I had visited Kerala with family when I was younger, and had to write about this unique and colorful part of India which is often overlooked against the more well-known sites like the Taj Mahal.
(i) Despite my pictures being lost, I’m not gonna rob you of visuals. I have selected images from – https://www.keralatourism.org , Wikipedia and Google, which closely match my own pictures I had taken.
(ii) Since this trip was with family – we based at Kochi and hired a driver and car to take us around to the other locations
What and Where?
Kerala is a state (province) in the South-Western most part of India. While visitors from other countries generally visit Delhi, Agra and Rajasthan and overlook it, the state is a popular getaway for locals. Being rich in natural beauty, cultural diversity, food and history, Kerala covers a wide variety of experiences within a small geographic radius.
Backwaters of Allapuzha (Alleppey)
The Backwaters are a series of interconnected lakes, lagoons, canals and creeks that form a Venice-like passage between villages. They are a tropical paradise of serene and narrow creeks surrounded by coconut trees and rice fields.
The best way to experience these are House-Boats. These are boats with on-deck bedrooms, kitchens and restrooms which casually float across the canals over several days.
These may. not be for everyone, and I instead chose a smaller 2-hour round-trip regular boat tour. As our boat snaked into deeper ends of the forests, we left behind the towns and villages and now witnessed the narrow pockets of hut-settlements within otherwise unpopulated forests.
We were in for a rare treat as one of these settlements had an ongoing wedding. We watched numerous wedding guests arrive on tiny round-boats the size of lily pads each, which could hold only two people at a time. The wedding guests embarked on one of the settlements, exchanged gifts and blessed the couple, all covered in colorful clothes, bright garlands of tropical flowers and turmeric and vermillion. Although this caused traffic for our tour-boat, I didn’t mind witnessing this unique festivity, which even locals on outside towns rarely get to see.
Munnar Tea Gardens
While Southern India’s favorite drink is coffee, Munnar is an exception, with lush tea-gardens producing high-quality leaves. We visited the Tata Tea farms as well as a Tea Museum where we learned about how the leaves are oxidized and processed in the CTC (Crush-tear-curl) method – which is used in Indian Chai.
Munnar also grows some very high-end tea (non-CTC) and we found a particular tea-garden and its processing plant which gave off a fragrant chocolatey aroma. I asked our driver to stop and enquired with the security guard if we could get buy some leaves. He replied that the leaves processed were Orange Pekoe level (large rolled whole-leaves) and the only consumer of this tea-garden was the United Nations meetings where it was served to world leaders. Hence, it was all exported to Europe and North America.
However, a nearby tea-vendor on the streets made us excellent frothy chai which smelled slightly similar to the UN one (a mid-range level), and he pointed to the place he sourced his tea from, and we got a giant packet of loose tea from there home – at factory prices. We later found the same tea (Pekoe level) being sold to tourists at higher prices, packaged in gift-able tea-bags with pictures of elephants and tigers on them.
However, the touristy spice markets sold a lot of home-made chocolates and spiced-wines, since this region produces cocoa and vanilla. Instead of chocolates, I was fascinated by vanilla bean-pods and bought a bunch of them instead.
Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary
Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary in Thekkady is a great place to see wild tigers if they are out. On our launch boat ride, we saw a family of elephants and crocodiles.
Traditional Dance Arts
It is a classical dance consisting of elaborate make-up and face masks and generally narrates tales from old Hindu epics. Local performance theaters generally have many tickets available for this.
It is another dance-form which is far more rare and happens only in certain times of the year in rural areas. It is generally led by people from heterodox or marginalized believers. It has a shamanic form where blessings are given out from local deities channeled through the dance (The featured image at the top). Theyyam is much more spontaneous and interactive with spectators.
This is one of the earliest martial art forms developed in ancient India and often constitutes rotating the joints in a way that deflects and turns the opponents’ strength against themselves.
Some historians believe that Bodhi-dharma (founder of Zen Budddhism, known as Daruma in Japan) was a monk from Southern India, well-versed in Kalari. To spread Buddhism, he travelled to the Shaolin temple in China and trained his disciple Hui-ke in the martial arts along with meditation. Hui-Ke later formalized it into Kung-Fu and this precursor to many Asian martial-arts. (although alternate narratives are also recognized regarding this).
It is interesting to go back in history and learn how traditions across different cultures have connections to each other.
Food in Kerala
Food in Kerala varies a lot between different communities, who, despite co-existing together have preserved their family recipes as distinct and recognizable.
Hindu Vegetarians(like Brahmins) often follow Satvik restrictions and a favorite of this cuisine is “Sadya” – a rice platter with a vast array of vegetables served during the festive season of Onam. Meat-eating Hindu communities favor Erachi-chor – a Pulao of rice and meat instead.
Kerala also has a Sufi merchant community who settled on the trade route between Arabian peninsula and South-East Asia. The cuisine of this community follows Halal restrictions. Malabar Biryanis and Porottas (flat-bread) are staple delicacies.
Syrian / Malankar / Thomas Christians (Nazranis) are communities of Eastern Christianity, who directly migrated to India from the middle-east along with the apostle St. Thomas. The communities’ cuisines includes Fish Fry(pictured) and Moily (a coconut-based stew).
My personal favorite in kerala was mussels, stuffed with spices and stir-fried or curried.
By KARTY JazZ – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37139602
Kerala also has a unique variety of breakfast rice-dishes. They in many interesting shapes. Appas (pictured) are pancakes made in a semi-spherical shape. Idiyappam are noodle-shaped, while puttu are shaped like bamboo cylinders.
Kerala remains one my favorite regions of India, often overlooked by international tourists. The spicy seafood like crabs, mussels and fish, shades of coconut-trees, wading in boats through canals and visiting tea-gardens have created a unique love for this place in my mind. I would definitely recommend you to visit here.