While different states in India have their own slogans, nothing is as ambitious as Kerala’s proud claim to be “God’s Own Country”. What makes this more interesting is the fact that a visit to this state will convince you that the claim is not an empty boast; this state does stand on a different plane when compared to other states in India. God definitely seems to have favored Kerala and indeed, as many people suspect, should be using this as His holiday destination.
Pristine beach in Alleppey
Why else should this state have so much lush greenery with regular rains that wash everything clean? Why should so many lovely lakes, canals and waterfalls be concentrated in this single state? Why should it have the best of undisturbed beaches and dense national parks? Add to this the fascinating culture of the people here, the exquisite cuisine, unique festivals, arresting monuments and temples and an intriguing history; you’ll agree that nothing has been left out to make Kerala God’s own country.
As a tourist destination, Kerala is vast and has so many different locations that it may be difficult to cover all attractions in the state in one single holiday without rushing through it and losing the main idea of savoring a break in God’s own country. Here are some distinguishing factors about a holiday in Kerala followed up by an overview of places to explore here-
The best feature of staying in Kerala is the diversity of options. Whether it’s a stay in a treehouse with thundering waterfalls as your backdrop, in a comfortable cottage in a sprawling tea estate, a relaxing sojourn in a houseboat along Alleppey’s backwaters, a hospitable homestay for that authentic Kerala culture experience, a beach-side resort holiday or royal treatment in a colonial mansion, each place in Kerala has its own unique accommodation option, so much so that you’ll even forget that hotels and inns exist for this purpose.
Though some festivals are uniform throughout India, Kerala has its own distinctive, colorful festivals that add to its exclusive brand image. Onam which is celebrated in Aug – Sep is one of the most important festivals; this vibrant bash of flower kolams, rich food, parades and shopping is accompanied by the annual boat race, a much awaited and fun-to-watch affair. Other festivals like the Thrissur Pooram which is a visual feast with heavily decorated elephants, heady orchestra and fireworks are wonderful events for visitors to watch.
The 5000 years old science of Ayurveda is a tradition in Kerala; this is in fact followed as mainstream medicine source even today. If you want an authentic Ayurveda experience with the right diet, consultant and therapeutic massages, Kerala is the right place to go to. If Ayurveda is one hand of the wellness industry of Kerala, Yoga is the other. This relaxing science can help cure several ailments and aid people in achieving a healthy mind as well as body. This too, is taught by experts in Kerala in soothing surroundings.
Even a ritual temple orchestra could be very heavy to the ears of an unaccustomed visitor; Kerala’s art forms are bold and impressive. From the iconic Kathakali dance to the lesser known Kalaripayattu form of martial art, every form of art here is mesmerizing to behold.
From Ayurvedic medicinal food to mouth-watering coastal dishes, Kerala has enough variety in its local cuisine to meet the need of different travelers. The traditional lunch spread, called Sadhya, is a heavy multi-course meal, rich with vegetables and flavorings. Malabar cuisine is a particular favorite with meat lovers; try the Malabar biryani, a rich infusion of chicken or mutton with rice and spices.
Most capital cities aren’t exactly touristy; apart from the Government monuments and cultural attractions, they usually don’t have much to offer. But Trivandrum, as Kerala’s capital is called, can spring a surprise on tourists with its green façade, laid back attitude and abundance of places to visit and experience.
The hub of the city is the Anantha Padmanabha Swamy Temple; though it’s off-limits for non-hindus, this is a nice place to visit for its surrounding attractions like the temple tank, the East Fort, the Ramanayar Museum and Kuthiramallikka Palace. The Museum compound is another interesting place; it houses the zoological park, the Napier Museum, the Keralan Museum and an art gallery. The zoo here is vast with a lot of greenery.
Travel a little further from Trivandrum and you’ll arrive at the lovely beach resort town of Kovalam; dotted with plenty of resorts and restaurants, this is a quaint, touristy place that promises a lot of fun. Close by is the Poovar Island, where you can either book a resort for a peaceful stay or spend a day of boating and beach fun. Another interesting excursion from Trivandrum will take you to the Neyyar Dam, a surprise package that offers boating, trekking, elephant rides and a lion safari.
Though it’s just an hour’s drive from Thiruvananthapuram, the beach resort town of Varkala deserves its own special mention in Kerala’s tourist map. With pristine beaches, quaint resorts and breathtaking views, this is an exceptional place for rejuvenation. Yoga is major here; there are plenty of places where you can learn the art of mastering control over your mind and body while you enjoy your holiday.
Cosmopolitan Kochi is Kerala’s pride. With its majestic harbor, delightful colonial architecture and its rich history, this is easily the most charming destination in Kerala. While Ernakulam, the twin city of Kochi has most modern hotels and high rises, when you board a ferry to reach Fort Kochi, you will see a completely different world with well preserved European colonies, boutiques, homestays and multi-cultural neighborhoods like the Jew town and the famous spice market.
The sea is unavoidable in Kochi and the best means to move around is through ferry; it’s cheap and much more interesting than other means of transport. You can also opt to take a jet boat ride into the sea to watch the sunset. The Chinese fishing nets, Mattancherry Palace, Santa Cruz Basilica and the Kodanadu Elephant training centre are some important places to visit here.
The sleepy village town of Allapuzha, called Alleppey by visitors, springs into action in the months of August and September when the annual boat race is held here as part of Onam festival celebrations. Rehearsals and mock races take place throughout the year and all the villages are involved in the preparation for the final race which is a matter of esteem.
Apart from the race, this resort town is an excellent place to relax in with the picture-perfect Punnamada Lake forming its backdrop. There are plenty of high-end resorts and friendly homestays here and in neighboring Kumarakom where you can forget the rest of the world and unwind amidst natural surroundings. Houseboats are very popular here; you can opt for a houseboat package that includes accommodation, meals and a cruise in a luxury houseboat with a private cabin through the calm waters of the Vembanad Lake. If you don’t want to stay in the houseboat, just take a canal cruise on one, explore the paddy fields through narrow canals in the rice bowl of India and enjoy dinner onboard before you depart.
Alleppey is famous for its coir products; so if you want your Kerala souvenirs, the Alleppey market is a good place to shop in. There is also a coir museum that’s informative and impressive.
Munnar and Thekkady
Away from the sea, further inland lies the idyllic district of Idukki. With a forest cover of over 50%, this area is famous for its natural attractions. The Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary in Thekkady and the mesmerizing hill station of Munnar are the main attractions here.
There are plenty of activities to do in Thekkady like the tiger trail at Periyar, bamboo rafting, boat cruises on the Periyar Lake, plantation visits, trekking and elephant adventures. After all this adventure, take a scenic ride to Munnar and bask in the beauty of nature. Of course, Munnar also has its share of attractions like the tea gardens, Lakkam waterfalls, the Rose Garden and Tea Museum, as in other hill stations, the rule here is to book comfortable cottages and relax with the assurance that you’re on top of the world.
A hidden gem in Kerala, Wayanad is often missed out from tourist circuits because of its location; nevertheless, this is a strikingly alluring destination for tourists with plenty of natural attractions, places of historic interest and adventure tourism. Try speed boating at the Banasura Sagar Dam, kayaking at the Pookode Lake, hiking up to the Chembrai peak, take a picnic lunch to the Sentinnel Rock Waterfalls and explore the historic Edakkal caves with its rock engravings from over 5000 years ago.
A word about Wayanad – plan your journey here if you’re willing to walk and climb quite a bit; even resorts here require some trekking skills to reach their most scenic spots. Since Wayanad is closer to Karnataka, you could consider combining this district with a trip to Kabini, Nagarhole Wildlife Sanctuary and historic Mysore.
Hidden Gems – Unexplored Trails
In Kerala, what lies unexplored by tourists is probably much more attractive than the regular tourist delights. Small villages with thatched-roof houses, lakes where the local children play with boats or have their own mock boat races and unknown hills and peaks with abundant flora and fauna make Kerala all the more appealing even to most seasoned travelers.
- Palakkad. Scenic, just like the rest of Kerala, what is most appealing about Palakkad is its simple culture. Sharing borders with Tamil Nadu, controlled for a small period by Hyder Ali of Mysore and with settlers from the Jain religion, this small town is a mix of different cultures. Classical music, called Carnatic music, is very popular here. There are plenty of homestays and resorts where you can get relaxing Ayurvedic treatments and experience the local culture. Kava, near Palakkad, is where the first rain clouds appear; this is a lovely place to visit especially during the monsoons.
- Kasargod, in the north of Kerala, is another hidden wonder. With its well-preserved Bekal Fort, stunning backwaters and isolated beaches, this town is away from the tourist circuit, yet perfect for a relaxing holiday. You can opt to stay in an island resort in the middle of nowhere and enjoy nature at its best. The Theyyam festival celebrated in December in Kasargod draws a lot of visitors for its vibrancy of spirit and cultural significance.
- While few know about it, a short ride from Ernakulam will take you to India’s oldest mosque as well as the first European church built in India. The Cheruman Juma Masjid, built in 649 AD is also the second oldest mosque in the world and is unique in its design since it’s built like a Hindu temple. The St Francis Church in Kochi was built in 1503 by the Portuguese and is said to be the oldest European church in the country.
- Learn an art at the Iringal crafts village, a 20 acre expanse of workshops and exhibitions near Kozhikode. Watch how an ordinary coir gets converted into a beautiful piece of art, shop in this village where you can get authentic artifacts; or better still, learn how to make these in one of the many workshops conducted here.
- Toddy ho. Made from coconut’s nectar, the toddy is an indigenous drink that’s sweet and heady. Get it from a trustworthy source and forget about the remaining of the day.
- Wherever possible, use the ferry instead of the car. This is what most locals do; it’s much cheaper and definitely far more interesting, especially when you take a non-tourist ferry.
October to March is considered to be the best time to visit God’s own country, though the monsoon months of August and September may also be fun. Book your holiday in paradise and return home, completely rejuvenated!