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marianne Kovalam - A travel report by Marianne
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Kovalam,  India - flag India
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marianne's travel reports

Kovalam: India for Beginners (Kerala)

  22 votes
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Palm-fringed coves, sun-drenched beaches and a turquoise ocean ensure a stready stream of both sun-loving Western tourists and money-seeking Kashmiris.

Hawah Beach where fisherman repair their nets.
Hawah Beach where fisherman repair their nets.
Kovalam is India for beginners: India with a Western veneer, you will meet more Western tourists than Indian.

This small seaside town focuses on big Euro or Pound Sterling business.

Sun-loving Westerens are flown in by the thousands, tour operators have inspected the hotels and block-booked them for the season that lasts from November to March.

The influx of relatively wealthy tourists brought along get-rich-quick entrepreneurs, uncontrolable garbage sky-high prices and desperate souvenir sellers.

Kovalam is a string of four sandy bays separated by rocky promontories. The northernmost is Samudra Beach, especially at high tide a tiny strip of sand. A cluster of rocks separates it from Kovalam Beach which is popular with local tourists.

Next comes Hawah Beach, the place where fishermen haul their nets in the morning and finally Lighthouse Beach where the package tourists spend most of their time.

Behind Lighthouse Beach paths and tracks wind through the palm groves. Every house seems to be a guesthouse or a shop catering for tourists.

After an ‘inspection round’ on our first day, we concluded that Kovalam must have been almost paradise until the arrival of plane loads of tourists some ten years ago.

Favourite spots:
Kovalam Beach gets quite crowded late afternoon.
Kovalam Beach gets quite crowded late afternoon.
Kovalam Beach was our favourite place, not for swimming but for people watching. The beach gets quite crowded late afternoon when bus loads of locals arrive to watch the sunset.

Women in colourful saris and men with rolled-up trousers paddle in the sea. A string of children in school uniform march along the beach. The jingle of the icecream man invites sales. families linger and examine the souvenir stalls. Children jump up and down for joy, caressing toy cars and plastic dolls.

What I didn’t like was Lighthouse Beach and the concrete path that runs along it. It is one string of hotels, Kashmiri souvenir sellers, travel agencies, tailors and overprices fish restaurants. Persistent hawkers zigzag through the international crowd fobbing off their edibles and durables. It also attracts a multitude of beggars who almost outnumber the tourists.

The many guesthouses take a heavy toll on the sewerage system: yelow-green streams of untreated sewage float on the waves.

What's really great:
Fishermen and their kettumarans.
Fishermen and their kettumarans.
Beach resorts don’t have many sights unless you consider the local fishermen a sight. They congregate at Hawah Beach where they mend and entangle their nets watched by the omnipresent crows.

At Lighthouse beach you can watch them build kettumarans. Kettu means log and maran means tied (at least so I am told). That’s exactly what they are: logs tied together. Kettumarans are simple boats and consist of five logs tied together.

Fishermen offer trips but I declined as I would not feel safe on this contraption on a choppy or non-choppy sea.

The ocean sparkles like diamonds
The ocean sparkles like diamonds
When we had seen enough sand and sea a 20-minute bus ride (# 9 bus, from the promontory between Hawah and Kovalam Beaches) took us to Trivandrum, Kerala’s capital city. It is speckled with museums and monuments.

Puthen Maliga Palace is close to the bus stop. We especially liked its architecture and interior and found the portraits, weapons, and royal regalia that were on show less interesting. The museum is closed on Mondays.

Sea Breeze, rooms in the old building
Sea Breeze, rooms in the old building
There are lots of hotels but hardly any budget accommodation. We stayed in Sea Breeze Guesthouse (see tips) in a coconut grove behind Lighthouse Beach.

Bring mosquito repellent because the stagnant pools are good breeding places. Also bring candles as there are long and frequent power cuts. Rooms in the new building are Rp 550 (€ 11), no haggling possible.

Only when we took our bags and wanted to leave did the owner show us rooms in the older buidling at Rp 350 (€7). These were perfectly all right, with a small veranda to sit right in the middle of tropical vegetation.

A china mug with beer
A china mug with beer
Not much nightlife apart from walking along the brightly-lit souvenir stalls along the beach, or sit at the bar at one the reasturant, watch the stars and listen to the pull and suck of the darkening ocean.

Most tourists spend their evening in one of the bars or restaurants at Lighthouse Beach. Licensing laws in Kerala are strict and a high amount of tax makes beer quite expensive for Indian standards. Beer is readily availabe at Lighthouse Beach. This is different at Kovalam Beach. It is available but when you order it is served in a teapot and you drink it from china mugs

The beautifully decorated Hindu temple near samudra Beach
The beautifully decorated Hindu temple near samudra Beach

Samudra Beach is surrounded by newly built package tour resorts. At high tide not much beach is left, but it is always possible to have a look at the mosque and Hindu Temple. It is very small but beautifully decorated as most Hindu temples are.

Small Tiger Hotel, not a hotel but a restaurant.
Small Tiger Hotel, not a hotel but a restaurant.
Suprabathan is a vegetarian restaurant right behind Sea Breeze Guesthouse. It has adapted a Western style service. The tables have red-and-white table cloths and candles on each tables. The food is slightly adapted to Western tastes and it is popular with tourists.

Before you get to Suprabathan you pass on your right Small Tiger Hotel. Don’t be mislead by the word ‘hotel', because usually it means a place to eat and not a place to sleep. They serve ‘meals’ which means a mound of rice accompanied by a vegetable curry and bread. It is also a good place to drink tea. Indian tea is a concoction of milk, sugar and strong tea, an acquired taste.

Other recommendations:
Time to leave the beach
Time to leave the beach
If you want to swim, don’t do this at Lighthouse Beach because of the polluted water.

Clamber across the rocks that border the coves, but only do so at low tide.

Buy handmade leather sandals from one of the shoemakers.

Ask one of the tailors to make you a shirt, blouse. If you give them your favourite garment, they will make one exactly like it.

Don’t come during the monsoon from June to October when the sea is rough, and the beach almost disappears.

Published on Wednesday May 3th, 2006

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Thu, Feb 22 2007 - 09:38 PM rating by travler

I had a friend who came from Goa and you described it better than she did!

Thu, Oct 12 2006 - 05:17 AM rating by mrscanada

Nice read

Thu, May 11 2006 - 11:17 PM rating by karlakern

Excellent REPORT! greetings Marianne!

Sat, May 06 2006 - 11:28 PM rating by downundergal

Another excellent report to add to your India collection. A nice balanced report on both the positive and negatives. Can't say it sounds like my cup of tea or was that beer?:-)
Well done. Kerrie

Sat, May 06 2006 - 03:17 AM rating by ravinderkumarsi

excellent report indeed.

Fri, May 05 2006 - 07:15 AM rating by rangutan

Another excellent report, this with particularly brilliant pictures and many good tips for travellers. Such a big and politically/economically important country, your reports makes us want to visit India even more now.

Thu, May 04 2006 - 11:57 AM rating by st.vincent

Brutally honest Marianne and the title, India for Beginners, was well chosen. I guess the thing to do is to forget the red and white table cloths, the busloads of tourists and the tacky souvenirs and try to enjoy the things that haven’t changed in the last ten years, like the star filled evening sky, the sunsets and the predictable rolling of the waves.

NB - I’ve not had beer out of a teapot before but I’d be willing to try !!

Thu, May 04 2006 - 03:57 AM rating by gloriajames

a wonderful report! thanks for sharing!

Wed, May 03 2006 - 07:09 AM rating by pottendorfer

Very well written report. Its not telling us that life is all colorful in India but telling asking us are you ready to take this challenge?
Nice pictures and excellent overview.

Wed, May 03 2006 - 04:45 AM rating by davidx

Thanks Marianne. For once a report of yours doesn't make me wish I were better at standing hot weather. However this is a beautiful piece of writing, the photos are fine and I think it's no bad thing to show the negative as well as the positive aspects of a place.

Wed, May 03 2006 - 04:40 AM rating by eirekay

Marianne, insightful, as always! Another terrific report!

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