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Kochi, Munnar, Cycling Western ghats, Periyar National Park, Kyaking Alleppey Backwaters, Houseboat Visit Fort Kochi, see a traditional Kathakali dance and take a walk through tea and cardamom plantations in this active journey through 'God's Own Country'. Enjoy cycling through Periyar National Park to view wild Asiatic elephants, and glide a kayak through the backwaters of Kerala before relaxing on your own private houseboat.

Day 1 Arrive Kochi
Arrive at Kochi at any time. Check into our hotel and enjoy the city. Attend an afternoon meeting (usually 16.00 but check the notice board) where you will meet your fellow group members to go over the details of your trip and those who have hired bicycles will be fitted out with their equipment. Check the notice board to confirm what time and where the group meeting will be held.

Day 2 Kochi
hike bike kayak sports tour keralaTo understand Kochi one must get a sense of the many travellers, traders and soldiers that passed through the city over the centuries, and the marks they left upon the landscape, culture and people. Today we tour Fort Kochi by bicycles, taking in the highlights of Jew Town, Jewish Synagogue, Dutch palace, St Francis chruch. In the afternoon head down to the harbour to watch the Chinese fishing nets before enjoying a performance of Kathakali.

An important stop on the spice trading route due to its strategic location near the tip of the Indian subcontinent, Kochi (Cochin) has been a melting pot of influences since the 14th century. The city’s history stretches back much farther: by 1102, Kochi was already the seat of an eponymous princely state that traced its lineages to the Kulasekhara empire. Ancient travellers and tradesmen made references to Kochi in their writings, and in 1503 Kochi became the first European colonial settlement in India when it was occupied by the Portuguese. Also of interest is the fact that Vasco da Gama, the first European explorer to set sail for India, was initially buried in Kochi’s St. Francis Church until his remains were returned to Portugal in 1539. Later, both the Dutch and British occupied Kochi, resulting in the variety of architecture, food and other influences typical of today’s Kochi.

Today Kochi is the commercial hub of Kerala state, and a growing centre of information technology, tourism and international trade. However, like other large cities in the developing world, Kochi continues to struggle with urbanisation problems like poor sanitation and traffic congestion.
Considered one of the oldest dance forms in India, Kathakali is a combination of drama, dance, music and ritual. Characters with vividly painted faces and elaborate costumes re-enact stories from the Hindu epics, Mahabharatha and Ramayana.


hiking in keralaDay 3-4 Thattekkad
We leave Kochi very early this morning and head out to the Elephant Kraal at Kodanad. Kraal (elephant training camp) is a word in Afrikaans. The original six-room kraal was built in 1965 but is not used now. This center is established to train elephants to log wood and perform temple duties, a long process which could take up to 20 years.

In the morning, the elephants are bathed and we can join in assisting the mahouts with this job. After breakfast we will start off on our cycles, heading toward the Western Ghats towards the lowland forests of Thattekkad. We pass through scenic countryside with temples, spice gardens, paddy fields and rubber plantations. We eventually reach the River Periyar, the longest in Kerala and our camp for the next two nights. These fixed cottage tents have sit outs and attached open sky bathrooms. Our camp is located just outside Thattekkad, Kerala's first bird sanctuary. Now renamed Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary in honour of the legendary ornithologist, this one-time rubber plantation was declared a sanctuary in 1984. Nearly 320 species thrive here and Dr Ali once described the sanctuary as the richest bird habitat in peninsular India. We will visit the sanctuary early on day 4 and hope to glimpse the common nightjars, drongos, woodpeckers or the rarer grey-headed fishing eagle or Malabar grey hornbill.

After returning from the park, we have time to enjoy the peace and quiet of the River and the surrounds. Enjoy kayaking along the calm waters or get an adrenalin rush as we white water raft further down stream (depending on the season and rainfall and minimum numbers).

Day 5 Munnar
We make the short road journey (approx 3-4 hrs) to the picturesque little town of Munnar, which lies at a height of 1,800m (5,906ft). The name Munnar, which means "Three Rivers" in Tamil, is derived from its location at the confluence of 3 mountain streams - Kundala, Mudrapuzha and Nallathanni.
Munnar was once a summer resort for the British government in South India. The British resident, JD Munro, recognised the agricultural potential of the region, and on a hunting trip in 1877 acquired a large tract of land. After experimenting with various crops, he discovered that tea was best suited for the climate and topography. Now overrun with tea plantations and to a lesser extent coffee and cardamom estates.
We will visit India's only tea museum, housed in a century-old tea estate. Besides a number of memorabilia and old photographs we will also watch the processing and picking (and maybe even join in).

Day 6-7 Walking in Kerala's High Ranges (Munnar)
After breakfast we travel to the starting point of the trek. The first part is through lush tea gardens, gradually gaining altitude as we move through the grasslands and sholas - high altitude cloud forests. Our trek will take us through pristine wilderness to the valley of rhododendrons as we climb the second highest peak South of the Himalayas - Meesapulimala. As we move along the undulating terrain we reach the world's highest tea estate - Kolukumalai. The final part of the walk is through tea gardens to reach our tented camp at Suryanelli Upper Camp.
Sleeping in fresh mountain air will give added energy for todays (day 7) walk. We will walk around the Anaerangal Lake and visit the indigenous tribals and spend time at the plantations around the lake before settling into Anaerangal camp.

Day 8 Cycling in the Western Ghats from Munnar (Suryanelli) to Periyar
Starting early today we jump on our bicycles for the ride to Periyar Tiger Reserve, to the realm of one of India’s most enduring symbols, the tiger.
Although the ride today is long, approx 100kms, the first 30kms is all down hill! Cycling through spice, tea, rubber and coffee plantations is sure to make the remaining journey go very quickly.

Day 9 Periyar Tiger Reserve
One of the few habitats remaining for wild tigers in India (and indeed, the world) Periyar is part of Project Tiger, a wildlife conservation project designed to protect Royal Bengal Tigers from extinction.
Set high in the mountains of the Western Ghats, this protected area covers some 777 km², out of which a 350km² fors part of the core zone known as the Periyar National Park and Tiger Reserve. Famous for its picturesque (though artificial) lake and of course the tiger (which number about 40), the park is also home to 62 different kinds of mammal. The most well known of these are the park’s famous herds of wild Asiatic elephants, which often come to bathe in Periyar lake. Other mammals found here include gaur, sambar (horse deer), barking deer, mouse deer, Dholes (Indian wild dogs), mongoose and leopards and Indian Bison. For ornithologists it has over 330 species of birds including the majestic Great Hornbill.
We join a naturalist-led walk in search of wildlife and to get a better understanding of the surroundings. Many of the guides are in fact former poachers. You can also take a boat ride around the lake for a more relaxing view of the park and more wildlife spotting.
In the afternoon we head out to a spice plantation to learn amongst other things, how cardamom and pepper grow.

Day 10-11 Kayaking in the Backwaters
kayaking in keralaLeaving the wildlife behind and head towards Alappuzha (Alleppey), to our homestay, where we can slip silently through sleepy canals and backwaters, dotted with Chinese fishing nets, this is the timeless landscape of Kerala.
In the afternoon we start our paddling through the backwaters. We will kayak through narrow canals with the only company being the peaceful villages, smiling children and farmers hard at work. This is an excellent opportunity to see village life at close quarters - local people engaged in fishing, duck rearing, shell and mud collection for the farms. You may also see the traditional ‘toddy’ tappers at their work on coconut palms extracting the local brew.
During our stay on the backwaters we will spend time leisurely exploring the villages, ancient temples, the bazaars and possibly learning to fish the traditional way.

Day 12 Houseboat
We take a journey through the backwaters around Alappuzha and Kottyam areas, in our private houseboat. Houseboats are a reworked model of Kettuvallams (in the Malayalam language, Kettu means "tied with ropes", and vallam means "boat"), which, in earlier times, were used to carry rice and spices from Kuttanad to the Kochi port. Such a houseboat is about 60 to 70 feet (about 18 to 21 meters) long and about 15 feet (about 5 meters) wide at the middle. The hull is made of wooden planks, usually Jackfruit, that are held together by ropes of coconut fibre. The roof is made of bamboo poles and palm leaves. The exterior of the boat is painted with protective coats of a black resin made from boiled cashew nut shells. The houseboats are simply furnished and consist of a thatched covered lounge and dining area, and depending on the size a number of bedrooms that usually consist of a twin or double beds (with mosquito nets) and a bathroom with toilet and washbasin. In the evening the boat is lit by hurricane lamps. Thatched awnings on both sides of the boat allow the breeze to flow through. In the back there is a small service area where the cook prepares simple meals using fresh produce that can be caught, bought, or taken from the water. This is a highlight - relaxing, romantic, and a chance to get to know one another better. The group will be traveling on a number of houseboats which will be following each other.
  Day 13 Kochi
Travel back to our starting point at Kochi. There will be free to do some final shopping or maybe watch sunset at the Chinese fishing nets on Fort Kochi before gathering for a farewell dinner in the evening.
  Day 14 Depart Kochi
Departure transfer to the international airport to connect flight for onward destinations.
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