20th March 2015
I distinctly remember when I heard about Kerala Blog Express from a season 1 contestant and the idea of getting on a customized bus and travel from south of Kerala to its north seemed really cool, and add other 25 travel bloggers from all over the world, and it sounded even more cool.
I have always been smitten by the pristine beauty of the state and would have been so happy to go back again. It was so nice of Kerala Tourism that they tagged me in one of their tweets to take part in the second season and I submitted my profile. So if you are interested after reading my experiences, keep an eye on the tweets at the end of the year, to join in for season 3 and this post should provide you insights what is Kerala Blog Express and why or why not a Travel bloggers should take part in it.
You should be an active travel blogger and must be linked with any of the aspects of travel; it could be food, Luxury Travel, Responsible Tourism, Art and culture, etc. The process of filling the profile was simple, you need to put a brief bio of yours along with your social media links- Blog Website, Facebook Page, Twitter, Instagram or YouTube channel, depending upon whatever applies to you. After submission, your entry will be reviewed and your profile will be live on the Kerala Blog Express website. Then starts the tedious tasks of gaining more votes on your profile and you may start campaigning for yourself among your friends and followers. The vote mania goes to as high as 2000 votes for the top entries. The golden rule is to stay in Top 25 by the end of voting period which goes on for a month long time. And depending upon your Blog, social media reach, country you belong to and votes, the selection would be made. Simple isn’t it! There are always a few participants selected from India. Last year the number was 5 and this year it was 2 and I hope it doesn’t reduce further!
Caution- Do not use any unfair means to garner votes as you could be eliminated from the contest even if you possess the highest votes.
Once the selection is completed you would receive an email from Kerala Tourism about the same, and that would be the final confirmation. And being from India I didn’t need any visa formalities while the foreigners need to get their visa sorted and once the documents were completed the final announcement was made on website.
You need to buy the tickets as per the instructions of Kerala Tourism and 70% or 1000 USD whichever is lesser would be reimbursed by them on the first day of the trip. That’s the only expenditure you need to make and everything else is covered by Kerala Tourism. In case of foreigners you need to pay for the visa as well as travel insurance.
The trip of a life time-
We started our journey from Trivandrum to Cochin by bus and made our way through coconut palm-lined coasts of Arabian Sea, the unique ecosystem of backwaters, the mighty mountains of Western Ghats, the magical Tea Gardens, diverse wildlife, ancient art and cultural centers. We covered almost 2000 km distance in total during the trip! Amazing isn’t it? There were total 14 destinations and the highlights were Trivandrum, Alleppy, Kumarakom, Thekkaddy, Munnar, Wayanad and Cochin. The destinations of KBE seasons change slightly every year due to the variable factors and to cover different areas. So this is a wonderful opportunity to experience the culture, landscape, food and know people of Kerala in the most convenient way possible.
The Blue Bus-
The green bus was a customized bus for the KBE participants and the seats were comfortable enough to travel for longer journeys. Though the longest one was around 6-7 hours including the elaborate lunch breaks in between. There was no situation when we had to travel during night or too early in the morning. The participants were provided sim-cards for using data on their smart phones and laptops, so we could remain connected to internet using sim in the bus or hotel Wi-Fi whenever you pleased to. However a very fast Wi-Fi is still a dream anywhere in India. The windows glasses were clear and large to give a perfect view, so the journeys were equally enjoyable as the destinations. There were logical breaks in between for (clean) toilets and tea breaks.
The stay and food options-
Being on the KBE we were pampered like royalty. We had the best possible stays in Kerala ranging from the Leela Kovalam to Brunton Boatyard in Cochin and we experienced all the luxury in between as well. There were grand welcomes arranged for us with garlands, local drinks, elephants, local dance and musical performances. I experienced the varied range of cuisines from local to continental in this trip and I am pretty sure we didn’t spare any Kerala food to try in two weeks. Most of the meals were buffet so it allowed non-vegetarians as well as vegans to choose their food options. There were even elaborated sessions with chefs to know the nitty-gritty of the preparations. One of the best experiences was to stay in a house boat for a day along with my two fellow participants. We were waived goodbye from the resorts with small gifts and brochures to help us know more about the property.
The unforgettable experiences-
Though I have seen Kerala multiple times but there were many bloggers from the far countries who got this unique opportunity to know Kerala for the very first time and in the most convenient way possible. While we covered the famous destinations we also saw the offbeat experiences of visiting Muziris, Kalamandalam, visiting the elephant conservation center and villages for understanding the Eco-tourism projects. While we chose to participate in the unique experiences of bathing elephants, Kayaking, strolling in tea gardens, weaving the choirs and climbing the coconut trees like locals to make bag full of memories.
Friends for life-
In season 1 the total number of bloggers selected was 27 from 14 countries, while this year it was 30 from 21 countries. So here is an opportunity for you to make friends from 21 countries and spend some time to know them, their culture and help them show your culture. You can imagine the fun when 30 people with almost similar mindsets meet and indulge in traveling, dancing and singing. While I was teaching them Bollywood moves, they were making me dance on Spanish dance numbers. It was a great mix of bloggers, while there were a few new starters; there were also full time pro bloggers who can give you million dollar tips and advice. And everyone had their own stories to contribute in their own ways; we had a great time listening to each other’s travel stories and experiences.
I traveled with people from Poland, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Uruguay, South Africa, Italy, USA, New Zealand, Brazil, Mexico, Spain, Czech Republic, Greece, Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia. I probably had the hardest time ever to say good bye to my travel friends and we hugged each other numerous times with teary eyes.
There is always a crew of 4-5 members traveling along with us who were there to ensure that we receive proper care and attention. The ultra-cool crew included a few photographers, a manager, interns and a tour guide who provided good information about our travel more than any wikitravel could give. It was probably the most dedicated and hardworking crew I’ve seen; they regularly kept us informed about the plans for the next few days, hotel information and any other specific requests.
The media coverage was the proverbial cherry on the cake for this trip. We have been interviewed by 4-5 different media publications about our experiences- Times Of India, Indian Express, The Hindu, Manorama Daily and other local newspapers. It was a great opportunity for all of us to create a media presence.
It’s not for you if-
1. If you are a traveler who never likes to travel in a group even if you meet similar minded people. There is a big group with bunch of nicest people on earth so I was lucky to find this crazy, fun and wonderful group. If you need more ‘me time’ you can always get up early for a stroll to take more pictures.
2. If you are a slow traveler who doesn’t like to move fast and hate packing your bags , then this trip is not for you. There would be situations where you might shift to a new hotel two-three consecutive days as well.
3. If you are someone who is not comfortable at all with bus journeys, then it is going to be difficult as the whole distance was covered by bus including the hill travel. The mountains are not at very high-altitude and one journey could be 2-3 hours maximum with the logical breaks. We handled it well by eating light or taking a few precautionary medicines
4. There would be few ‘not so travel’ related things involved like Property tours for the Hotel your are staying or group photos with the properties which is part of every FAM trip but it was the best so far for many of them and remember you are not paying for it!
5. During this trip or afterwards, you wouldn’t be paid for any writings or your time. So keep the expectations straight.
6. Last but not the least, If you are not fan of group photos and selfies 😉
Hope the above description will help you make a wise choice, in short I really enjoy being on trips though I couldn’t take a lot of pictures or lots of interaction with locals which I usually do on my trips . But without a doubt it was the most luxurious trips I have been to. And I also feel rich having 30 new friends.
P.S. The images used in this post are Copyrighted by Kerala Tourism