By Poonam Sagar: Nestled between the Arabian Sea and the Western Ghats, Kerala is one of India’s most beautiful states, with secluded beaches, palm-fringed waterways, mist-clad hill stations, lush tropical forests, cascading waterfalls, exotic wildlife, exquisite houseboats, majestic monuments, fine art forms and enchanting festivals that give it a distinctive charm.
Besides the dream list of attractions, what sets Kerala apart are its waterways â€” a world of serenity and wonderment, a network of waterways, inlets from the sea, and estuaries of over forty rivers, lakes and natural canals connecting coastal towns.
Glide through pristine waters of this tropical Venice in a solar powered houseboat or ‘Kettuvallam,’ watching the palm trees, the rice fields, the birds, the forests, the small villages and experiencing the quietness. These boats were used for transporting goods and, built without a single nail, have now morphed into floating villas, exquisitely designed and furnished with modern amenities.
Some of the magnificent places of tourist interest and the picture perfect waterways of Kerala are Kumarakom, Alleppey, Kochi, Kollam, Kuttanad and Kasargod.
Snake Boat Race
A must-see event is the snake boat races or ‘Vallamkali‘ which is something of a cult, just as bull fighting is in Spain. From Aug. 15, every year, 100 ft long boats with up to a 100 trained men participate in this amazing race in the waterways of southern Kerala.
The boats go like arrows, with the rowers in unison to the sound of rhythmic chanting and music. Truly a photographer’s dream destination.
Shirodhara, Ayurvedic Oil Therapy
Kerala is also popular for Ayurveda, ‘the science of life’ which is an ancient treatment method based on diet, massage, herbs, meditation and yoga. This wholesome approach maintains the balance between body and mind. Numerous Ayurvedic hospitals treat serious ailments, diseases and disorders based on the ancient knowledge, while the Ayurvedic spas are more suited to rejuvenating massage and spa treatments. ‘Shirodhara’ the trademark symbol of most Ayurvedic health spas is a special form of oil therapy, characterized by the steady pouring of Ayurvedic medicated oil over the forehead. This therapeutic process provides mental relief, increased blood circulation in the brain and better hair growth.
The journey to discover Kerala begins in Kochi, where you find giant fishing nets from China, ancient mosques and Portuguese houses. The serene Fort Cochin pays homage to its colonial past, each building whispering a tale of Chinese visitors, Portuguese traders, Jewish settlers, Syrian Christians and Muslim merchants.
Yet even with its colonial distractions, Kerala manages to cling to its vibrant traditions: ‘Kathakali’ â€” a blend of religious play and dance; ‘kalarippayat’ â€” a gravity-defying martial art; and ‘theyyam’ â€” a trance-induced ritual. Combine this with some of the most taste bud-tingling cuisine in India, and you can imagine how hard it will be to leave before you even get here.
Munnar with rolling tea gardens produces the world famous Nilgiri tea. This is also the land of cardamom, pepper and cinnamon spice plantations.
Follow the scenic waterfalls and exotic flora and fauna to Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary and spice and coffee plantations in Thekkady.
Further on to Kumarakom, a small scenic village with cluster of little islands is situated on the bank of crystal clear blue Vembanad Lake. Visit the exotic Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary, regarded as ornithologist’s paradise. Explore the beauty of the waterways with a houseboat cruise to Alleppey.
Then to Trivandrum, the capital city, resting on low hills in Southern Kerala. Visit the Napier Museum, Kuthiramalika Museum, and Sri Padmanadbha Temple. And, finally to the beach of Kovalam, the beautiful beach paradise, which consists of three picture perfect crescent beaches adjacent to one another, considered to be one of the finest beach resorts in the world.
From its magnificent hill stations to its mesmerizing beaches and fascinating wildlife parks and sanctuaries, South India’s Kerala is the ideal gateway for a fun filled holiday. Kerala’s rich historical and cultural past makes the state a unique place to visit.
Is it any wonder that National Geographic Travel calls Kerala “one of the 10 paradises of the world” and among the “Fifty must see tourist destinations of a Lifetime“.
Best time to visit: is between December and March when temperatures are a pleasant 30Â°C. In February, March and April, festivals take place in Kochi, Kottayam and Kollam, featuring traditional Kathakali dancing.
June and July are monsoon months in Kerala and interestingly, this happens to the best time for therapeutic Ayurveda treatment, which is said to be most effective in these months.
What to buy: Kerala is a shopper’s delight, especially for its ivory carvings, pottery, gold and silver brocaded fabrics and pottery and ceramic products.
Bring home souvenirs of carved rosewood, masks, and a wide range of attractive and unique handmade items.
As published in The Jakarta Post June 6th 2011