Small but untouristy Kollam is tile southern approach to Kerala's backwaters. One of the oldest ports in the Arabian Sea, it was once a major commercial hub that saw Roman, Arab, Chinese and later Portuguese, Dutch and British traders jostle into port - eager to get their hands on spices and the region's cashew crops.
The centre of town is reasonably hectic, but surrounding it are the calm waterways of Ashtamudi Lake, fringed with coconut palms, cashew plantations and traditional villages.
Sights and Activities
The best thing to do from Kollam is explore the backwaters around Munroe Island. There is a rowdy fish market at Kollam Beach where customers and fisher folk alike pontificate on the value of the day's catch: there is also an evening fish market from 5pm to 9pm. The beach (long, but nothing special) is 2km south of town.
Janakanthi Panchakarma Centre
An ayurvedic centre with more of an institutional than a spa vibe, 5km from Kollam, popular for its - 7 to 21 - day treatment packages - accommodation is available. You can also just visit for a rejuvenation massage.
(9am-1.30pm and 2pm-6.30pm)
Excellent tours through the canals of Munroe Island and across Ashtamudi Lake are organised by the DTPC (District Tourism Promotion Council). You're first driven 25km to the starting point, then take a three-hour trip via punted canoe.
On these excursions (with knowledgeable guides) you can observe daily village life, see kettuvallam (rice barge) construction, toddy (palm beer) tapping, coir-making (coconut fibre), prawn and fish farming, and do some bird-watching on spice-garden visits.
The DTPC organises houseboat cruise packages.
Festivals and Events
The Pooram festival is held in Kollam every April: the Ashtamudi Craft and Art festival (December/January) is every two years.
DTPC Information Centre
Tel: 0474 2745625: 8am-7pm
(10.30am-6.30pm Mon-Sat) The most convenient of numerous internet cafes at the Bishop Jerome Nagar Complex.
For changing cash and travellers cheques.
Getting There and Away
From the main boat jetty there are frequent public ferry services across Ashtamudi Lake to Guhanandapuram.
Kollam is on the Trivandrum-Kollam-Alleppey-Ernakulam bus route, with superfast/fast buses departing every 10 or 20 minutes to Trivandrum (1 hr 45 mins), Alleppey (2 hrs 30 mins) and Ernakulam (Kochi, 3 hrs 30 mins). Buses depart from the KSRTC bus stand (Tel: 0474 2752008) near the boat jetty.
There are frequent trains to Ernakulam (2nd class/AC chair 3 hrs 30mins, six daily) and Trivandrum (1 hr) via Varkala ( 30 mins). A couple of trains daily go to Alappuzha (Alleppey 1 hr 30 mins).
Near the Main Bazaar
This determinedly Western, brightly lit fast-food joint, above a bakery, is where the town's middle class come for family evenings out, and where foreign tourists come to get away from Indian food. The burgers, pizzas and fried chicken turn to be less appealing than the north Indian and Chinese dishes.
Cramped and sweaty, but wonderfully old-school "meals" on the market's main street: blue-and-cream walls, framed ancestral photos and Hindu devotional art provide the typical backdrop for pure-veg rice plates and Udupi-style snacks.
In a neat colonial building still clinging to remnants of a once-cheery paint job, this busy lunchtime place draws tine punters with dirt-cheap set meals.
Indian Coffee House
Typical Indian Coffee House-limp dosas, oily biriyanis, toast, omelettes, pot-chai and filter coffee at rock-bottom rates. It is worth eating here for the dining hall alone- a real period piece.
New Mysore Cafe
This is the most popular of the "meals" joints clustered around the bus stand and boat jetty area, serving delicious "all-you- can-eat" rice plates at lunch time, then usual udupi snacks through the rest of the day. A convenient option if you've time to kill before catching onward transport.
Traditional Kerala cooking-karimeen pollichathu and masala-fried calamari, as well as Continental dishes and a big multi-cuisine buffet-served in a blissfully cool, a/c roof top restaurant. The food is the best in town, and so are the panoramic views.
The restaurant at the swish Nani Hotel has a comely setting amid intricate copper-relief artwork depicting Kollam history. The meals are well prepared and include tasty thalis.
Krishnapuram Palace Museum
Two kilometres south of Kayamkulam (between Kollam and Alleppey), this restored palace (Tel: 0479 2441133: 9am-1pm and 2-5pm Mon-Sat) is a fine example of grand Kerala architecture.
Now a museum, inside are paintings, antique furniture, sculptures, and a renowned 3m-high mural depicting the Gajendra Moksha (the liberation of Gajendra, chief of the elephants) as told in the Mahabharata.
The Bharani Utsavam festival is held at the nearby Chettikulangara Bhaghavathy Temple in February/March. Buses leave Kollam every few minutes for Kayamkulam. Get off at the bus stand near the temple gate, 2km before the palace.
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