Culture, colour and idyllic scenes of mother nature characterise Kerala and all its beauty. Kick back on the beach, explore the cultural hubs of the city, gaze upon an enchanting sunset, taste some delicious fragrant cuisine or go on a wildlife tour that you’ll never forget. All in this stunning and sun-blessed pocket of India.
Kerala’s capital Thiruvananthapuram, located in the south, is rich with culture for exploring as well as being a good jumping off point for the rest of the state. The city is set on seven low hills, just inland from the Arabian Sea and is wonderfully laid-back. Its top sights include the Puttan Malika Palace Museum offering a chance to explore the 200-year-old palace building and its marble sculptures, Kathakali images, armoury and other artefacts. The palace is situated in the oldest and most enthralling part of the city, the Fort area, and here too you can wander the Chalai bazaar market and take in the vibrant colours and delicious smells. In the north of the city centre is the Napier Museum, housing bronze and Buddhist sculptures in a carnival decor. The city is full of things to see and places to explore, its top sight is the Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple but it is unfortunately closed to non-hindus. The city’s Zoological Gardens are also worth visiting if you’re a Life of Pi fan as it was famously the place of inspiration for Yann Martel in writing his famous novel. After, exploring Thiruvanathapuram, it’s located as a perfect stepping stone for the beautiful beaches of Kovalam and Varkala.
Another favourite city for visitors is Kochi. Situated on a port, it’s been a place of attraction for explorers and travellers for hundreds of years. There’s an exquisite blend of culture, in the synanogue, ancient mosques, Portuguese houses and remains of the British Raj. As well as the giant cantilevered Chinese fishing nets that require at least four people to operate and are the subject of many photographers. A point of interest in the city is the Kerala Folklore museum as it includes over 4000 artefacts and showcases a beautiful mix of architectural styles. Kochi is a renowned centre for Keralan arts and you should definitely try and catch a showing of Kathakali- the classical Indian dance, or ‘story play’, shown through elaborate and colourful costumes, makeup and masks.
Alappuzha, known to most as Alleppey, is a city defined by its vast waterways. Exploring the city through its backwaters is enchanting. Villages on the water, paddy fields, lush green scenery and the rich cultural life of the locals make for serene viewing as you cruise on the water. The Punnamad Lake’s snake boat race is an annual event that is certainly worth watching if you’re in the city at the right time (12th August 2017).
Varkala is just 50km away from Thiruvananthapuram and has a strikingly beautiful setting of steep cliffs lining the coast. Its Kerala’s best-loved beach for backpackers and small pretty beaches are tucked into the cliff edge. Stalls sell touristy gifts and jewellery and the bars offer upbeat music, cocktails and cheap beer. Varkala, whilst touristy, does not lack culture as it is a temple town and the main beach is holy, as Hindu’s come here to make offerings to passed loved ones.
Another sandy hotspot is Kovalam, a former quiet fishing village, it’s now packed with tourists hoping to soak up some sun. It’s made up of three coves: Hawa Beach; Lighthouse Beach and Samudra Beach. Samudra being the most quiet, if you fancy a bit of paradise and peace then head here. Each beach is brillianty beautiful in its own right despite the crowds.
Up North in the Alleppey district is the idyllic Marari beach. A sleepy fishing village offering white sand, coconut trees and stunning sunsets and much peace and quiet. With 580km of coastline in Kerala, the list of beaches appears never-ending. For more glimpse of paradise on the shore try: Alleppey Beach; Bekal Beach; Muzhappilangad Drive in Beach and loads more.
The landscape of Kerala is exotic and lush, with a forest area of 11, 125 sq km, housing 5 national parks and 13 wildlife sanctuaries. Animal enthusiasts flock to Kerala to explore its landscape and gaze at the beautiful wildlife in its natural habitat. Wayanad region is argued to be the most beautiful part of Kerala, made up of a remote forest, vast mountains, rice paddies, betel nut trees, bamboo, coffee plantations and unspoilt idyllic views. Wild elephants roam the area and can easily be spotted here.
In the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary, formed in 1973, conservation plans protect animals and the forests and its tribes. The sanctuary is made up of two areas, Muthanga and Tholpetty, and is home to a massive variety of animals such as elephants, tigers, panthers, langurs, monkeys, bison, snakes, flying lizards, peacocks, crested serpent eagle, etc. The list is fantastically endless making for a visit you’ll never forget.
Near Munmar is the Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary, protecting deer, leopards, elephants and endangered grizzled giant squirrel and offering treeking, cultural visits and tree house accommodation. Nearby, head to the Thattekkad Bird Sanctuary in hope of spotting one of the 320 beautiful species of birds in the forest. If you can catch it out of monsoon season (June to August), then the Parambikulam Tiger Reserve should certainly be on your wildlife list. Its magnificent scenery is under constant protection and is nestled wonderfully into a valley surrounded by sanctuaries. Here you can spot, elephants, bison, sloths, gaur, sambar, crocodiles and of course, tigers.
Kerala springs to life in time of festivals. Celebrations are vibrant, colourful, striking, traditional, spirited and musical. The most famous is the 10-day long, Onam, festival of devotion, celebrating the mark of the homecoming of King Mahabali, who reigned in the golden era of Kerala. The festivities take place between August and Septemeber and include, dance, games, boat races, songs, flower and an array of colour. Another festival is the famour Thrissur Pooram temple festival which has been celebrated for more than 200 years. 36 hours of festivities take place with traditional puja and fireworks dedicated to Lord Shiva. The festival takes place in April and its major attraction is the procession of fifty dressed elephants passing through the streets to the sound of drums. So many other festivals take place throughout the year, so if you want a chance to see the colour and life of one then certainly book your route to cater for it.
Kerala’s cuisine is defined by an exotic blend of different cultural and religious influences. Must tries begin with Sadhya, famous in the region, consisting of boiled rice and vegetarian dishes served on a banana leaf. Puttu and Kadala curry is another top food. Puttu is a steamed rice caked cooked with grated coconut and the kadala curry is typically served in accompaniment- black chickpeas, shallots, spices and coconut milk. Appam, a thin pancake mad from coconut milk and fermented rice flour is often served with a stew made from coconut milk, cinnamon, closes and shallots and possibly mango, chicken or lamb- another delicious option. To cater to your sweet tooth grab some palada payasam. A sweet rice kheer prepared with pelada and easily available anywhere to taste.
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Have you been to Kerala? Share your highlights in the comments below.