Getting to Kerala – What are the steps required?
The first step is getting a visa. To visit any part of India, including Kerala, all non-Indians need a visa.
One of the nightmares about India is that anything related to government departments are very bureaucratic. That is why new e-visa is such a great news.
If you are from any of the above countries, you can get the visa online.
If you do not belong to any of the above countries, read the nearest Indian Consulate / Embassy website.
Indian visa applications are handled by VFS Global, an outsourced agency. You may have to visit the local VFS centre. Read their local website carefully, and make sure you have not missed anything in your application or its attachments, to avoid walking to and forth.
Usually they issue three months visiting visas.
The next step is whether to rely on a tour agency or not. Travel review sites such as www.tripadvisor.com are great starting points. Read the forums and ask questions.
There is no dearth of travel agents/ tour companies in Kerala who offer packaged tours to domestic and international tourists. There are also travel agencies in major Indian cities who can bundle a package to you that include Kerala along with famous tourist attractions elsewhere in India.
You may also come across tour agents offering packages to Kerala, in your own town.
Before committing to anyone, verify their credibility and compare the price.
Kerala Government Tourism Department’s website is keralatourism.org. They have a message board under Travel desk section. Travellers post their requirements and several agents reply with tailored package offers. It is a great place to get some idea about itineraries and prices.
Having done my travels by myself and friends, I am yet to find a travel agent who I can confidently recommend to you. I am sure that there are many tour operators with integrity. It is just a matter of finding them and posting their details here.
If you are not buying packaged tours, then you will have to book hotels and sort out your travel plan.
Flights and travel info
Are you getting to Kerala by air? There are three airports - one up north, one in the middle and the other one down south.
Most tourists arrive at Cochin airport. It is the largest airport in Kerala, and have flights to several Indian cites and about a dozen overseas locations. Cochin is a centrally located city with easy access to the backwaters and hill stations. Cochin, a port city with scope of some sightseeing has a good range of hotels, home stays and restaurants.
Trains, buses, cabs and auto-rickshaws are the means of transport within Kerala.
Cabs are expensive in Indian standards, however they are convenient. Auto rickshaw rides are fine for short trips. Before hiring a cab or auto, always ask how much the fare is going to be. Otherwise there is a great chance for either getting ripped off or entering into an argument.
Buses are two types – the state government run KSRTC (Kerala State Road Transport Corp) buses and privately owned ones. Big towns have separate bus depots for KSRTC and private buses. KSRTC mostly run long distance services where as private buses cover both lengthy and short routes.
Trains connect Kerala to several major Indian cities. Trains are good for long distance travel within Kerala. However the limitation is that many towns and tourist destinations are not connected with trains.
Ticket reservations are possible with trains and KSRTC buses. Kerala being a crowded place, trains and buses can fill up quite fast, so it is better to book your tickets in advance.