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Old 4th February 2024, 21:06   #1
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Journeys by Public Transport - Kerala SRTC budget tourism trip to Ramakkalmedu

When Covid stuck in early 2020, like most transport operators, Kerala State Road Transport Corporation was also badly affected. Diversification became the key.

By late 2020, the Munnar depot of the corporation hit upon the idea of arranging AC dormitory sleeper accommodation in converted buses parked at the depot. It proved to be very popular.

A KSRTC inspector Dominic Pereira of the Chalakudy depot (in Thrissur district) then hit upon a bright idea next year in 2021. The depot's regular services to the Kerala border at Malakkapara on the Chalakudy Valparai route which passes Athirapally and Vazhachal enrroute were getting good patronage from tourists on weekends in particular. So why not package all these destinations together and run a tour on the regular KSRTC buses? So thought Pereira and convinced his superiors to give the necessary approvals. The first service operated on 26 September 2021 from Chalakudy.

The idea proved to be a super hit and soon KSRTC's tourist services from many depots accross the state were operating services to Malakkapara. At an all inclusive fare (currently 350 Rs from Chalakudy), you could visit Athirapally Vazhachal, Sholayar and Malakkapara on a day trip of around 12 hours end to end. Soon after the Malappuram depot taking advantage of the availability of the sleeper dormitory accommodation in the Munnar depot started two-day trips to Munnar from their home depot whiich again proved popular.

The success of these trips and others ended up in the corporation setting up a Budget Tourism Cell (BTC) headed by a Chief Traffic Manager with Zonal and District Cordinators to assist. The trips are organized mostly on weekends using regular KSRTC buses and BTC operations is now into the third year. Itineraries are mostly of one day duration although a few 2 day ones are also there. Not all depots have BTCs but usually one or two are there in every district. Entrance tickets and some meals are included in many of the packages.

This travellogue is about my latest (my 6th) BTC trip and was to Ramakkalmedu, a hill station in Idukki district of Kerala. This trip was organized by the Chalakudy BTC , the depot which first started it all in 2021.

Last edited by Aditya : 11th February 2024 at 22:30.
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Old 4th February 2024, 21:58   #2
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re: Journeys by Public Transport - Kerala SRTC budget tourism trip to Ramakkalmedu

The operations of Budget Tourism Cell (BTC).are very decentralized. There is no centralized computerized booking system. Most BTC have a WhatsApp group where by 25th of the month the details of next month's itineraries are announced. UPI payment mode is available and encouraged by many BTCs.

20th December 2023.

In the Chalakudy BTC WhatsApp group, the depot BTC cordinator Mr Unnikrishnan posts the January trip details. There are about 25 trips in the whole month to 11 different destinations, almost all on weekends. I am looking for Ramakkalmedu which I have not travelled till now and there are 2 dates available, on January 7 Sunday and January 27 Saturday. Timings are advised as between 6 AM and 1130 PM. I make a mental note to book for the 27th January trip although it is early days yet.

09 January 2024.

I decide to wait no longer. Chalakudy BTC trips are justifiably popular and 27th is the middle of a long weekend. I send a WhatsApp voice message to the booking number which is that of Unnikrishnan, the unit's cordinator. He had accompanied the group in both my previous BTC trips to Vagamon and Nelliampathy and so I am a "regular ".As usual I am traveling alone and I enquire about the availability of seats and in particular about a window seat.

In about an hour he reverts back. If I need a window seat, the ones towards the front are all taken. But if I am looking for a seat with a view he can offer me seat no 5 which is an aisle seat immediately behind the driver and has a clear view of the front. He informs that Seats 1 to 4 are taken by a family. I decide to accept Seat 5.

He sends me another voice message about the details of the trip. Trip starts at 6 AM and traffic permitting ends at 11.30 PM. Breakfast, Lunch, evening tea and snacks as well as all entrance tickets and jeep trekking are included in the fare of Rs 1200. Dinner will be at one's own expense.

Breakfast is to be at Thodupuzha, and the first view point of Thumpachi Mala will be soon after. This will be followed by Kulamavu hydro electric dam, followed by Lunch and a view point of the Idukki dam before we reach Ramakkalmedu. There it is 3 view points again but two of them are reached by an off-road journey on a jeep. Looks like this is a "view point " trip, but then I like them.

He sends me the QR code to make payment to the Chalakudy depot and informs that I pay only 700 through UPI and the remaining 500 is to be paid on the bus. I make payment accordingly and although a handwritten receipt is available I request him to merely give a confirmation message on WhatsApp with the date and seat number which he promptly does. The entire booking process takes 10 minutes. I get on with my work with an assurance that things will go smoothly from my earlier experiences with Chalakudy BTC. It did this time as well.

Last edited by Aditya : 11th February 2024 at 22:31.
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Old 4th February 2024, 23:36   #3
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re: Journeys by Public Transport - Kerala SRTC budget tourism trip to Ramakkalmedu

27 January 2024

The day of the trip. Alarm goes off at 3AM. I am ready by 4. Chalakudy depot is 25 km away I get an Uber surprisingly quickly and reaches Angamaly KSRTC depot by 4.30 AM.

Now I can join the tour at Angamaly but I always prefer to board from the starting point. Angamaly bus station is huge and not very busy at that time. A few street dogs also appear to be waiting for the buses arguing vociferously at the same time which is not a very comforting sight to the passengers. Many buses come and go but none are towards Chalakudy. Finally, a Guruvayoor Fast Passenger turns up and I reach the Chalakudy bus station, 15 kms away by 5.15 Am.

Chalakudy is a compact well organized bus station. It has some clean washrooms as well. The stall near the station entrance is active and already doing good business. I grab a cup of tea and go back to do some bus spotting.

Chalakudy has a Budget Tourism Cell office at one end of the bus station. At 5.30 someone switches on the light. It is the coordinator Unnikrishnan. I drop in to say Hi and asks him whether he is accompanying the group today as well. He answers in the negative.

But then our group is lucky, today it is, going to be none other than his boss the district BTC coordinator Dominic Pereira who will be accompanying us. A person who knows the inside out of BTC operations, for Dominic, customer satisfaction and attention to detail are both paramount. I had travelled earlier with him as well and was very impressed with his dedication.

I go back to waiting. Around 5.40 AM, a well maintained KSRTC Fast Passenger bus pulls up with a destination board "Ullasayathra" (LeisureTrip). The driver and Unnikrishnan lugs abroad a large Bluetooth speaker. Soon Dominic comes by recognises me and asks whether I am traveling today. I reply in the affirmative.

At 5.50 AM boarding starts. Clear directions are given by the stafff about the location of the seats. Soon the family of 4 who have booked the seats next to me turn up. But the bus is half empty even at 6 AM. Clearly we are waiting for some delayed passengers, but so many ?

A few more passengers turn up in the next 15 minutes and we leave. Dominic mentions that today a lot of passengers are joining at various points enroute including a big group of college students.

Passengers board at various enroute points right till Perumbavoor. The big group mostly board at Angamaly. There is a delay at Perumbavoor as the last few passengers were waiting at the wrong point. Cannot blame them as they are from Ernakulam. They eventually board and apologizes for the mixup. No one minds.

Dominic picks up the portable microphone, introduces himself and welcomes everyone on behalf of KSRTC. He runs through the program for the day. and invites everyone to introduce themselves.

Typical with BTC groups it is a wide spectrum of passengers today also. There is a group of girls, students of a nursing college, another group of 4 women travellling together and the rest are mostly families or couples, some retired. Only two solitary travelers today, a retired bank officer sitting in the row behind me and myself. There is also a couple who are celebrating their 24th wedding anniversary with a BTC trip.

Breakfast is at Thodupuzha and there is still half an hour to to reach there. As with most BTC trips, the entertainment starts. A few passengers sing some nice songs and in no time the bus is reaching Thodupuzha and it is breakfast rine.

Breakfast is at Hotel Bharath, a popular eatery next to the KSRTC bus station where the bus parks. It is Appam and Egg Curry and Dominic is omnipresent, making sure everyone has got their breakfast including assisting the hotel staff in serving the BTC passengers. The food is good and after a half hour halt, we are ready to proceed to our first stop, the view point at Thumpachi Mala , about half an hour away.

Meanwhile a few photos.

Our ride for the day RPE 590
Journeys by Public Transport - Kerala SRTC budget tourism trip to Ramakkalmedu-20240127_054236.jpg

Dominic Pereira (with the chart) and Unnikrishnan, the staff behind the success of Chalakudy BTC supervising the boarding
Journeys by Public Transport - Kerala SRTC budget tourism trip to Ramakkalmedu-20240127_055721.jpg

Bharat Hotel our breakfast stop.
Journeys by Public Transport - Kerala SRTC budget tourism trip to Ramakkalmedu-20240127_081832.jpg

Last edited by Aditya : 11th February 2024 at 22:33.
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Old 6th February 2024, 09:17   #4
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re: Journeys by Public Transport - Kerala SRTC budget tourism trip to Ramakkalmedu

Breakfast over...we head to out first stop , the view point at Thumpachi Mala shrine about 45 minutes away on the Thodupuzha-Kulamavu-Cherutrhoni roue. Laddoos are distributed on the bus , bought by one of the passengers. Music is on and the younger crowd starts grooving. Virtually every one in the entire bus sings along.

Soon we reach Thumbachi mala. It is a shrine perched on a hilltop with spectacular views all along. The 300 metres walk up on a tarred road appears simple enough and I start casually. But the climb is steep, deceptively steep and is a painful reminder of how out of shape I am. There are railings on one side which helps somewhat.

Soon I reach the top of the climb and in my relief promptly trips on a small rock and falls down. My powerbank which I was holding along with my phone shields both my phone and my right wrist from serious injury although my left leg has taken a rather painful blow.

I gingerly get up..Not much visible damage and hardly any bruising. I curse my own stupidity and inattentiveness and move to the viewpoint. The views are truly beautiful.

I talk to the retired bank officer travelling alone. 20 years older than me he s lean and very fit for his age..This is his first BTC trip. Except a very few, most passengers as well as Dominic have climbed up to the top. After about 20 minutes , we get back down and onto the waiting bus.

Last edited by TKMCE : 11th February 2024 at 12:39.
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Old 11th February 2024, 13:24   #5
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re: Journeys by Public Transport - Kerala SRTC budget tourism trip to Ramakkalmedu

Before we resume our journey, I have a quick chat with our driver Vimal. A quiet rather serious looking person, he has been a driver at the Chalakudy depot for many years and of late drives on the Thrissur Angamaly Kottayam route. It is not easy to drive a bus on these BTC trips with all the music and what not and also the hilly terrain on many routes, but he (like the drivers on the other BTC trips I have been on) drives with a skill only experienced drivers can.

We move on. The bus is quiet now (possibly because of all the exertion of the climb at Thumpachi Mala) and Dominic gives a brief description of the Idukki dam and details of our stop at Kulamavu dam. In 20 minutes we reach Kulamavu.

There is little to see at this 20 minute stop other than looking at the dam itself from the road which passes over the dam. Everyone gets down at one end and walks leisurely to the other end and boards the bus again. Photography is prohibited here.

I talk to the couple seated immediately behind. The gentleman has retired from the government service and his wife works in a bank. With their children settled down into good jobs, they make use of the opportunity to travel on such BTC trips.We trade anecdotes of our various trips.

By now it is getting warm and the ice cream seller at the other end of the road gets good business. We board the bus and head towards Cheruthoni for an early lunch.

Lunch is at Hotel Pappens a popular establishment in the town. We are early, very early (it is only 12 noon) and hence the restaurant is not crowded. "Fish curry meals" is included in our package price. Food is hot and tasty. I end up sharing a table with the elderly couple seated behind me in the bus. By now we have become good friends.

We wait for everyone to finish. Now comes the spoler. Because of lack of parking, the bus is parked a good 400 metres away near the old Cherthoni bus stand which was badly ravaged during the 2018 floods. Dominic leads the group down the road to the bus explaining the difficulties faced by the local residents during the floods.

It is now 1 PM and we resume our journey. We proceed uphill towards the hill town of Kattapana passing by (without stopping) a good view point of the Idukki dam. By now most people in the bus are in various stages of post lunch drowsiness except Dominic who goes to assume "conductor" duties and help the driver navigate the winding roads.

I start thinking that till now this has not been a great trip. In the 7 hours hours or so since the trip started, other than a good breakfast and a heartty lunch, there has been little sightseeing. The first stop at Thumpachi Mala was worth it but Kulamavu was little more than walking down a road on top of a dam And we have 2 more hours to go before we reach Ramakkalmedu. Have I made a mistake coming for this ?

The driver Vimal has not been to Ramakkalmedu earlier and it has been some time since Dominic has been on this particular trip. So there is some difficultly in navigation. We don't depend on Google maps but opt for the tried and tested way..."ASK someone when in doubt". We navigate past Kattapana town and soon reach our final destination, Ramakkalmedu.

Last edited by TKMCE : 11th February 2024 at 19:21.
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Old 11th February 2024, 14:27   #6
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re: Journeys by Public Transport - Kerala SRTC budget tourism trip to Ramakkalmedu

Ramakkalmedu a small hamlet in Idukki district of Kerala is known for its viewpoints overlooking neighboring Tamil Nadu (Cumbum and Theni) and a recently (2005) built sculpture of "Kuravan and Kurathi" the surroundings of which also offers good views. As Wikipedia says "One story suggests that Rama, accompanied by his younger brother Lakshmana, set his foot at the top of Ramakkalmedu in search of his wife Sita, who had been abducted by the rakshasa king ofLanka, Ravana."

The view points are reached by an off road jeep trip which takes about 90 minutes to cover the various points. The jeeps are 8/9 seaters and the trip is included in the fare.The jeeps are waiting and I join the "front benchers", the family of four who are in the first row of the bus with me, the bank officer and the elderly couple. The 12 year old along with his father take the front seat with the driver and the rest of us are squeezed in behind the back.

The first view point is "Aamapara" where to get to the view point proper, we have to slide (squirm/slither may be better words) behind a big rock.
Our guide Dominic had warned in the bus itself that he won't be accompanying us in the off road trip half joking his girth will not anyway allow him to do the squeezing/slithering at Aamapara (tortoise rock). That gets me worried as I am not far behind in tummy size.

We set off. Forget "off road", there doesn't even appear to be a cart track. Our young jeep driver seemed to have been inspired by his state mate Harith Noah who had made news at the Dakar rally a few days ago and sets off at break neck speed, never mind that the median age of his passengers on this trip is closer to 40 than 20. A couple of us request for him to go a little slow to which he smiles and replies that any slower and we will be rolling backwards instead.

We hang on for dear life and reach the first point at Aamapara. About 20 other jeeps are there and we follow a crowd of people down the trail. One look at the point we have to squeeze/slither and I decide I am not upto it. Luckily the family of four travelling with me also make the same decision and we move aside and later go back to the jeep and wait for the rest of the group to join us. The rest rejoin after sometime. Only one of the remaining three , the elderly lady was brave enough to squeeze through the rock.

We continue on to another view point through even worse tracks. We hang on grimly but no one seems to mind. The camaraderie is evident. And finally we are dropped at the Kuravan Kurathi sculpture and we are told we can walk back down to the road.

The views are spectacular and it is late evning. Everyone agrees that Ramakkalmedu has been the highlight of the trip. People pose for photographs near the statue. Dominic has meanwhile walked up to the the top and catches up with everyone. There is an entry ticket for this area but it is included in our package rates.

Finally around 6 PM Dominic shepherds the group down to the base of the hill. He announces that tea and snacks are available at a small shop He makes sure everyone gets it, even helping out the staff as he did at the breakfast stop also.

The bus comes and we board. Before that there is a group photograph but a couple of us are already too exhausted to climb back down. A little later we start back.

Since it is a late arrival back in Chalakudy (officially 11.30 PM) we will be stopping for dinner enroute at the same place where we stopped for lunch, Horel Pappens at Cheruthoni. However dinner will be at our own expense.

A few photographs (apologize for the poor quality).
Attached Thumbnails
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Journeys by Public Transport - Kerala SRTC budget tourism trip to Ramakkalmedu-20240127_154651.jpg  

Journeys by Public Transport - Kerala SRTC budget tourism trip to Ramakkalmedu-20240127_151421.jpg  

Last edited by TKMCE : 11th February 2024 at 19:27.
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Old 11th February 2024, 16:15   #7
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re: Journeys by Public Transport - Kerala SRTC budget tourism trip to Ramakkalmedu

Return is again via Kattapana on half deserted roads. The music is back on in the bus and many of the passengers are dancing away. We reach Hotel Pappens a little after 8 PM. This time the place is crowded but the service is fairly fast. I order the Kerala staple of "Porotta and Beef Fry" and the food is delicious. and the Beef is generous in quantity as well. I am expecting a fat bill and again gets another surprise. It is very reasonable (under 200) for the quality and quantity.

We have spent nearly and hour at the dinner stop and yet to start. The youngest passenger in our group (2 or 3 years old ) had apparently been promised a toy by the parents and they had wandered off in search of a toy shop in this small town on a Sunday night. Soon they come back (not sure whether they got the toy) but again, no one in the group seemed to really mind.

Dominic officially announcees the end of the trip and thanks everyone on behalf of KSRTC. He asks for feedback. Quite a few passengers give it but it is unidimensional. Every one who spoke had enjoyed the trip and for the first timers it was way beyond their expectations.

Lights are switched off and we make our way back to Chalakkudy but this time on a different route, via Karimpan , Chelachuvadu, Neriyamangalam and Kothamangalam. The driver is new to the route but Dominic sitting besides him guides him through, alerting him about oncoming traffic on the narrow winding roads. Watching both of them I realise how devoted to the job such Kerala SRTC staff are (they are paid monthly salaries in two instalments and that too not on time).

As we reach Perumbavoor, passengers start getting down. The crew makes sure that for youngsters and women getting down enroute in the deserted roads, people picking them up have already reached the dropping point. Such is the care taken for the passengers by these employees.

I get down opposite the KSRTC bus station at Angamaly after thanking the crew for a wonderful trip. It has been my third consecutive trip with the Budget Tourism Cell (BTC) of Chalakudy KSRTC (and 6th BTC trip overall) and I am already planning for the next trip in March with them to Kanthalloor near Munnar.

Last edited by TKMCE : 11th February 2024 at 19:01.
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Old 11th February 2024, 17:54   #8
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re: Journeys by Public Transport - Kerala SRTC budget tourism trip to Ramakkalmedu

This is more of an awareness post than a travelogue. It is no secret that I enjoy traveling by public transport and hence it was inevitable that when KSRTC started their Budget Tourism Cell (BTC) operations, I would try them out. But the end product went far beyond my wildest expectations.

I could never imagine the enjoyment I would get traveling with a bus load of strangers aged from 2 to 80 but who all had one thing in common, their love for travel.

However these trips are not for those who enjury luxury travel. As of now most of the BTC trips are on Fast Passenger and Ordinary buses which are atleast a few years old.

There is no centralized reservation and bookings are mostly through WhatsApp messaging to local BTC cordinators and payment is through UPI or Cash.

Trips do get cancelled occasionally and in such a case fare paid is either refunded or adjusted if you so desire against future trips.

Standards may vary based on the BTC , one reason why I stick to Chalakkudy because they have never let me down . But many other BTCs spread across the state also have an equally good reputation

Itineraries can vary widely with respect to suitability. Ramakkalmedu has a 60 to 90 minute off road component while for Kanthalloor, it is 4 hours. The points covered even on a particular trip can also vary based on the BTC operating it.Hence please ask for a detailed description from the cordinators before you book a particular trip.

While departures are usually on time, arrivals can get delayed by an hour or two. Please keep this in mind if you are booking an onward train or bus journey.

And finally the guiding is in Malayalam as this is a product for local tourists. But even if you are not one and not familiar with the language, I am sure one of your fellow travellers will help you out. Such is the camaraderie on these trips.

To conclude, as one of the young college students in our group put it, these BTCs "gives you a different vibe". I would say TRY IT OUT atleast once if you can.

Last edited by TKMCE : 11th February 2024 at 19:33.
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Old 11th February 2024, 22:34   #9
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re: Journeys by Public Transport - Kerala SRTC budget tourism trip to Ramakkalmedu

Thread moved out from the Assembly Line. Thanks for sharing!
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Old 12th February 2024, 09:35   #10
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Re: Journeys by Public Transport - Kerala SRTC budget tourism trip to Ramakkalmedu

A very nice write up. I personally would have liked a few more pictures additionally. The govt. stcs have to step up and offer such budget tourism friendly services. That will help the lower middle class to have some fun in their gruelling life. I can’t wait to see organised group tour services like getyourguide along with a bus that are available in developed countries. If it is the govt who takes that first step, then well we are on our way.

Last edited by KarthikK : 12th February 2024 at 09:57. Reason: Corrected a typo
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Old 13th February 2024, 11:16   #11
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Re: Journeys by Public Transport - Kerala SRTC budget tourism trip to Ramakkalmedu

Thank you for sharing your experience.

There's truly nothing quite like the window seat journey on the beloved "aana-vandi," with rain, hills, classic songs, and the subdued hum of the Leyland engine. The Ganeshan's bus, with its TVS-Irizar body (the yellow ones), had a distinctly crisp and lovely exhaust note, if you recall. :-)

This trip has always been on my bucket list. KSRTC and TNSTC conduct such daily regular trips to remote places nestled deep in the jungles and hills. Kothayar, Aryankavu, Gavi, to name a few, are destinations I aspire to experience in a KSRTC, minus all the frills and flares.

Last edited by jeeva : 13th February 2024 at 11:19.
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Old 13th February 2024, 12:02   #12
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Re: Journeys by Public Transport - Kerala SRTC budget tourism trip to Ramakkalmedu

I too wish to do a similar one, for a while now. A friend of mine and I had planned a Bus trip if our Company got sold. Sadly, we sold in 2020 and we the plan never materialized. And my wife says, bus travel is too much of a hassle.
I wish we all went back to bus days. I know we will all miss our comforts, driving pleasure, and end up spending more time. But the world would be such a calmer place
Thanks for Sharing. Will try and get back to planning our trip.
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Old 13th February 2024, 12:18   #13
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Re: Journeys by Public Transport - Kerala SRTC budget tourism trip to Ramakkalmedu

Thank you for sharing. Enjoyed your writing style. Where can one find more details about the BTC packages, contact numbers, etc?
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Old 14th February 2024, 06:23   #14
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Re: Journeys by Public Transport - Kerala SRTC budget tourism trip to Ramakkalmedu

Thanks a lot for sharing, TKMCE. There is something so relaxing about such travel where you aren't running to make it to destinations within a certain time or ticking off places visited from a list. Reading your writeup, the vibe is quite evident and definitely a trip you'd remember.

Pics from Ramakkalmedu bring back memories from a trip we had done ages ago when my daughter was an infant. I was scared of heights and heavy set too, and had trouble with clambering up slopes, so it was my BIL who carried my daughter on the climb and back down.

Sharing some pics from my trip. We drove our humble Ikon Flair most of the way up and didn't opt for the Jeep. I dont remember the route very much now.

Journeys by Public Transport - Kerala SRTC budget tourism trip to Ramakkalmedu-img_6088.jpg

Journeys by Public Transport - Kerala SRTC budget tourism trip to Ramakkalmedu-img_6092.jpg

Journeys by Public Transport - Kerala SRTC budget tourism trip to Ramakkalmedu-img_6106.jpg

Link to the thread for those interested in a read : Link (Ramakkalmedu - A Walk in the Clouds along with a tree house visit)
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Old 14th February 2024, 07:47   #15
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Re: Journeys by Public Transport - Kerala SRTC budget tourism trip to Ramakkalmedu

Enjoyed reading this and l wasn't aware of BTC bus trips. Even then not sure I want to be part of an organised trip in a KSRTC bus. Being a 6 ft heavy built guy - not sure I want to squeeze in myself in that tiny seat for an entire day. My brother loves bus trips - especially in the private ones in Kerala which is driven like an ambulance.
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