Around Kottayam lies some of the lushest and most beautiful scenery in the state, with hills to its east and backwaters to its west. Kottayam itself is the capital of Kerala's Christian community, which belonged to the Orthodox Syrian tradition up till the Portuguese arrival.
Two churches of the era survive 2 km north of town, in the 450-year-old Cheria Palli ('Small' St Mary's Church), which has beautiful vegetable dye mural paintings over its altar, and the Valia Palli ('Big' St Mary's Church), from 1550, with two Nestorian crosses carved on plaques behind two side altars.
One has a Pahlavi inscription on it, the other a Syriac. The cross on the left of the altar is the original and may be the oldest Christian artefact in lndia; the one to the right is a copy. By the altar there is an unusual small triptych of an lndian St George slaying a dragon.
Note the interesting Visitors' Book (1898-1935); a paper cutting reports that "the church has attracted many European and native gentlemen of high position". Mass at Valia Palli at 9am on Sunday, and Cheria Palli at 7.30am on Sunday and Wednesday.
Ettumanoor, just north of Kottayam, has one of the wealthiest temples in Kerala. The present Mahadeva temple was constructed in 1542, and is famous for its murals depicting scenes from the Ramayana and the Krishna legends, both inside and outside the gopuram.
The typical circular shrine with a copper-covered conical roof encloses a square sanctuary. The Arattu festival in March draws thousands of pilgrims when gold elephant statues are displayed. They weigh 13 kg each.
Sree Vallabha Temple, Thiruvalla
Devotees make offerings at this temple, 2km from Thiruvalla, in the form of traditional, regular all-night Kathakali performances that are open to all. Thiruvalla, 35km south of Kottayam is on the rail route between Ernakulam and Trivandrum. Around 10km east of here, the Aranmula Boat Race is held in August/September.
Chengannur has three interesting temples, all worth a visit- a Mahadeva Temple with a theatre on an old plinth; a Bhagawathi Temple, which is said to bring good fortune to devotees; and a small 18th- century Narasimha Temple.
Tucked among the waterways of Vembanad Lake, in mangrove, paddy and coconut groves with lily-studded shores, is Kumarakom, 16 km from Kottayam. Here are stacks of exclusive hotels where you can be buffed and Ayurvedically preened, bent into yoga postures, peacefully sunbathe or take to the water: perfect honeymoon territory.
The tourism department has developed an old rubber plantation set around the Vembanad Lake into a bird sanctuary 10am-6pm. A path goes through the swamp to the main bird nesting area. Pathiramanal ('midnight sands') island in the middle of the lake can be reached by boat. The best season for birdlife is June to August; try to visit early in the morning.
Large, uninspired menu. Pleasantly cool 'chilled' drinks may arrive slightly warm.
Kurian Uthup Rd
International menu. Reasonable but slow service. Dinner in mosquito-ridden garden (or in own room for guests). Alcohol available.
Near the State Bus Station
Opposite Blackstone Hotel. 20 flavours.
The Private Bus Station is near the railway station. Buses to Alappuzha only leave from the KSRTC Bus Station, 2 km away; local buses to Kumarakom tourist village also run frequently from here.
There are fast and frequent long-distance buses to Alappuzha, every 45 mins (2 hrs); Thiruvananthapuram, every 30 mins (4 hrs); Kochi, every 30 mins (hr 30 mins) and Kumily, every hour (4 hrs 30 mins). There are 2 evening departures to Madurai, 8.45pm and 9.45pm (7 hrs) and 5 buses daily head to Munnar, 6am-4pm(5 hrs).
Ferry Ferries leave from the Kodimatha Jetty except during the monsoons. During the monsoon you should head to the Town Jetty 3 km south- west of the train station. Ferries to Alappuzha: 7.30am, 9.30am, 11.30am, 2.30pm, 5.30pm (3 hrs). This is an interesting trip but gets very busy in peak season. Other departures include Champakulam, 3.30pm (4 hrs) and Mannar, 2.30pm (3 hrs).
Both the Vanchinad Exp and the Kanyakumari Exp go to Thiruvananthapuram (3 hrs 45 mins) via Kollam (2hrs). To Mangalore (12 hrs), via Ernakulam (1 hr 30 mins): Parasuram Exp and Malabar Exp.
Banks in Kottayam
Banks are clustered around Ghandi Sq on TB and MC Rds
Many places around Ghandi Sq.
Tel: 0481 2563651
8am-8pm, 2pm- 5.30pm on holidays.
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