Visiting Kerala in South India is like visiting an India of order and calm, quite unlike the noisy confusion of Bombay and Delhi!
Swaying palm trees, wide, white expansive beaches – without traders or high rise hotels – Kerala is a lush landscape of tea plantations, coconut palms and spices. In fact, Kerala’s importance stems from the growing of spices, anything from Cinnamon, Cardamon, Clove and most valuable of all – Pepper!
I arrived in Kochin, and it was a step back in time as I amazed at the mixture of Dutch and Portuguese architecture and style and a mix of religions, Hindu, Muslim and Christian. Add the 500 year old method of fishing introduced by the Chinese and you find Kerala is just a melting pot of culture and history waiting to be explored.
We walked the streets with our guide listening while she pointed out the landmarks and told us about Vasco Da Gama and his influence here. We restricted our visit to two of the most interesting museums – The Indo Portuguese Museum and The Hill Palace Museum – the latter was a fascinating insight into Hinduism – with murals, paintings and sculptures depicting the four Gods and their consorts.
Kerala’s signature classical dance is a must see at Kerala Kathakali Centre. Traditionally the dance is performed for hours and hours throughout the night… but we watched a condensed version, and it was enthralling! We arrived early to watch the artists applying their make-up – so intricate and so colourful! They explained the story before they started the performance and it was amazing to understand it enacted by facial expressions, eyes, eyebrows and hand movements alone.
Another unique feature of Kerala is the Backwaters. Riceboats have been converted to luxury houseboats which cruise the tranquil watery canals taking you past emerald fields, coconut groves, and villages. We sat comfortably on deck taking a peek into the lifestyle of the villagers – sowing paddy, plucking coconuts, washing themselves and their clothes in the water. The cook laid out our traditional Keralan lunch, served on banana leaves – but the food is not hot and spicy, just tasty and delicious!
We travelled a little inland to Periyar National Park in search of tigers! Just a few degrees cooler here, but still pleasant. We loved the beautiful scenery – tea plantations covering all the hillsides, waterfalls and Periyar’s huge lake. We went out on the water, looking intently into the bush for wildlife, but the tigers eluded us!
Just over the border is the Madurai in the state of Tamil Nadu – and it’s most famous and fabulous Hindu Temple Sri Meenakshi – Sundareshwarer Temple. With four entrances, and four corner towers – each ornately carved with brightly coloured Gods and Demons, in the middle a Golden Lotus Tank.
Meenakshi is the Goddess of fertility, the wife of Shiva – so the temple is a magnet for couples to marry and return to pray for children. There are 33,00 sculptures to enjoy, the Thousand Pillar Hall, an art museum, weddings in progress and processions to watch – if you don’t see any other temples in South India, just see this one.
Finally we chilled out at the beach – falling into a routine of early morning Yoga, lunch at the pool, an Ayurvedic massage and then a lovely South Indian dinner.
Kerala, is known as God’s Own Country – it’s India’s most advanced state – 100% literacy, lowest infant mortality, and highest life expectancy. There were no beggars, and everyone enjoys a good quality of life. It’s peaceful and pristine.
If you’ve always wanted to visit India – start here in Kerala, and leave the culture shock for later!