Kerala is fondly and aptly called “God’s Own Country”, it is almost a world away from the frenzy and noise you would experience in some of the states in India. It generously offers you an intense tropical landscape fed by a good rainfall and enhanced by its spice and tea covered hills of the Western Ghats in the west, its glorious and peaceful backwaters and its long coast of beaches and Arabian Sea coast (almost 600km) in the east.
The history of Kerala also called the Spice Coast of India, is closely linked to its spice trading conducted with foreign travellers and merchants from across the world including the Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch, French and the British. The architecture, cuisine and literature of this beautiful travel destination has been influence by each of these traders in some way or the other.
Kerala is very well advanced with 100% literacy, the finest healthcare system which means infant mortality is low and life expectancy higher, the main language is Malayalam and the main religions are Hinduism, Christianity and Islam.
Now, let’s look at the wonderful experiences Kerala has to offer its visitors starting with relaxing and healing Ayurveda which is the “Science of life” practiced for over 500 years, it teaches a proactive approach to avoiding illness through eating fresh food, daily exercise, relaxation/stress reduction, and regular cleansing. Kerala is very dedicated to Ayurvedic medicine so much so, it is more mainstream than an alternative medical approach. You can pamper yourself with the numerous Ayurvedic relaxation packages available for tourists.
Fancy a peaceful scenic cruise on one of the Houseboats or a country boat around the canals of Alappuzha where, as you drift along you can take in the sights of rich paddy fields, coconut lagoons, fishermen going about their daily work and small islands. Boat cruises around the backwaters are not to be missed and also give you a chance to try out ethnic cuisine from local eateries. Tapioca, delicious dishes using a different tasty fish and coconut toddy (beverage) are the highlights of the backwaters.
The Snake Boat Races which are held in Allepey, usually between July to September are not to be missed. These boats are long canoe style boats and are about 100 – 120ft long and hold up to 100 rowers, every year the villages get together to race and carry a bit of history from 400 years ago when the kings from Allepey and the surrounding areas used to fight each other in boats along the canals. This thrilling and speedy race is also the highlight of the popular Onam Festival which is a harvest festival and marks the homecoming of King Mahabali. Be sure to find beautiful and colourful floral decorations in front of the houses celebrating this festival.
The rich culture in Kerala also means that festivals are exuberantly celebrated and music and dance play a very important role. One of the main dances that is popular in Kerala is Kathakali, it’s a 300-year-old dance form which combines the performing art forms of opera, ballet, masque, and pantomime. The dance is a beautiful blend of color, dance, music, drama, and expressions. Mohiniyattom is another popular dance form with soft and graceful movements.
Food Lovers! You will love the rich, flavour filled cuisine that Kerala has to offer. A variety of vegetarian, sea food ( fish, mussels, crab, tiger prawns, king prawns, tiny prawns, oysters, sardines, mackerel, tuna and gorgeous red lobsters) and non-vegetarian (chicken, beef, mutton, pork) mixed with a variety of spices and coconut in different forms result in the most amazing mouth-watering delicious food that will tempt any tourist.
Be sure to taste some of the most popular dishes i.e. Puttu and Kadla Curry, Appam with Stew, Iddyappam with Egg Curry, Nadan Kozhi Varuthathu (Spicy chicken), Kerala Prawn Curry, Avial (delicious mix of vegetables), Paal Payasam (dessert made from milk), Palada Pradhaman (dessert with milk and nuts), deep fried Banana and Tapioca Chips (savoury snack fried in coconut oil).
Some of the popular tourist destinations in Kerala are – Cochin, Munnar, Periyar, Alleppey, Marari, Varkala, Wayanad, Kumarakom, Kovalam and Thekkady.
So, what do you take back home as souvenirs after your amazing adventure in Kerala, you have a lot to choose from i.e. the best spices (black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, turmeric), cashews, tea, coffee, banana chips, handicrafts made from metals, coconut, wood, coconut coir products, traditional Kerala costumes with intricately woven borders (Mundu and Saree), Kathakali masks, sea shells show pieces, miniature snake boat models, aromatic essences and oils and beautifully crafted gold and silver jewelry.
Located in Kerala in the Ernakulam district, Kochi was formerly known as Cochin. Kochi was a major trading point dealing in pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and attracted Arabs, British, Chinese, Dutch, Italians and Portuguese who helped Kochi emerge as a bustling centre of commercial activity The English called Kochi 'Mini England', the Dutch called it 'Homely Holland' and the Portuguese called it 'Little Lisbon' highlighting Kochi's prominence.
One of its main attractions which on the one hand helps the fishermen earn their livelihood and on the other is a photographer’s dream capture, are the magnificent Chinese fishing nets (Cheenavala) which dot the whole coast of Fort Kochi. These nets crafted out of teakwood beams are unique to Kochi and it is believed that traders from the court of the Chinese ruler Kublai Khan introduced these nets to Kochi.
Don’t miss a scenic and relaxing walk along Fort Kochi beach where you can see European style bungalows along the shoreline. Drink in the rick cultural heritage and experience first-hand the mark left by several traders and wanderers who explored Kochi for over 600 years. This can be seen in Jew town where a visit to the Jewish Synagogue reveals architecture that incorporates beautiful Chinese tiles and magnificent Belgian chandeliers. The Dutch influence can be seen with a visit to the Dutch Palace in Mattancherry, this palace was built by the Portuguese and later modified by the Dutch in the 17th century and was the venue for the coronation of many Rajas of Kochi. The Santa Cruz Basilica built by the Portuguese and St. Francis Church built by the Europeans (Vasco da Gama was buried here before his remains were moved back to Portugal) and the Hill Palace in Tripunithura are filled with rich history and architectural gems to discover.
Finally indulge in a bit of shopping, choose from handicrafts, nuts, spices and products made from coir, wood, shells and sandalwood.
Get ready to visit Munnar and be mesmerized by a dreamland painted by nature with rich greenery, misty mountains, evergreen rainforests and gushing streams. Munnar is also one of South India’s largest tea growing regions and has become the commercial centre of some of the world’s highest tea-growing estates.
Make sure you treat yourself to an enlightening experience with a visit to the century old tea gardens and factories where you can pick and taste the finest tea. You can also witness the art of tea-processing at the Tata Tea Museum.
Some of the hill stations that offer you good picnic spots, a bit of trout fishing and an opportunity for long treks and mountain walks are within 6kms to 10kms from Munnar i.e. Pothamedu, Devikulam, Pallivasal and Attukal. You can also visit the Eravikulam National Park and have the opportunity to interact with the rare Nilgiri Tahr also known as the ibex and stocky goat with coarse fur and curved horns.
You are guaranteed to leave Munnar rejuvenated and armed with lots of scenic photos to relive your memories of this beautiful piece of heaven.
Thekkady, also known as Periyar is located near the Kerala-Tamilnadu border and is home to India’s largest wild-life sanctuary – The Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary and is one of 12 Tiger Reserves of its kind. Spotting wildlife such as Bisons, Elephants, Sambhar and Barking Deer in their natural habitat will be one of the highlights of your visit to this sanctuary.
The 120 year old dam built across River Periyar is another major attraction and while this dam stops the river to form a reservoir, it also resulted in the creation of an artificial lake in the middle of the sanctuary. Boating cruises are organised on Lake Periyar and tourists can be treated to witnessing wildlife such as elephants, bison and sambhar as they come done to the river for a drink of water or a frolic especially during the summer months.
Though Thekkady has a lot of sprawling tea estates, there are also beautiful plantations for cardamom, rubber, pepper and coffee. Make sure you visit the aromatic spice gardens for a stimulating experience.
Your holiday at Thekkady will not be complete without attending a performance of Kalaripayattu – an ancient Kerala martial arts form which encompasses all fighting arts and dates back 2000 years.
Alleppey known as the “Venice of the East” with its network of inland canals is a popular tourist destination. It is also the centre for the Coir carpet industries and prawn farming.
Looking to relax on a houseboat while you cruise along scenic backwaters and enjoy a mouth-watering lunch prepared with the fresh catch-of-the-day? - Then Alleppey is a good choice of destination. You will also be treated to the thrill of the Snake Boat Races and the long 100ft canoe-like boats with its 100 rowers speed over the backwaters as they race competitors from nearby villages.
Be sure to visit age old architectural monuments like the Sree Krishna Temple in Ambalapuzha, the black granite statue of Buddha in Karumadikuttan, Krishnapuram Palace resplendent in mural paintings and architecture and the Arthunkal Church, a magnificent shrine dedicated to St. Sebastian.
Don’t forget to pick up some souvenirs before you head to your next destination, there are beautiful handmade coir products like, rugs, carpets, handbags and walls hangings and also a variety of spices like pepper and cardamom.
Why not finish your experience with a soothing and rejuvenation with an age old Ayurvedic oil massage?
Mararikulam referred to as Marari is a small sleepy fishing village. If you are looking to get away from the maddening crowd, beach parties and the hustle and bustle of life – then head to the resorts at Marari. Don’t be surprised if you do not find a TV in your room and be prepared to be gifted with a lot of peaceful open space, lotus ponds, whispering coconut groves and expansive lawns with thoughtful seating.
This is your time to unwind and be one with nature, take slow breezy walks along the beach, indulge in the many Ayurvedic healing and massage packages available, sample the fresh seafood catch of the day cooked in aromatic spices and coconut milk, take part in coir product making or just sit back and take in the tranquility around you.