Travel Guide to Kerala

Welcome to the land of lush greenery, a million swaying coconut trees, tranquil soft rippling backwaters, idyllic tea slopes and rolling spice gardens. Welcome to God’s Own Country, to the paradise of unparalleled beauty, a dizzying variety of experiences and some of the world’s most stunning sceneries. This is the place where the sky meets the land, where heaven touches the Earth. Kerala is a multitude of tastes, flavours and colours of vivid hues. There is something for everyone in Kerala, whether it’s nature lovers, the crazy shoppers, the shutterbugs, the adventurists, the culturists or the foodies.

Kerala enjoys a tropical climate, with pleasant weather throughout most of the year. However, it may get hot and humid during peak summer months and unpredictable short bursts of heavy rain during the monsoon may affect your travel plans. The best time to visit Kerala is from September to March, just before the advent of summer. Travelling in Kerala is the easiest at this time, with its clear blue skies and comfortable weather. However, the monsoon transforms Kerala into a veritable green paradise and you can witness its lovely tea gardens in all of their glory. It’s also the best time if Ayurveda is one of the highlights of your trip. If you can brave the rainy weather, visit between July and August.

With stunning beaches, dazzling waterfalls, thick forests, intricate canals, choppy seas, sloping plains and more, Kerala has so much to offer that a first-time visitor can be confused about where to even start. To experience a little bit of everything, we’ve made a guide so that your trip to Kerala is one happy experience.

Start your trip with a visit to Thiruvananthapuram, the capital city which is well connected by air and rail both to the rest of the country as well as to other parts of Kerala. Perhaps Thiruvananthapuram’s most iconic monument is its Padmanabha Swamy Temple. This huge temple in the honour of Lord Vishnu is situated in the heart of the city. A stunning mélange of Dravidian and Kerala architectural style, the Padmanabha Swamy Temple is a visual treat for art lovers because of its many ancient stone carvings and mural paintings. The giant idol of Lord Vishnu reclining on the Serpent Anantha is a marvelous sight to behold. The swarming crowds here can be difficult to bear, so avoid a visit on a hot day. Some of the other places on your list should be the Kuthiramalika Palace Museum, the Napier Museum and Ponmudi. Visit the bustling Connemara Market and take home some of Kerala’s rich taste and aroma back to your kitchen with crispy banana chips and fresh cashew nuts. Pick up some coconut and coir products and aromatic oils.

Just 16 kilometers from Thiruvananthapuram lie some of India’s most gorgeous beaches. Head to  Watch as the sun dips into the golden soft waves. The horizon of fine sand and the reddish gold sky makes for an unforgettable memory. The star attractions are the Lighthouse Beach, the Hawa Beach and the much quieter Samudra Beach. Stay in one of the many resorts that sit at the edge of the beach and indulge in the relaxing Ayurveda that Kerala is famous all over the world for. Leave behind the stress of everyday life and enter a world of serenity and natural healing. Feel your senses come alive with an invigorating panchakarma session or pamper yourself with a revitalizing aromatherapy session or an herbal massage, complete with fragrant oils and natural products. There are many Ayurvedic resorts including the Somatheeram Ayurveda Resort and the Chakra Ayurvedic Resort.

No trip to Kerala is complete without a visit to its world famous backwaters. Known as the Venice of the East, Alappuzha (Alleppey) is absolutely gorgeous with its intricate canals and serene atmosphere. With lush greenery caressing the tranquil banks of the crystal clear water, there is no peace as profound as that found in Alleppey. It’s an absolutely beautiful sight with houseboats floating gently. Cruise through panoramic views while sipping on steaming aromatic tea and tucking into piping hot traditional banana fritters. For those who love fish, this is your best chance to feast on some freshly caught fish, cooked right inside your houseboat. Observe the vast paddy fields, charming chapels and tiny huts all throughout the journey. Stay at the night to admire the sight of soft moonlight on the melodious rippling waters. Alleppey is a treat for avid bird watchers. The backwaters are a home to many exquisite species like The Stork Billed and White throated kingfishers and Asian Palm Swift. The placid backwaters turn into a fierce race course in August. The Punnamada Lake is the site of the celebrated Nehru Trophy Boat Race. Held on the second Saturday of August every year, this boat race attracts tourists from all over the world. Sleek snake boats gliding in the backdrop of panoramic scenes make for a spectacular scene.

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Located just 2 kilometres away from Alleppey, Marari Beach is perfect if you’re craving for some beach time after revelling in the backwaters. This undeveloped stretch of white soft sand lined by palm trees and tiny fishing hamlets is the perfect place to soak up some sun and introspect. You can see the small fishing boats lined all over the coastline and the local fishermen going to the seas to catch daily fish with the first rays of dawn. Marari has some of the best beach resorts in Kerala that open right onto the beach. The rustic appeal of this place makes for a glimpse into authentic Kerala, far from the tourist heavy spots. image3 2

Nestled amongst idyllic sloping tea gardens, Munnar is known as South India’s very own Kashmir. Take in the crisp mountain air and lose yourself to the charms of this beautiful little hill station. It has amazing views of bright green mountain slopes which are covered with about 80,000 miles of tea farms and spice gardens. Take a tour of the lovely tea gardens like the Tata Tea Museum which details the process that goes behind making some of the world’s most flavoured tea. Don’t forget to buy some unique varieties of tea from the small shop inside. Known as the Spice Coast of India, Kerala is known for the freshness and distinctive taste and aroma of its spices, ranging from cardamom to earthy black pepper, from cinnamon to exotic vanilla. Take a spice tour in one of the Munnar’s many spice gardens like the Biovalley Herbal and Spices Garden. While at Munnar don’t forget to visit Anamudi-the highest peak in South India. Ideal for the thrill seeker in you, Anamudi is the best destination for outdoor activities like rock climbing, trekking and paragliding. And for those less driven by adventure, the peak also offers breathtaking views. Owing to its popularity, Munnar has no shortage of hotels and inns, most of which offer scenic views of mist covered valleys. Munnar is beautiful all throughout the year. However, during monsoon, there may be a slight risk of landslides.

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Kerala is a wildlife lover’s paradise. It’s mild climate and diverse geography makes it a haven for a plethora of flora and fauna to flourish. The Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary in Thekkady is a popular wildlife sanctuary that is home to some of the most magnificent species. These include The Asian Elephant, tiger, sambars, gaurs, spotted deer and the extremely rare lion tailed macaques. Spread on the banks of the lake Periyar, this sanctuary covers an area of 777 sq. kilometers. Ride on a majestic elephant and get up close to nature at its best. Thekkady provides a unique opportunity to escape the chaos of everyday life and observe. For those looking for some adventure, there are programs for short treks (4-5 kms) as well as longer treks (12 kms). Thekkady also has some of the most beautiful spice gardens that stretch out over miles.

Take an escapade into the Green Paradise on Earth Wayanad that is both secluded enough to let you experience nature in its wild and raw form while still being easily accessible enough. The nearest airport is in Calicut which is 72 kilometers away.  Witness the magnificent Soochipara waterfalls. The three-tiered waterfalls make for a great holiday spot. One of the must visits is the Muthunga/Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary which is a veritable wildlife enthusiast’s heaven. The sanctuary is home to a diverse array of flora and fauna. You can spot jungle cats, panthers, Civet Cat, monkeys, Spotted Deer, Spotted Bears, Bison, Gaurs, Cheetah, Wild Bears, Peacock, Owls, Jungle fowls, Woodpeckers and Babblers. The reserve also houses a small population of tigers. Elephant rides arranged here by the forest department are an absolute delight for kids and adults. Tourists can also take jeep drives through the forest path with a local guide sanctioned by the forest department. For something off the beaten track, visit The Kuruva Island, located 17 kilometers east of Mananathavady and 40 kilometers NorthWest of Sulthan Bathery. An uninhabited island with emerald forests lying on the tributaries of the river Kabani, rare species of birds, gorgeous orchids and herbs are the sole inhabitants of this magical kingdom. A trip to Kuruva Island is like finding yourself in a different world, away from the disturbances of urban life. Wayanad is also home to the ancient Edakkal Caves which have carvings dating to the times of prehistoric civilization.

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Make your next stop at Calicut (also known as Kozhikode) which occupies a prominent position on Kerala’s map, thanks to its historical, cultural and educational significance. Calicut was on one of the most important trading towns and it was here that Vasco De Gama first reached in his search for the famed land of spices and riches. It is well connected by road and also has an international airport. Visit the Calicut beach and sink your feet into the sun kissed sand, while gazing at the frothy waves of the Arabian Sea stretching ahead. Just 25 kilometers from Calicut lies the Kadalundi Bird Sanctuary. Bird watchers and photographers will love this place for its diverse array of migratory birds that make the sanctuary their home. Terns, gulls, herons, sandpipers, whimbrels, and other migratory birds flock the place from the start of November and return at the end of April. Hence the ideal season to visit is from December to April. Early birds have the benefit of catching the worm here too; the best time to visit the sanctuary is in the wee hours of the morning. While in Calicut, don’t forget to test its culinary prowess. Its simple yet diverse cuisine is a delight. The authentic Malabar cuisine packs a flavourful punch. Do not miss out on the aromatic Dum Biriyani, Kalummakaya and Chatti pathiri, and the tastiest and most unique varieties of halwa that are enjoyed by tourists and locals alike.

Just 52 miles from Palakkad, Nelliampathy is the jewel of hill stations in India and a must visit spot in your itinerary. Evergreen jungles, lemon orchards, tea slopes, java and cardamom farms rich with awesome valleys and misty mountains make Nelliampathy a spectacular place with its edge of the world’ feel and sharp hairpin turns. Nelliampathy, often known as ‘Poor man’s Ooty’ is also popular for the hiking paths and adventure experiences it offers that are a favourite among thrill seekers.

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If you want to live the true Kerala experience, complete with a village stay, in the backdrop of the gorgeous backwaters while sipping on fresh coconut water and tasting the best of authentic Kerala food, head straight to Kumarakom. Situated near the Vembanad Lake, Kumarakom is a sleepy tiny hamlet with rustic scenery and exotic flora and fauna. The village offers opportunities for boating, houseboat cruising, fishing and sightseeing. Take in breathtaking sceneries consisting of intricate canals, waterways and lakes decorated with eye-catching lilies and lined all the way with swaying coconut trees, pretty paddy fields and dense mangrove forests. Kumarakom is situated near the Ayemenem town where the popular novel The God of Small Things was set.

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Kerala is known for its rich culture, whether it’s dance, music, martial arts, literature or art. Your Kerala experience is incomplete without watching a Kathakali performance. Kerala’s very own classical dance tradition dating back to the 17th century, Kathakali is a highly celebrated performing art, known for its colourful makeup, elaborate costumes and graceful movements, not to mention the trance inducing music that accompanies each spirited performance. Sit back and be charmed. Also known all over the world is the martial arts form Kalaripattayu. Watch as young men keep alive Kerala’s heritage by performing this traditional art. You can watch these art forms in nearly every town in Kerala including Munnar, Calicut, Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi.

One of the prime cities of Kerala, and arguably the most well-recognized one, Cochin was also known as Kochi and Ernakulam city. The city is known for its mélange of the old and the new: while most of the city is quite fast paced and modern, the old part of the city, the Fort Kochi is an experience of its own. A step into Fort Kochi is like entering a different era. The architecture is a mix of British, Portuguese and Dutch influence spread all across. Owing to hundreds of years as a port, Fort Kochi was visited by the Arabs, the British, the Chinese, the Dutch and the Portuguese, all of whom left their imprints on the city. Fort Kochi has a lot of eclectic architecture to admire. Places to visit include the Jewish synagogue, the Indo Portuguese museum, Chinese fishing nets, Santa Cruz Basilica and Fort Kochi Beach. Ernakulam is also known as the ‘Queen of Arabian Sea’ as it is one of the finest natural harbours in the world and a growing commercial trade centre. Don’t forget to visit the Spice Market and delve into the world of aromatic spices. If you’re planning on buying gold, Kerala is the right place to do it. With hundreds of designs, both traditional and modern, Kerala is home to huge jewellery shops, often spanning several floors.

While in Kerala, make sure to try the Kerala thali, known as the Sadhya, an all vegetarian meal. Being the diverse state that Kerala is, the Ela Sadhya is a true representation of Kerala’s authentic cuisine. Set on a banana leaf, this meal is more than just a visual feast; it tastes as good as it looks. The myriad of dishes starting from Pachadi, Khichdi, Pulliserry, Olan, Sambar, Varavu, Thoran, Aviyal and Payasam will touch on sweet and sour, spicy and tangy, leaving you full yet wanting more.

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Kerala is a true paradise, etching in this world, yet retaining its mystic beauty that will thrill and leave you breathless. Inarguably the jewel of the deep south, the incomparable diversity and the warmth and beauty of its people and their rich culture, come together to make Kerala the state that the Gods would want to visit. Kerala promises to excite, enthral, exhilarate and enchant.

Contribution: Akshita Agrawal

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