India, in many ways, represents a world in her. Every 200 kms, the terrain changes. Change is also evident in the way people speak, cook, worship or live. The southernmost part of Indian peninsula houses Kerala, a state that boasts of uncanny peace among multiple religions and the highest literary population percentage of the country. Cradled between the azure blue of Arabian sea and the ancient mountain ranges of Nilgiris, the tourist places in Kerala offer you rich wildlife, distinct customs, a sober village life, gentle serving of local moonshine Tody, delicious food items catering from meat lovers to vegans, fresh catch of the day procured from the myriad spirals of backwaters and much more.
I am from the eastern part of India, West Bengal. We take our rice and fish curry very seriously and cook the fish gently in mustard oil. It is of a little wonder how I fell in love with Fish Miles infused with coconut oil from the little town of Kochi from Kerala and further loved the state all the more! Let me try and explain.
Kerala’s Main Attractions
Kerala is a quintessential choice of the domestic travelers to celebrate their nuptial bliss and celebrate the days of honeymoon. It is of little astonishment since the state offers an abundance of joys from nature and a distinct local life. For medical and yoga tourism, the Ayurvedic Ashrams of Kerala are held in high respect as well.
The whole of western stretch of Kerala is bordered by the Arabian Sea. The calm waves had paved the path for Arabian traders to visit India. It is of little wonder how Islam, Christianity, Judaism flourished together along with Hinduism. The tradition continues. The beach resort towns of Varkala and Kovalam are much loved by travelers. The shallow tidal waves of Kovalam makes it a perfect getaway for an array of water sports. The Town of Kozhikode has the beach where Vasco da Gama stepped first and started a new era! The beaches of Kannur, Bekal, and Marari are often frequented by locals and nascent in nature.
From the beaches, head to Alappuzha backwaters and live in a houseboat for a few days. Unlike the houseboats of Dal Lake, Sri Nagar, Kashmir the houseboats of Alapuzza sails for the whole day. They are decked up with traditional interiors, often makes arrangement for onboard entertainment and lets you take a closer look at the daily life on both sides of the stream.
The mountain ranges
The mountain ranges of Kerala are an extension of Nilgiri range that welcomes the monsoon wind and renders a lush green effect of the southern hills of the country. It is an old mountain range and not as steep as the Himalayas. However, the beauty of mist and manmade lakes amid lush green hilltops are unparalleled. The peak Anamudi is the highest of South India. Munnar remains one of the finest tourist destinations from the days of British rule. However, for a different experience, you may explore the towns of Wayanad, Thekkady, Vagamon, Ponmudi etc. Idukki is my favorite among all!
The national reserves
High on the mountains of Thekkady and Periyar, in the district of Idukki, live a diversified populace of wildlife. The Tigers, the wild elephants, the hornbills, the Macaque, the King Cobra thrive in the evergreen rainforest, well protected by government initiatives as well as the locals. For a closer watch, secure a few days stay in Neyyar, Chinnar, Periyar is highly recommended.
Kerala’s best food and drink
The more I speak about the cuisine of Kerala the lesser I feel I have spoken. For a gourmet lover, this is the ultimate paradise. Every spice used in the food tells volumes of history, about the trade path, about the religious practices, about influence from a world separated by the Arabian Sea. I have tried to list down few dishes you must try while visiting Kerala!
Boiled eggs are cooked in a gravy made with tomato and onions and spiced with plenty of Black pepper. History states it is influenced by Syria. I tasted the best egg roast while traveling in Munnar, at a restaurant called Rapsy!
The only place in India where fish has taken a place in the rice dish which is essentially made with meat and spices! The Thalasseri Biryani is distinct in nature since plenty of raisins have made their place in the authentic recipe. It is a derivative of the Arabic rice and meat dish mandi and found in abundance in the north of Kerala!
Almost a comfort food for me, this dish retains the rich flavor of seafood and cooked in coconut milk. Coconut milk and raw mango are used in abundance for the fish gravies.
Idli and Dhosa
The essential South Indian dishes which are much loved by the vegan world as well!
Shaped like Idli and made with rice flour, Puttu is steamed.
More often, the food in Kerala is cooked with coconut oil. They say the abundant use of coconut oil is the mystery behind bouncy hair of the Malayali maidens! I mention about coconut oil since the aroma may be overpowering for those not used to it on a daily basis.
Places to stay in Kerala
Airbnb is my first choice of stay during travels, especially because I got to choose the perfect home stays with a traditional Kerala feel. The wooden beds, the majestic mirrors set in a beautiful curved wooden background and the small square sitting arrangement in a house: all that makes up for a quintessential Maniratnam movie set! Loved all of them, especially the homestay in Kochi which happens to be a port town and has undergone much cultural evolution in architecture.
In Munnar, however, we stayed far away from the busy town and opted for a quirky tree-house. It was named as Jungle Jive. The owner lives here with his family, wife, two daughters and a son, and a pet tortoise! The tree-house was beautifully decked up and gives you all the amenities of a comfortable stay. I remember falling asleep hearing the crickets cry all night!
Getting around Kerala
The great Indian railway shall take care of you as you plan to move around from one destination to another while in Kerala. Overnight sleeper trains run from the south to the north of the state and are reasonably priced. Overnight bus ferries a lot of travelers from the neighboring metro cities of Bangalore and Chennai. The state of Kerala houses multiple airports, Cochin, Calicut, Trivandrum being the international ones of them. Once you have reached Kerala and holidaying, I recommend spending a few nights on a houseboat that laze around the backwaters of Kumarakom or Alleppey. The price for one night on a houseboat starts from USD 60 and goes up as you add in the value additions.
Do not miss out on Kerala’s
My favorite would be a stay in a coffee plantation in Munnar. The homestays are sober and let you take a closer glimpse of the local lifestyle. It is also a very unique experience since the southern peninsula in India is the only place where coffee is ingrained in the culture. If you are lucky, you will also get to walk amid the spice plantation. Please note, the spice trails from the Arab world to India from the ancient history predates these plantations and their ancestors. Collect your share of cinnamon, cardamom, and coffee before taking your leave.
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Things to know
Kerala is one of the safest places to travel in India. Even as a solo female traveler, I highly recommend you take this trip. Locals are extremely gentle and often eager to help you beyond expectations.
People of Kerala speak Malayalam. In case you can communicate in English, traveling in Kerala is a cakewalk for you. Though I am not well versed in Hindi, I found people here speak and understand Hindi to some extent.
The temples of Kerala often own many elephants. They are used in the worship and are an integral part of the rituals. You may also be offered to take a ride while visiting the spice plantations however I suggest you refrain from riding the animals.
The local moonshine, Tody, made from palm jaggery is only available in the streetside humble Tody stalls where beef is served as a spicy side dish. You may try one but be cautious to withstand the kick!
Plenty of Ayurdevic Ashrams have mushroomed across the state, Research before you sign up with one. I cannot emphasize enough on the renowned Ayurvedic therapeutic massage that strips you every sign of stress. Spend one evening pampering yourself!
The sandalwood is one of the prized resources of the state and a tiny piece will cost a lot, in its own rights. A sandalwood tree is valued at around 24k USD. In case you are a collector, we recommend you visit the government emporium and buy a piece for yourself. I got one for my grandmother and the fragrance is overwhelming.
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Madhurima is a Bengali girl from Kolkata, working and living in Bangalore, India. She is an MBA graduate and works as a market research analyst. She is an aspiring travel blogger, a food lover, an experimental YouTuber. She reads voraciously about history before visiting a place and loves connecting the dots from the past to the present.