When you think of India you think of hectic. Crazy traffic, cows wandering in and out of cars, pollution, people everywhere, Noise, smells, colours, spices, poverty. I was surprised that upon arriving at Travandrum airport, the scene was one of calm. Kerala is the opposite of what you would expect when visiting India. I would like to call it india for beginners. Kerala is a tropical state in the south of India. The literacy rate here is one of the highest in the world at 94%. The life expectancy is 77 years and the state has the most equal sex ratio in the country with 1,084 women per 1000 men. Kerala is the only place in the world where communism has been achieved by the ballet and not the gun. Every 5 years the opposite political party gets voted in keeping the balance. Hindus, Christians and Muslims coexist peacefully and the landscape is dotted with temples, churches and mosques. Kerala even has a Synagog, the only one in India. The main exports here are coconut, rubber, coffee, tea, pepper and cashews.
When I think of India, I don’t think of a luxury vacation but luxury is most definitely what I have experienced here in Kerala. I like to call this place the India for beginners. The food isn’t as spicy as it is in the rest of India. The streets not as crowded. The cows behave themselves and stay out of traffic.
The backwaters are stunning in their beauty, the perfect combination of nature and village life with houses dotted along the shore line and women in beautifully coloured saris washing clothes in the canal. We spent a night on a house boat cruising through the canals of Alleppey with Lakes and Lagoons, relaxing in the sunshine, snapping photos and admiring a beautiful sunset.
While in Alleppey we also visited a sustainable tourism project where we got to visit various homes and learn a little about traditional crafts and tasting toddy a local liquor made from coconut sap.
We spent time camping in the Western Ghats with Kalypso Adventures, hiking challenging trails with rewarding views at the top. The hill stations are much cooler than the lower land areas, but you have to drive through windy, narrow mountain roads with crazy drivers in large trucks whipping around corners to reach them. Warning, bring anti-nausea meds and be prepared to pray to whatever God you pray to to keep you safe through the nail bitting journey to the top. Kalypso Adventures also offers 10-15 day treks as well as a variety of other adventurous ways to explore the beautiful mountain range. Although five star luxury hotels are nice sometimes, this is my preferred way to explore a country. Camping is a great way to be in touch with nature, and hiking and walking through smaller villages exposes you to the real every day life of citizens living in the areas you are visiting.
Speaking of five star hotels, be careful when booking online. Not all five star hotels are created equal and although I have no issue staying in hostels and lower end budget hotels (I actually prefer it) If you are paying five star prices then I assume you are looking for five star service and quality. A few remarkable hotels I had the chance to enjoy were Kumarakom Lake Resort and Vythiri Village Resort the service, comfort, food and luxury was beyond my expectations and I felt as though I was living the life of a princess the few days I spent at each resort.
Other culturally relevant things you should be sure to check out while you are in Kerala is kathakali, the traditional dance of Kerala. We were greeted by traditional drumming and different kathakali characters almost everywhere we went. Kathakali is a form of folk dancing and acting with the actors or dancers preforming a drama through movements of the hands and face. The elaborate costumes and face make up fit right in with what you would imagine for a fairytale land of India.
Also be sure to get an ayurveda massage or treatment while you are in Kerala. Ayurveda in sanskrit literally means the study of the science of life. It is based on every individual fitting into a combination of three doshas and is based on the philosophy that the balance of doshas results in good health and the imbalance results in disease therefore every person should modulate their behaviours or environment to either increase or decrease certain doshas and maintain balance in their natural state. While ayurveda focus on prevention of disease, treatment of certain diseases is also possible through ayurveda. Treatments are natural and plant based derived from herbs, roots, leaves, fruits, bark, or seeds.
Kerala is a beautiful provence and there is so much to learn and discover, two weeks was hardly enough time to explore everything. The landscape is beautiful and the people are warm and welcoming. If you are thinking about visiting India Kerala is definitely a good place to start.