From dense forests to beautiful tea plantations, rich culture to amazing food – Kerala has something for every 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 destination. But other than its natural beauty what makes it more tourist-friendly is its people, who are welcoming, inquisitive and hospitable. The culture around the state is unique and has been carefully preserved for centuries.
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 a rairty. Thanks to an unusual vibe – Kerala is definitely a no miss for those visiting the southern part of India.
TOP PLACES TO SEE AND EXPERIENCES TO TRY IN KERALA
A walking tour in Fort Kochi: Fort Kochi is the harbour area in the town of Ernakulam. Some of the defining attractions are 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 colourful 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, that is performed in Kerala’s North Malabar region.
The backwaters In Alleppey: One of the best experiences in Kerala is sailing through the backwaters, where you can rent a houseboat and explore a maze of interconnected lagoons, canals and lakes, for days. Though you can find backpackers in a few places in Kerala, including the town of Kollam, Kottayam Alumkadavu, Kumbalangi, and Alleppey. But the backwaters of Alleppey is bigger, better and preferred. Renting a houseboat in Alleppey costs over 6,000 Rupees per day. A cheaper deal to experience the backwaters, however, 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 50 Rupees for a 45-minute ride.
Yoga holiday at Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Dhanwantari Ashram, In Thiruvananthapuram: If yoga fascinates you, this is perhaps the best (also my personal favourite) option for learning yoga in India. Other than Indians, a number of western tourists come here every year to learn yoga. A renowned name in yoga teaching, Shivananda Ashram in Thiruvananthapuram offer basic yoga classes for as low as 350 Rupees a day, which also includes your food and accommodation.
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 backpacker activity happens near the North Cliff beach, where accommodation is cheap, the local markets are more vibrant.
Eating on a banana leaf: Though you can experience eating on a banana leaf in the neighbouring states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka as well, what makes it different in Kerala is that you get a minimum of 12 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’ the coconut beer 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 usual warm-and-sweaty Kerala.
BEST TIME TO TRAVEL IN KERALA
Given the tropic and hot weather, the ideal time to travel in Kerala is only between October and March, when the climate is pleasant and temperature remain at its minimum. The monsoon season between July and August is also usually favoured by many who love to hang out in rain.
COST OF TRAVELLING IN KERALA
Food: Except for a few popular tourist destinations, which particularly includes the town of Varkala and Alleppey, food in Kerala is cheap. You can get a plain small size dosa with chatni at a roadside stall for as low as 10 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 60 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 that 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: Accommodation 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 for no less than 500 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 km away from Fort Kochi for a cheaper deal of Rs 300 per day. Try similar tricks to save some cash on your stay during your time in Kerala.
FEW OTHER TIPS
- Train journeys in Kerala, as you zip through its many countryside locations, are simply mesmerizing. Choose them over the boring bus journeys wherever possible.
- Where many temples in Kerala allow people to enter in any attire, some of the ancient ones, 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.