Infinitely beautiful, Kerala is one of South India’s most gifted destinations. In just a slender strip of land on the Malabar Coast, Kerala packs vibrancy, adventure, culture and serenity. Kerala is rarely chaotic like many other states in the Indian subcontinent; whether it’s the pristine views of the Arabian Sea, the soul-numbing atmosphere of the famous backwaters, misty hills of tea farms or luscious forests of the Western Ghats.
An immediate indication of your arrival to this state is when the smell of coconut oil used in making their unique dishes fills your lungs – a perfume that awakens your palate and moistens your taste buds. Whether it’s the delicately spiced fish fry or the banana leaf steamed delicacies, the cuisine in Kerala is a strong reflection of the life of its people – simple and straightforward.
Spiritually, Kerala triumphs like no other state in India. Here’s a state that truly embraces Hinduism with the numerous temples tucked in between moderately busy streets. The daily rituals are a sight for the unaware eye with hundreds of oil lamps lit on the walls and layered on pillars that circle the deity, God’s own country welcomes the Gods every evening with opulence.
Kerala offers yet another dimension to its excellence with its inspiring dedication towards music, art, dance and culture. In many ways, it elevates the otherwise laid-back life of the people – colorfully dressed Kathakali dancers, visually pleasing Kathak routines, classically orchestrated music and adrenaline pumping boat races; it’s all tastefully crafted but powerful in its impact.
This is by no means an exhaustive description of Kerala’s tourism caliber. A lifetime worth of memories, experiences and sights stand proudly in every corner and the intricacies of its beauty can be best experienced on wheels. Not four, but two. Kerala offers one of the best cycling tours in India. Kerala isn’t infrastructural or urbane in its aesthetic. It’s a network of nature’s finest creations, so the best way to explore the labyrinth is on a bicycle. It reminds you that the world is not linear- it is wide and endless, filled with trees, hills, rivers, valleys and wildlife.
Exploring the labyrinth
When you go back home from Kerala, you’ll find yourself struggling to pick the highlights of the trip. It’s become the state’s notoriously innate nature to throw a dizzying array of attractions at travellers and the otherworldly allure of it makes things no easier. But there are some must do’s and sees of the state and missing out on them would be a shame. Let’s look at some of the things you just can’t afford to miss but can afford to experience!
Meet the denizens of Thattekad Bird Sanctuary:
Nature in Kerala is perpetually stoked to put on a show for onlookers. And the inhabitants of Thattekad Bird Sanctuary are some of India’s most rare and unique birds. This famous bird sanctuary is near Kochi and despite the name it is popular for more than just exotic bird sightings.
Ceylonese Frogmouth is one of the sought after denizens in this sanctuary which is nocturnal in nature but during dawn, it sits with sleepy eyes ready to be spotted. Malabar hornbill and the giant Malabar squirrel are two other creatures that spark the interest of travellers. But while you search for these avian superstars, the babbling brooks, the ambience of the forest and the crashing sound of waterfalls make for a spectacular hike through the jungle.
Immerse and indulge in the homeliness of the Sadhya Meal:
Sadhya is the perfect way to delve into the delicately spiced and effortlessly flavoured cuisine of Kerala. ‘Saadhya’ is an authentic vegetarian feast of the state that has so many elements, it’s best not to count or keep track of them. As the sun shines perpendicularly on the land, Saadhya is served on plantain leaves.
For those who aren’t aware of the concept of eating from a leaf, here’s the gist – the lower half of the leaf is where the parboiled red/pink rice is served and the upper half is for all the curries, side dishes, pickles and desserts. The meal is served course wise and you can incorporate the side dishes and curry with the rice.
The meal ranges from Parippu to Sambar to Avial to different kinds of Payasam (dessert) and to clear the palate, rasam and kaalan (buttermilk).
Honorary mention goes to the pickles which add a whole new dynamic to the taste of all the food.
Ride the overnight cruise along the backwaters from Kumarakom to Alleppey:
With multiple fast and convenient modes of transport available, boats have lost their place in people’s hearts. Thankfully, Kerala comes to the rescue. Injecting interest by making houseboats and cruises available for tourists, Kerala has managed to make them popular again.
The backwaters are Kerala’s most celebrated attraction. The feeling of sailing on a boat with wooden decks to sit and relax on and cosy cabins to tuck yourself away in is unparalleled and hard to find. From the calm town of Kumarakom to the toasty settlements of Alleppey, the cruise takes you through the different shades of green in the forests.
An evening of Kallaripayattu:
As night takes over the day, dimly lit lamps take over the rays of the sun. An ambience of complete harmony is created and travellers get ready to witness Kerala’s famous martial arts called ‘Kalaripayattu’. One of the oldest forms of martial arts in the world, the aim of Kalaripayattu is channelling the strength of the body and to transform it into inner and outer peace in man and society. Inspired by the movements of animals, this art form combines the power of the mind with the suppleness and strength of the body. With fiery weapons and some of the most unfathomable postures, the artists put on an invigorating display of Kalaripayattu. It is believed to be a prime influencer in many of the dance forms in Kerala including Kathakali.
Kallaripayattu’s relevance in today’s world only goes to show how committed Kerala is at preserving and respecting its roots.
Discover the arts:
How would it be to go to Italy and not eat a pizza? Kathakali is Kerala’s Italian pizza. Although not edible like a pizza, Kathakali is an explosion of vibrant colours, impressive costumes and tastefully dramatic routines choreographed and performed by skilled dancers. Backstage trips to get a glimpse of the behind the scenes make-up process of the dancers is quite an experience too!
Apart from this, Mohiniyattam is too graceful and gorgeous an art form to skip. If you’re not pressed for time, the religious display of Theyyam is a perfect way to immerse yourself in the power of the God’s and Goddesses of the state.
A taste of heritage:
Kerala has successfully preserved its heritage and boasts it with pride. In Mattancherry, visit the Palace Museum to witness royal paraphernalia of the kings of Kochi and other murals and artefacts.
Jew Town has the oldest Jewish Synagogue in India, a place known for the once prosperous community that has now dwindled.
And to finish it all off, a small shopping trip to buy or admire silver jewellery and vintage artefacts is a perfect way to have something at home to remind you of Kerala whenever you walk past it.
Kerala conjures a lot of appreciation in the minds of many just purely based on word of mouth. But when you make the trip to the land crafted by the God’s, blessed by the God’s and protected by the people; your appreciation elevates to gratification. In this state, India passes through a looking glass and deconstructs sophistication and grandeur to its most elementary forms making every moment a tropical symphony for a traveller.