From dense forests to beautiful tea plantations, rich culture to amazing food – Kerala has something for every type of traveller. An ideal place for luxury travel and a habitat for backpackers, Kerala – thanks to its natural aesthetic bounty – has established itself as India’s top travelled places. But other than its natural beauty what makes it more tourist friendly is its people, who are welcoming, inquisitive and much hospitable. The culture around the state is unique, has been carefully preserved for centuries, and is absolutely different than the Indian culture in other parts of the country. Come here to have a relaxed and a laid back experience. Not to forget, this is where you will find some of the most peaceful, clean and plastic-free beaches in the entire country.
In many ways, Kerala does not appear to be very Indian. Here things are quite organised, tuk-tuk drivers do not push you for a ride, buses run on schedule, and getting ripped-off by street vendors is less likely. Thanks to its unusual vibe – Kerala is definitely a no miss for those coming to the southern part of the country.
TOP PLACES TO SEE AND EXPERIENCES TO TRY
Walking the streets of Fort Kochi: Fort Kochi is the harbour area in the town of Ernakulam. Some of the defining attractions include Chinese fishing nets, The Jew Town and a 15th century synagogue. Walk around its streets to go back in history, and experience the colonial powers who ruled here, through its distinct and colorful architecture.
Watching Kathakali: Kathakali is a traditional temple dance drama with masked-men performing crazy dance moves. If you’ve come to Kerala and are interested in cultural activities, watching a Kathakali performance is a no miss. You can watch a Kathakali performance in most of the big towns, but if you come to Kochi, book a show at Kerala Kathakali Centre. A one hour show costs about 300 Rupees. A similar folk art form in Kerala is Theyyam, performed in its North Malabar region.
The backwaters: One of the best experiences in Kerala lie in its backwaters, where you can rent a houseboat and sail through a maze of interconnected lagoons, canals and lakes, for days. Where renting a houseboat costs about 5,000 Rupees per day, a cheaper deal to experience the backwaters is the passenger ferry which takes you places for a price as low as 7 Rupees. A comparatively better option is the Tourist Ferry which takes 40 Rupees for a 45 minute ride. Though the most popular backwaters location is Alleppey, you can also get a similar experience in Kollam, Kottayam Alumkadavu and Kumbalangi – but the backwaters of Alleppey are comparatively bigger and better.
Yoga holiday at Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Dhanwantari Ashram, Thiruvananthapuram: If yoga fascinates you, this is perhaps the best (also my personal favourite, given its location location and a friendly atmosphere) option to learn yoga in entire India. Other than a majority of Indians, a number of western tourists come here every year to learn yoga. A renowned name in yoga teaching, they offer basic yoga vacations – for 300 Rupees a day including food, accommodation and yoga classes – and different level teacher training courses.
Beaches of Varkala: Varkala is by far my favourite beach city in India. Divided into three parts – North Cliff, South Cliff and the Papnasham beach, most of the backpackers activity can be seen near the North Cliff beach, where accommodation is cheap, the local market is more vibrant and food is better.
Eating on banana leaf: Though you can experience it in the neighbouring states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka as well, what makes it different here is that you get a minimum of 24 vegetarian dishes to eat, which looks sumptuous and is totally grub. Such an experience is far better and unparalleled in Kerala than in anywhere else in the world.
Tasting the local coconut beer: Widely known as ‘Toddy’ this is by far one of the best local beverages I’ve had in India. You can get it fairly easily across Kerala, and it costs about 120 Rupees for half a litre.
Tea gardens in Munnar: Visit Munnar for its sprawling tea plantations, rich natural beauty of winding lanes, comely hills, and dense forests. You can also try few adventure activities around here, and the trek to Anamudi – the highest peak in south India – is totally awesome. Munnar moreover a quick escape from the usual warm-and-soggy Kerala.
BEST TIME TO TRAVEL
Given the tropic and hot weather of Kerala, the ideal time to travel is only between October and March, when the climate is pleasant and temperatures remain in its minimum. The monsoon season between June and August is also usually favoured by many who love to hang out in rain.
COST OF TRAVELLING
Food: Except for a few popular tourist destinations, which particularly includes the town of Varkala, food in Kerala is cheap. You can get a plain small size dosa with chatni at a roadside stall for as low as 5 Rupees, though you might need to eat about 6-8 of those to fill your stomach. Rice is commonly available. A simple fish and rice meal in most places cost about 50 Rupees. Try to dine at the local south Indian restaurants rather than those offering north Indian cuisine to save some cash. You can also look for ‘Indian Coffee House’, a chain of government owned restaurants, which have reasonable prices for a good quality, hygienic food. I often relied on Indian Coffee House during my time in Kerala for the breakfast Bread Omelettes.
Accommodation: Accomodation in Kerala, in most of the places is moderately expensive, if compared to rest of India. From Kochi to Varkala to Alleppey to Munnar – expect a private room in no less than 400 Rupees per day, and this is an off season rate. These prices can soar to a whopping 1000 Rupees per day during peak season time. For a cheaper deal, you are required to stay outside of the main tourist town, if there’s an option. For example you can stay in Ernakulam, which is about 9 kms away from Fort Kochi for a cheaper deal of Rs 300 per day. Try similar tricks to save some cash in your stay. A houseboat experience, in the backwaters, comes in no less than 5 Thousand Rupees for 24 hours.
FEW OTHER TIPS
- Train journeys in Kerala, as you zip through its many countryside locations, are simply mesmerizing. Chose them over the boring bus journeys wherever possible.
- Where many temples in Kerala allow people to enter in any attire, some of the ancient one, demands you to follow a strict dress code. This, in general, requires men to wear a Dhoti or a Mundu, with nothing on top. Dress code for women include the tradition Indian Sarees.
- Unlike few other Indian states where smoking in public is banned yet everyone is still found breaking the law, because no one cares – in Kerala getting prosecuted for public smoking is apparently a possible reality. I was literally shocked to see how local people were never found doing so and were often advising tourists as well. So when you’re here make sure you don’t smoke in public places.
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