lunch at a government motel/ restaurant nearby. I wouldn't recommend this place as the food was sub-par. After lunch, we drove to Thenmala Dam. We weren't allowed to take photos of the dam and when we were on the dam. I can only share a photo of the pretty path leading up to the dam which also had naughty monkeys on the cliff-sides, whacking each other and falling off branches as they played.

The scenes on both sides of the dam are absolutely breathtaking. I'm sad that I couldn't take any photos but then it's also nice to keep some things only for your memory. One side of the huge dam was the Kallada River in all its turquoise fullness, surrounded by lush green hills. It looked like a picture from a storybook, one which you can't stop looking at. On the other side of the dam is the river flanked by the town. It's amazing to look at the full river, filled up like a swimming pool on one side of the dam, and a thin, snaking river running through the town, on the other.

Day 4: Kappil Beach and Lake

On our last day here we decided to explore the other lakes and beaches close by. The way we were doing this was by looking at the area on Google Maps. Most of the places are underdeveloped and not marketed to tourists. There's almost no information online, so we had to resort to Google Maps. We decided to go to Paravur Lake. However, the rickshaw dropped us off at Kappil beach saying that we were near boating and a lake. We didn't mind as this was a gorgeous place, too.

The Arabian Sea runs along one side of the long highway while a lake is on the other. After having a delicious breakfast of dosa and omelette at a road-side cafe, we went for the boat ride on the lake right behind the cafe. This was a very different boat to the houseboat. It was a smaller boat, with just the driver. It was only a one hour ride but it felt longer and was no less beautiful than the previous ride. The driver even invited me and Arif to drive the boat as he guided us. We were astonished as to how big the lake was as we kept going further.

The roadside cafe with the lake behind it

After the boat ride, Arif and I walked along the Arabian Sea beach. At the end of the long road is just the beach, with the lake on the other side. The sea is salt water while the lake is sweet water. Both these bodies of water are separated by a small strip of land, making their differences of water even more extraordinary.

The Arabian Sea on the left and the sweet water lake on the right
After taking a break with fresh pineapple juice from a little shop on the beach, we hailed a rickshaw which took us along the beach all the way to Kollam Town. We still wanted to explore the area but there was a lot to see and not enough time. Furthermore, the lakeside and the beaches are not developed for tourists, so we were content to see them through the rickshaw as we went past.

An old ship moored on the beach. Photo taken from the rickshaw
And that's all! Those were 4 days of sightseeing in and around Kollam Town. If I had more time I would definitely spend it at Thenmala, exploring the forests and sanctuary around.

The best part of our trip is that since Kollam is not really a touristy place, there were literally very few to zero tourists. Which meant that we didn't have to jostle for space while taking photos at scenic locations. Another reason why you should visit Kollam is that since it's not yet tapped for international tourism, prices are extremely reasonable dirt cheap. The people are very hospitable and helpful, even if they don't speak your language.

But in the end, it is India, and you have to face up to the realities of the country. Which means that you can't go anywhere without mosquito repellant lotion, the roads are terrible, there is no traffic sense, people tend to stare at you and they can be a bit mannerless. Trivandrum and Aleppey/ Allapuzha are the tourist hubs in Kerala. Kollam is a small town which does not see a lot of foreigners or North Indians for that matter, and we got quite a few stares during our stay. You have to be very careful of the water you drink. If you're non-Indian, I would highly recommend that you travel with an Indian friend. Not just to Kerala, but anywhere in India.

However, as compared to the rest of India (and I've travelled within India quite a bit), we were SHOCKED to know that the taxi drivers and rickshaw drivers didn't rip us off. They don't follow the meter but ALL of them charged us the same rate for the same distance. Shocking!

I hope you found this travel log helpful. If you have any questions, leave me a comment below. Keep following me on Instagram for more photos of this beautiful place!

Until next time

Shabana Feroze

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