For the free-spirited ones afflicted with a case of the wanderlust, nothing spells doom more clearly than those claustrophobic, binding confines of package tour. Losing control, someone else planning out your vacation- what worse can there be? However, often, the horror stories associated with package tours are exaggerated and sometimes, there are those offers that you just can’t pass over- the ones that give you a stellar itinerary and at rates that would have your pocket singing in happiness for days to come.
Last year’s family trip to Kerala was one of my few package tour experiences and I must say it wasn’t one bit as disappointing as I had anticipated it to be. Landing at Cochin, the agency’s Indica stood waiting for us as we walked out of the airport into the unrelenting heat. Come as you go trips are fun, but when the mercury is hell-bent on touching the sun, the pre-arranged cab seems like a chariot ride. A good day-long ride took us through long winding roads, a refreshing waterfall and several local shacks that had some of the yummiest albeit hard to pronounce foodie delights, with the driver sharing occasional tips on what food were the items that first-timers should steer clear of. At the end of this drive we reached Munnar, where a prior booking at the Munnar Inn welcome our tired selves into the comfort of cozy beds. One day stay waited for us the next morning, but unlike in an independent trip, there was no going through maps and local guides. Our day was planned and packed already, and the cab waited for us as we sped through the mundane rituals of dressing up and stuffing ourselves.
A visit to the Eravikulum National Park (where I made friends with the local mountain goat) and lunch later, a live Kalari Payattu performance waited for us in a local open air arena. Early next morning we were up and at it, driving down through tea-estates to an herbal garden. The garden played host to some of the strangest and most exquisite plants- not just ornamental ones, but those which had surprisingly effective daily uses. The outlet selling the products of these plants, outside the garden premises, was a huge hit with the travellers. I remember having spent three-fourth of my allowance there, buying all sorts of edibles and cosmetic stuff- from cocoa powder to aloe gel. Late at night we reached Thekkady and zoned out in the Snadra Palace. Christmas being around the corner, the Church right outside was decked with the prettiest lights and the hotel balcony allowed you a full panoramic view of the city. We spent our day in Thekkady visiting the Periyar River and the Elephant Sanctuary, taking turns to ride those huge yet adorable animals and watching them huge play around in the water along with the not-so-huge baby elephants.
The second last stage of the trip included a drive to Kumarakom for a day and night trip in backwaters of Kerala in a deluxe houseboat that served up amazingly cooked fish and a variety of similarly mouth-watering delicacies. It’s a whole new experience as you sit there on the deck, the boat rocking gently to the motion of the waters, watching the sunlight reflect into the calm waters; if the waters of Venice hopped a ride to India, this is how it’d probably look. After rocking (actually, literally) experience of the houseboat, the next morning, up we went to the Cochin- for our next great adventure on the seas- into Lakshadweep. The package story ends here; Laksadweep is a whole different terrain- a story for another time.
For someone whose perfect idea of a trip involves spontaneous, unplanned getaways and hitch-hiking rides on the highway, this planned and steered package trip had me thinking whether independent travel is the only way to go. It really needn’t be. So go ahead- hand over the reins, let others do the math and sit back and relax. Sometimes, it’s good to let others have the wheels.
Inclusive of accommodation, Bed & Breakfast at all hotels, a.c vehicle and sight-seeing expenses:
Rs. 40,910 for four.
Extra Expenses, including dinner, lunch, tickets for the Elephant Sanctuary, and souvenir shooping: Rs. 7000 approx.
Total Cost: Rs. 48,000 for 4 (Approximately)
Contributed by Ateendriya