Kerala is often referred to as God’s own country and it’s not difficult to see why!
People think they have ‘done’ in India when they visit the Golden Triangle in the north. Of course no visitor to India can not be in awe of the Taj Mahal in Agra built purely as an act of love. But arriving in the south of India shows yet another dimension to this vast country and Kerala is if nothing else, totally different to anywhere else in India.
Firstly, Kerala is lush and green and lacks the dust of Northern India. There are no beggars. Yes, that’s right – No beggars. Kerala actually bans begging. It definitely lacks the poverty of the north. Most people own a house. In fact most of the young men of Kerala work overseas and this becomes more evident as you drive through the state. The fishermen are nearly all old. The young men have already left to work in the Gulf. The literacy rate is 100%, something for which they are very proud and rightly so. And Kerala is a dry state! Alcohol is not served on the first day of the month anywhere; including hotels and restaurants. National holidays are also dry days. In fact, on my recent visit, it seemed we were there for one public holiday after another and it was the end of the month on top. The reason for the dry days on the first day of each month is to discourage working men from frittering away their monthly income in one drink fuelled evening leaving no money for the rest of the month for food. This has obviously happened far too frequently and hence the now dry days on the first day of each month!
So what does Kerala have to offer the visitor? Well, most people visit for the draw of the Backwaters. The state is made up of extensive waterways, small canals and rivers, most of which meet up with the sea (The Arabian). One of the many highlights of a visit to Kerala is an overnight stay on one of the converted former rice barges. The houseboats are by no means accommodation where you are expected to slum it. In fact, the cabins are air conditioned and come with private en suite facilities. Depending on the size of the boat, but generally they are 3 or 4 roomed cabins. Each boat also comes with its own cook, boat driver and waiter – all more than happy to serve your every need!
Cochin is on the itinerary of any visit to Kerala. With a strong influence of Dutch, Portuguese and even a surprising Jewish community, the little town offers a very diverse place of interest. Famous all over Kerala for its seafood, it’s always fun to watch the catch of the day come in down by the Chinese Fishing nets. It’s all a bit touristy these days but worth a visit nevertheless.
The unique Katakhali show is another ‘must do’ activity in Kerala although I would qualify that as being a ‘must do’ only once in your life! The face painting is interesting and the show lasts just an hour!
Keralan food is also different from North Indian food. Made more with fish and a strong influence of coconut milk, visitors tend to love the cuisine of this area. Surprisingly, Kerala also has beef on the menu; not something you find in the north. The cow in India is of course sacred and therefore beef is not usually eaten in India. However, in Kerala people believe if they don’t ‘personally’ kill the cow, then it’s permissible to eat it! Interesting…..
Tea, rubber and spices are what draw us to the hilltop town of Thekaddy. They have a Tiger reserve (Periyar Reserve) but the chances of seeing tigers is very remote. On the other hand, if folks are lucky the chances of seeing elephants can be quite high. The nature treks usually offer a good selection of birds, butterflies and even squirrels.
Politically, Kerala is also interesting. These days they are ruled by the Communist Party which becomes very evident when you see the hammer and sickle flags on the roadside everywhere you go. I think they are more left wing than purely communist but again, this is yet another difference which makes Kerala stand out.
So, is Kerala worth a visit? The answer is quite simply Yes. The uniqueness of Kerala compared to the rest of India in itself makes it worth it and the peaceful trips on the houseboats of the Backwaters is simply like nowhere else in the world. The people are friendly and life in general is a lot less frantic than the north of India.
If you haven’t been to India before, then it’s a nice introduction to this vast and diverse land. If you have been before, then go and visit something different. I am sure you won’t regret it!!