If there’s one state in India that everybody should visit, it’s Kerala. It’s one of India’s most visited states for a reason (and that reason is not the fact that Kochi is one of the most accessible ports for ships…) and was even named by National Geographic as one of the world’s best 10 paradises! In fact, there are so many unmissable experiences to be had there, that you’d be a fool to leave it off your itinerary.
Situated almost right at the very bottom of the country, Kerala has a much more tropical feel to it than most of the country. It’s kind of like Goa’s more mature, well-behaved older brother in terms of aesthetics, with a little bit of Sri Lanka thrown into the mix. We’re talking coconut trees, luscious greenery, and beaches as opposed to the dust, camels and snow-capped mountains found further north. Of course, there’s a lot more to India than those mental images, but that’s a can of worms we should probably save for another day, as when I start talking about India, I just don’t stop.
Kerala is leaps and bounds ahead of a lot of India’s ever-changing number of states in terms of tolerance, diversity, and acceptance, with Kochi, in particular, showing an increasing level of awareness of the needs of the LGBT (specifically the T) community. It also has one of the highest literacy rates in the country, at around 93%, which I’m pretty sure is higher than my middle-of-nowhere hometown.
I’ll also go out on a very objectifying and possibly quite sexist limb here and say that for me, Keralan men are by far the most beautiful I’ve come across in India. But I promise that’s not the reason I keep going back… or is it?!
Aside from all of the above, Kerala has bloody fantastic food, a relaxed vibe, and a harmonious mixture of cultures and religion you don’t tend to come across every day, even in a country as diverse as India. If you’ve always wanted to visit India but are hesitant to throw yourself in the deep (and very crowded) end of Delhi or Mumbai, I cannot recommend Kerala enough!
Not only is it a hub for all things nature, it also plays host to some of the most exciting cultural events and occasions throughout the year. To validate my very strong opinion of Kerala being the greatest place on earth (I’m aware we’re reaching a bit now), I’ve asked a couple of fellow travel bloggers to give their insight onto some unmissable experiences to have in God’s Own Country.
Kochi – Muziris Biennal
Inma from A World to Travel
The already touristy city of Cochin (Kochi) comes even more alive once every two years to host its Art Biennale. In 2018 it will celebrate its 4th edition, after being launched in 2012, with over 400,000 visitors, despite its location being pretty far from India’s main metropolis and art hubs.
Painters, historians, curators, activists, writers, filmmakers, photographers and all kinds of artists from around the world come together for a few weeks of talks, exhibitions, residency programs, film festivals, seminars and other art driven initiatives, displaying their creations in several locations within Kochi.
If you appreciate art and want to experience Kerala in a unique way, I’d recommend you to go during the next Kochi-Muziris Biennale, that will run from Dec,12th 2018 to March, 29th 2019. Enjoy!
Theyyam Festival in Kannur
Dawn from 5 Lost Together
Kannur is in northern Kerala and definitely off the main tourist trail. Located a 6 hours train ride north from Kochi, Kannur is known for its beaches and backwater villages. It’s also famous for its theyyam ceremonies, which are performed at temples and are unique to northern Kerala. These performances feature frenzied dancing with loud drums, creating a trance-like atmosphere. They are often held to bring good fortune to important events.
When visiting Kannur, stay in a homestay outside of the city where you can enjoy village life and the quiet beaches. Your homestay can also help you plan a visit to a theyyam. The one we attended was at a temple and we were the only foreigners there. It is definitely not a performance, but a religious ritual and while we weren’t sure exactly what was happening, it was very interesting to watch. All men in attendance, including my husband, went up to offer (throw rice) at the dressed up man and receive blessings. There is no cost to attend; just make a donation to the temple. This was a wonderful cultural opportunity and we were so appreciative of how welcomed we were.
Check out more about Kannur here.
Aditi from Travelogue Connect
I had a very fulfilling and culturally enriching trip to God’s Own Country, Kerala in February 2017. I covered few beautiful places and Alleppey was one of them. It is rightly called the ‘Venice of India’! The best time to visit Alleppey/Alappuzha is from August to March when the weather is very pleasant and mild – a nice change to Kerala’s normally humid climate.Oh, how I miss the boat rides on the calm backwaters, the setting sun, rice fields, local women cooking fish in their homes adjoining the canals, goats grazing in the paddy fields, fresh ripe sweet bananas hanging from trees, vibrant fall colors. Then there are the big and beautiful houseboats tied to the shore, small boats cruising the canals, tall coconut trees on the sides of lagoons, birds chirping in the peaceful environment, quaint country cottages, quietly sitting swans, snake boat races for the upcoming festival, touring the villages for hours and so on. A boat ride with a loved one ensures a romantic time spent to be cherished forever!
One can choose to stay in an aesthetically designed luxurious houseboat to enjoy the backwaters or take a ferry ride touring the backwaters for 4-5 hours to avoid burning a hole in the pocket. The choice is yours. We had opted to go for a boat ride with Mr. Gireesh, Contact No. +91 8606115389. He is available at the Houseboat Point at Matha Jetty and charges a competitive price of INR 1,200/- for a tour of 4 hours. The USP of his boat is that its the only hand rowed boat in entire Alleppey! Yes, you heard it right. He rowed the boat himself and sang folk songs while we relaxed and clicked pictures. He even allowed us to row the boat every now and then. What an awesome experience it was! I highly recommend him for a ride in the backwaters of Alleppey.
If one is visiting Alleppey, they can choose to stay at Mariya Homestay near Dutch Square. It is run by a South Indian couple Mariya and James and their son Robin. They were so enthusiastic, warm and homely; it was truly a delight staying with them. You can book them here.
The backwaters of Alleppey is certainly an unforgettable ‘must have’ experience in Kerala!
Munnar tea plantations
Somnath from Travel Crusade
Kerala, commonly known as God’s Own Country, is definitely deserving of this moniker! It’s strikingly different from the rest of the country and holds tremendous value to the country. It is most famous for brackish water lakes, wildlife sanctuaries and seaports, houseboats and flourishing tea gardens.
The flourishing tea gardens are mostly situated in Munnar and are especially popular among newlywed and honeymoon couples wishing to spend short weekends together, as well as to enjoy during summers. The temperature in Munnar remains pleasant throughout the year and continues to be the queen of hill stations in South India. The tea gardens in this particular region hold tremendous value, and the wares are exported throughout the county due to the striking colour and perfume of the tea leaves. They are extremely popular, and people travel from all over to purchase and feel their essence. Munnar has green valleys and meadows that you won’t find anywhere else in South India.
Munnar actually lies almost on the border between Kerala and Tamil Nadu and is readily accessible from all major hubs of South India. The place holds significance in the minds of nature enthusiasts and tea lovers across the country and, indeed, the world!
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A once in a year opportunity, Thrissur Pooram is an annual Hindu temple festival held at the Vadakkunnathan Temple in yep, you guessed it, Thrissur! Like most Hindu festivals, Thrissur Pooram lasts longer than just the one day and involves a lot of different celebrations and ceremonies spread out over the course of a week or so.
The main pooram controversially involves more than fifty elephants belonging to their respective temples, all of which are intricately dressed with nettipattam, bells, and other ornaments. They then face off at opposing sides of the temple, with men opening and closing umbrellas and shouting things in Malayalam.
As a vegetarian, animal exploitation is certainly not something I agree with. So, why have I included Thrissur Pooram in this list? Well, for the fireworks! Indian fireworks are unlike any I’ve ever experienced, and those displayed at Thrissur Pooram take it to a whole other level! They are crazy! They are deafening, they are beautiful and they are exciting. We were sat a good three miles away from the display and the building we were on still shook beneath our feet. Even if you avoid the main elephant-related event, being in Thrissur and taking in the atmosphere and buzz during pooram is certainly not to be missed.
Thrissur Pooram happens on the pooram day of the Malayalam calendar – so when the moon rises with the Pooram star in the month of Medam. This means it always falls at some time in April-May.
Trekking in India’s Western Ghats
Andra from Our World to Wander
Most people associate trekking with the northern part of India, specifically the states like Sikkim, Jammu & Kashmir, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. But there are also wonderful trekking options in southern India as well, and Kerala is one of the places where you can combine walks among tea plantations with some really enchanting treks.
We chose to do a day trek from Munnar to Pothemedu mountain, at around 2,100m high. It’s not a difficult trek, but it sure is a rewarding one. The best way to do it is to leave very early from Munnar so that you can catch the sunrise from the top. Although the Western Ghats are not that high, they are truly green and the tea plantations from their base make it an extraordinary view.
You don’t necessarily need a guide for this trek because you can follow the path and there aren’t that many “options” to get lost, but it would be better to have one. We chose to get one simply because we wanted to learn more from a local and to hear stories about the tea plantations.
In terms of best time to go to Munnar, go for the winter months, from November to February. We were there at the end of November and even though we had some rains, we also had plenty of sunshine, and the weather was nice and cool. So next time you plan a visit to India’s green state of Kerala, make sure to include a trek in Munnar as well.
Traditional Kathakali Performance
Natalia from My Trip Hack
Arts & theatre give you a deeper insight into the local culture. Kathakali is a traditional dance performance which generally depicts stories from Indian Epics namely Mahabharata and Ramayana, or from Puranas, which are a collection of small stories linking various regional Gods to bigger Hinduism paradigm. It is an expression of spiritual ideas in the sublime mixture of dance, expression and acing techniques.
The main heroes of the story don’t have any lines, yet there is a small narrative at the beginning and in the end to give you the essence of the story.
You can attend Kathakali performance in one of the tourist destinations in Kerala. In Cochin, Kerala Kathakali Center, Cochin cultural Center and Greenix Village are the popular places that perform this art.
Local Tip: For an even more in-depth look at Kathakali and other traditional Keralan performing arts, you should definitely visit Kerala Kalamandalam in Thrissur.
The ticket price is 350 INR which also includes a make-up session. You can see how the colors are mixed and how they gradually transform human faces into mythological creatures. As a rule, the make-up preparation lasts 40 minutes and performance itself one and a half hour.
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There are so many amazing experiences to be had in Kerala, and India as a whole, that an entire lifetime is too short to see and do them all. But you know what? I’m well up for that challenge!