“You must visit Kerala when you travel to India!” This was what we constantly heard during our plans to visit the Subcontinent.
While located in the same country as the likes of Delhi, Kolkatta, and Mumbai, the State of Kerala feels world’s away from the hustle and bustle of those typical Indian destinations.
Known for its warm smiles from the locals, glistening waterways, and the melding of nature and culture, Kerala surprised us during our visit and is somewhere we would love to return and see more of.
The tourism board is running the “Human by Nature” campaign to showcase the state’s diversity and intertwining of people with the land — something that was immediately evident during our visit. See this video for more:
Located on the southwestern coast of India, this destination was a major port during the spice trade — Arabs, Israelis, Persians, Portuguese, French, Dutch, and British were all involved with the trade, and vying for control.
The British took Kerala in the mid 17th century until the independence of India 200 years later.
India as a whole was abundant with fragrant spices (and still is today), but during the spice trade in the 1400s, Kerala was especially known for its pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, ginger, and turmeric.
These spices are still prominent and are used in the tasty cuisine and for medicinal purposes as well. Indian food as a whole is one of the best cuisines in the world, and the regional dishes in Kerala have some unique and tasty spices and ingredients — adding its own distinct flavours.
With a history influenced by many cultures and countries, it’s no surprise that Kerala is a diverse and welcoming place to visit
You’ll find mosques sitting next to churches, Hindus visiting with Jews, and although there are 16 languages spoken in Kerala, the common language of Malayalam or English is used to communicate.
Not only are the people of Kerala diverse, but so is the land. Stretching close to 600 kilometers, the coastline is filled with life (both above and below the sea).
From the coast, head inland to the highlands of the Western Ghats which sit at 1,500 meters above sea level — a striking contrast between the west and the eastern part of the state.
The topography of Kerala is unique in that it morphs from wetlands and rainforest to high mountains and gorges, followed by fertile valleys. The biodiversity of this state is truly stunning.
Keralan Way Of Life
With lush rainforest, rushing waterfalls, an abundance of wildlife, and blankets of tea leaves on the hills, Kerala is touted as “Gods Own Country”. This Eden of natural beauty melds with the local’s way of life.
The pace of life is slow here. There’s a simple and relaxed “go with the flow” mentality that’s hard to find anywhere else in India.
Donning lungis (the traditional cloth wrap-around skirt), men set off for a day of fishing, which is one of the most important economic sectors in Kerala. With more than 200 fishing villages dotting the coastline, sourcing food from the sea is a way of life here.
For men, fishing is a sense of community. Hindus, Muslims and Christians work together and assist each other for one common goal — food. Religion and ideologies don’t matter here, everyone coexists in Kerala.
The maritime feel is well and truly alive in this area of India. Not only is fishing a large part of the day, but many activities revolve around the sea. Again, melding the people with the land.
Whether it’s a game of football between kids on the sandy shores, a swim in the wavy waters, enjoying the golden sunset, or gliding through the backwaters on a thatched boat — water is a way of life here.
Throughout the day, masala chai (spiced tea) sourced from tea leaves grown in the state is sipped on, while friends and family dine on coconut-based curries with fluffy Matta rice, which is native to Kerala.
Things To Experience in Kerala
Being such an interesting destination in India, and with a varied landscape, there are numerous highlights and experiences for tourists to the state of Kerala. We’ve always listed India as one of the best countries to visit, and the state of Kerala should be firmly on your travel itinerary to the country.
Here are a few top recommendations for things to experience in Kerala:
Explore the Backwaters on a Houseboat
This was one of our fondest memories from our trip to Kerala. Hop aboard one of the most unique boats you’ve ever been on and enjoy a peaceful experience in the backwaters — which connects Kumarakom and Cochin to the North and Quilon to the South.
In the past, these boats were used to transfer goods on the waterways, rather than by road. These days, it’s a tourism experience.
These 70-foot boats are made from natural resources found in Kerala such as wood from jackfruit and palm trees, bamboo poles and mats, and coconut fibers.
No nails are used in the construction, but rather, coconut fibers tie the wood together. The houseboats truly are a unique feat of engineering.
Wander Around Kochi
The Portuguese, Chinese, Arabs, Dutch and British have all left their mark on the port town of Kochi (Cochin). The “Gateway of Kerala” as it’s known is a great place for tourists to explore.
The area of Fort Kochi is filled with historical sites, gorgeous architecture, churches and burial sites, photographic fishing nets, and of course, many amazing eateries!
Don’t miss the Chinese fishing nets being lowered into the sea during sunset, and make sure to visit Jew Town. This neighbourhood is home to the (dwindling) Jewish population, markets, and the 400-year-old Paradesi Synagogue.
Finally, make sure to watch a Kathakali traditional dance performance, and visit the St. Francis Church which is the oldest European church in India.
Visit The Tea Fields
Leaving the coast behind, head inland to the highlands and visit one (or many!) of the incredible tea plantations. Next to China, India is the largest producer of tea in the world and Kerala is one of the top tea producing states.
If you’ve ever enjoyed a cup of milky chai in India, you’ll agree that some of the best comes from this country.
Munnar is the most popular region in Kerala for tea and is where British colonists would escape the intense Indian summer heat. Although Munnar is the most popular and well-known, another excellent spot to witness the gorgeous tea growing on the hillside is at Chinnakanal.
Explore the hills in a 4×4 jeep, but make sure to get out and walk through the pathways lined with tea, while passing by the women plucking tea leaves (they can harvest around 100kg of leaves per day!).
Tea is an important part of everyday life in Kerala, and exploring the source is one of the things you won’t want to miss.
If you’ve visited India, you’ll know how hectic it can be, with many travellers finding it difficult to experience the true tranquility that the country can offer.
Kerala is an oasis from the chaos. The slow pace of life and the respectful and hospitable people are just a few of the reasons why this state is one of the more visited in the country.
Interact with the locals, and discover a way of life that is filled with community, land, and traditions. Between the natural beauty, the historical sites, and the delicious food, you may never want to leave.
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