God’s own country: Kerala
Being a heavily water dependent state, with the Arabian sea on the West and over 40 rivers and their tributaries crisscrossing through the state, and nestled in the bosom of the western ghats, Kerala enjoys unique geographical features that have made it one of the most sought after tourist destination in the country and in Asia.
The state has been blessed with a moderate climate, a serene and long coastline with many people-friendly and scenic beaches, tranquil green backwaters (the estuaries and deltas formed by the forty many rivers of the state which form a massive network, particularly in the Periyar region), lush mountains and hillsides, exotic flora and fauna biodiversity, tea and coffee plantations, sprawling paddy fields with resident pisciculture, enchanting art, culture, festivals, historical monuments, exciting cuisine teaming with the goodness of the sea, a rich tradition of Ayurvedic treatments, and all these destinations within two hours of driving distance from each other. The amalgamation of these and many more makes Kerala a must visit destination with a singular advantage that is not found anywhere else.
The state is closely linked with commerce, being a major seaport, and up until recently, was closely linked with the spice trade. This is also the spice state of India, and in the past, has played host to travellers and traders from across the world. During the colonial times, it was heavily visited by the Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Chinese, Portugese, Dutch, French and the British, but largely occupied by the Dutch. Regardless, all the invaders left an indelible mark on this land, be it architecture, cuisine, art, or literature. From Kannur in the north all the way to Thiruvanathapuram in the south, the cities are littered with these monuments standing tall, telling the stories of their trading and colonial history history.
What to see:
Each city of Kerala is unique in the experience it offers you, but at the same time, very much bound together by the same feeling of happiness and goodwill that it promotes. It is ideal to find enough time to travel the state and being able to see the various sights that the state offers. Start in the north at Kannur. A massive triangular laterite fort, the St. Angelo Fort is the leftover from the times of the Dutch colonization. The fort was later seized by the British and became their most important military station in the Malabar region. The views of the Moppila Bay and Dharmadom Island can be seen from here and a sea wall separates the rough sea from the inland water.
Also in Kannur is the Thalassery fort, 22 km north of the city in the small town of Thalassery where the exotic art form of Theyyam originated. The fort was the settlement of the East India Company in the Malabar region, and is a testament to their imperialism and also served as the nucleus for the development of the town. Doors, secret pass ways and tunnels and opening to the sea give the fort an aura.
The Mattanacherry Dutch palace found in Ernakulam, near fort Kochi was presented by Raja Ravi Veera Varma of Kochi to the Dutch. The palace has a Bhagavathi, or goddess temple in the central courtyard and is built in the traditional Kerala style mansion, or the home of the aristocracy. It offers a panoramic view of the Kochi backwaters and has an exquisite collection of murals from the epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata.
The Odathil Palli Mosque in Thalassery is a 500-year-old mosque located in the old town of Thalassery, 20 kms from Kannur. This was built by an Arab merchant in the typical Kerala Hindu temple style. This mosque has neither domes nor minarets and is not open to non-Muslims.
As one starts to travel south from Kannur, one comes upon the majestic Guruvayur temple. A Hindu temple dedicated to the Lord Krishna, it is one of the most important places of worship for the Hindus. It is often referred to as the Bhooloka Vaikuntha, or Heaven on earth, or the holy abode of Lord Vishnu or Krishna on Earth. The historic temple is shrouded in mystery. According to belief, the temple is the creation of the Guru, the preceptor of Gods and Vayu, the God of the winds.
Further south, one reaches the town of Ernakulam, which is the hometown of the Dutch cemetery. The tombstones here are the most authentic records of the hundreds of Europeans who left their homeland and changed the course and history of this land. Also in Fort Kochi is Synagogue of Mattanacherry or the Paradesi synagogue, which is the oldest building in the commonwealth. Destroyed and rebuilt by the Dutch, hand painted, willow patterned floor tiles and clock tower, the Hebrew inscriptions; scrolls of the Old Testament are articles of interest here. This is one of the seven synagogues of the Malabar Yehudan, or Yehudan Mapilla people of Cochin. The term Paradesi is derived from many Indian languages, which means ‘foreigners’, because the synagogue was build by the Sephardic of Spanish speaking Jews. The synagogue is located in the quarter of Old Cochin known as Jew Town. The streets of Jew town are littered with shops and stalls selling Jewish arte-facts, traditional arts and crafts of Kerala and many other visual and foodie delights.
Sampaloor, a small town by the Chalakudy River is known as the Goa of Kerala. Close to the towns of Thrissur, Alapuzha and Cochin, this place witnessed the arrival of series of Clergy. The first to arrive was St. Francis Xavier, who came a place located in Kodungalloorr (muziris). This town has since been the centre for Jesuit Missionary and here stand the St. Paul’s Monastery, St. Paul’s Press and the St. Francis Xavier’s church. These were largely destroyed by the invader Tipu Sultan from Karnataka, who used cannon balls, which destroyed the holy vestments of the monastery, old liturgical tablets and instruments used to make the host. Many of these arte-facts such as Tabernacle of the old church, statues of saints made of wood and metals, Lamps used for adoration, lamp-sticks, the Cross made of metal belongs to 15Th century and ”Vazhuthayodukal” of the same century are some of the attractions of this Museum which stands in place of the Cathedral now.
Beachy beach towns!
The state of Kerala has an unbroken coastline, which means many beautiful, quiet, secluded, white sandy beaches, which attract tourists and locals equally throughout the year. The Payyambalam, Meenkunnu and Kizhunna beaches in Kannur, which slightly rocky coastline that washed up molluscs and crustaceans in abundance and is spotted with blowholes, are some of the windiest beaches in the south of India. The Payyambalam is different in that it is a beautiful stretch of sea and sand and surf, and offers the best locale for a relaxed evening and jaw dropping sunsets.
The Chavakkad Beach in Thrissur is a delight for the sore city eyes. This easy to access beach is famous for the Azhimukam, or the confluence of the river and the sea. The other side of the beach is the Ramachapadam, a vast farmland for the Ayurvedic herb, Ramacham. The Cherai beach of Kochi is picture perfect, and the smooth, gentle waters great for swimming. It is lined with coconut groves and paddy fields and offers a unique combination of the ocean and backwaters, with seashells of various hues and shapes washing up. This is also the place for occasional Dolphin spotting.
Thiruvananthapuram is home to several gorgeous beaches, the Poovar Beach, Samudra beach, Shankhumugham Beach and the famous Varkala beach with the coconut grove studded cliffs lining the beach and double rainbows appearing on the regular. A calm and quiet hamlet, it has several other things to do as well, the 2000 year old Vishnu temple, the Janardhanaswamy temple on the cliffs and the Sivagiri Mutt, founded by the great Hindu reformer Sree Narayana Guru, which is a little distance from the beach. The Papasnanam (also known as Varkala) beach is a renowned natural spring and is considered to have medicinal and curative properties.
Ayurveda is the harmony of the body, mind and soul. The pristine land of India where it originated over 5000- years ago, Ayurveda is the science of life and longevity, and combines profound thoughts of medicine and philosophy. This discipline stands for the wholesome physical, mental and spiritual growth of humanity. Kerala is the land of the Ayurveda as it possesses an unbroken tradition that has surpassed the many invasions and intrusions, both foreign and native. The vaidyas, or the practitioners of Ayurvedas believed to have been healing every disease using the teachings of this discipline. The eight legendary families of Vaidyas (practitioners) and their successors treated the entire state for centuries. Here, it is not an alternative form of treatment, but rather mainstream and is practiced with absolute dedication. Being the only resort of treatment for the people, the Vaidyars of Kerala were challenged to interpret the theories of Ayurveda and adapt them actively into effective healing systems in everyday life. Thus almost all the contemporary procedures and protocols of Ayurveda have evolved in and around Kerala.
The artistic traditions of Kerala:
Kerala has a rich custom and tradition of various art forms, which include performing arts such as several classical and semi classical dance forms, some of which include elaborate facial and body painting. Most of these dance forms found their origins in the history of the King Mahabali, revered by the people of the state. Ritual art, which includes celebrations of a several festivals and days of significance using the natural means available to them will make you appreciate and celebrate your environment as well.
At a glance:
The major cities in Kerala include Trivandrum (Thiruvananthapuram), Cochin (Kochi/Ernakulam), Kannur, Thrissur, Kozhikode and many others. All these towns are very close to each other in the small state and easily connected by road and train.
The Thiruvananthapuram airport, Cochin International Airport and the Calicut International airport are well connected to all major airports of India by most commercial airlines.
The state has an equable and moderate climate throughout the year, with predominantly tropical weather. The monsoon and summer are harsh, and a visit during the relatively cooler winter months is advisable.