Kerala

Kerala Backwaters by CC user kumaravel on Flickr

Introduction

Love the idea of experiencing India’s culture, but cringe at the prospect of dealing with the chaos contained within its streets?  Looking for a tropical paradise to let your hair down after many long weeks spent enduring the arduous cities, but are hesitant to deal with Goa’s scene, which has become excessively touristed over the decades? Dream of getting away from noise, pollution, aggressive touts, the ever-pervasive reach of the internet-infused world?

If the answer to all three of the following questions is yes, then we invite you to check out the southern Indian state of Kerala.  Located in Southern India, putting squarely within the tropics, Kerala has all the sunny skies and deliciously decadent beaches you desire, yet it has towering mountains and hill stations available for those looking to get active, and/or chill out from the heat of the lowlands.

The populace is diverse with respect to their faith, with more than half following Hinduism, a quarter adhering to Islam, and 19% accepting Jesus as their saviour (Christianity), allowing you to dip in to each core segment of India’s religions.

And perhaps best of all, there are a myriad of rivers and canals in the countryside where you can sail away on your own personal houseboat, casting off the cares of the modern world … if only for a few days.

You may have not have heard of this corner of India before stumbling upon this guide, but once you experience it, Kerala’s secret will get increasingly harder to keep.

pathmanabapuram palace by CC user thejasp on Flickr

Cultural Experiences

While the majority of citizens of Kerala practice Hinduism, a sizable majority follow Islam, and throughout the history of their presence in this portion of the subcontinent, they have constructed a landmark well worth visiting.  The Cherman Perumal Mosque is the second oldest mosque that is still standing in the world and the oldest in India, as it was built in 629 AD.

It is known for its incorporation of old Hindu cultural elements (the old Royal lamp that was used when the mosque used to be a palace), and it also contains a white marble block that was blessed by Mohammed himself, placing this sight high on the list of Islamic travelers.

The Palaces at Sree Padmanabhapuram, located thirty kilometres outside of Trivandrum, are another set of attractions that should be on your list, as they are the biggest royal structures made from wood and granite in all of India. Constructed of teak and rosewood, this compound contains many relics worth seeing, including a bed cured with spices, which was thought to have curative and restorative properties.

Those wishing to see a bit of rural Kerala in its everyday rhythm should patronize the Kumbalangi Model Village for Sustainable Tourism, which aims to promote its way of life to foreign visitors, without compromising their overall way of life for a quick buck and cultural/environmental degradation.  Being a fishing community, visitors can go out on the water with the fishers, learn how to cook the Keralan way, and stay with local families, allowing for a cultural exchange that is authentic for both parties.

House boating in Kerala by CC user prince_tigereye on Flickr

Other Attractions

After doing the necessary tour of Kerala’s cultural assets, the time to undertake the region’s marquee activity will have arrived, as you will be floating through the Backwaters of Kerala in your very own houseboat. Available for rent for as little as 7000 rupees a day (~$130 USD), this expense is very worthwhile saving for, as the palm-lined channels of this vibrant jungle state will usher in a state of serenity unlike any you have experienced prior to this.

Those seeking a break from the humidity of Kerala’s tropical lowlands should make their escape to the Blue Mountains of the Western Ghats.  The most popular town to spend time relaxing in is Munnar, where the temperature can get as low as zero degrees Celsius at night during the winter.  With tea plantations, waterfalls, and activities like rock climbing and trekking, your days in this refreshing area will be filled with action and entertainment!

Finally, those looking to spend some quality time lying on an ideal tropical seashore without the maddening crowds of Goa should give Kovalam Beach a try.  The culture here is more laid back than at Goa, and while this place has had a history of hedonistic parties, local authorities have taken a more conservative stance on these things these days, keeping the rowdier elements out. This makes for a relaxing holiday that will allow you to enjoy this paradise in the manner in which it was intended.

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