Top reasons to visit Kerala
A&K travel specialist Cat Padbury shares what makes Kerala a worthy destination, from its cosy houseboats to its unique cuisine.
Rolling hills, peaceful waterways, and luscious lands are what each traveller can expect to experience in Kerala, along with the hospitable nature that India is famous for. Here are my top reasons why Kerala is a must for all those who hear India’s call.
For a calm introduction to India
There’s no denying that India can be overwhelming. Often the advice is to embrace the chaos, but this is easier said than done. For those nervous of heading to the lively cities of Rajasthan, Kerala is a fantastic alternative to ease yourself into the country. You’ll be greeted by one of the most hospitable cultures, see the women in their brightly coloured saris, and sample fantastic food. You’ll still see risky driving and bustling markets, but in a much lower concentration than in the north. I fell in love with India through the colours, the cuisine, and the culture, but most importantly, I fell in love with the warm hearts of India’s people. All of this is truly present in Kerala.
For the beautiful scenery
Every car journey was made longer by my wanting to stop and capture the beauty I could see out of the window. Green, luscious, and perfectly picturesque, Kerala is ideal for getting back to nature. The rolling hills of the tea plantations are iconic, and you’ll also see some fantastic waterfalls. Along with the scenery is a lovely climate; the fresh and slightly chilly monsoon air makes it an excellent escape from the heat of Rajasthan during the summer months.
For magnificent Munnar
One of the top spots in Kerala, as well as one of the most beautiful, is the Munnar Hill Station. Munnar itself is a little town which seemingly appears from nowhere as you approach. It’s in the heart of the tea plantations, and when tea is involved, I’m sold. In Munnar you can visit a local tea factory to learn about the history of the area, focusing mainly on the British influence. Have a try at tea tasting and later enjoy a walk around the plantations. About a one-hour drive from the town is Spice Tree Munnar, a gem among the Keralan hotels. Built into the side of the valley, rooms are afforded excellent views – which was a nice surprise for us in the morning, having arrived during the dark hours of the previous night. Take a pair of sturdy shoes so you can enjoy the many walks on offer in the area.
To sample the cuisine
No breakfast in Kerala is complete without a dosa, which you’ll find on the breakfast menu at most hotels. A dosa is a thin crepe made of rice and lentil batter served plain with sambar, or stuffed with spiced potatoes.
For lunch and dinner, Keralan cuisine embraces the coconut it’s so well known for. The dishes taste different to the ghee-laden curries of the north, as chefs here cook using coconut oil and thicken dishes with coconut milk. Not only does this give the curries a lighter, fresher taste, it also makes for a healthier alternative.
Kerala is also very well known for its fish dishes, but what’s especially interesting is it’s one of the few states in India where people can eat beef. It’s unclear when beef was first introduced to the state, and stories of the ancient kingdoms suggest this has not always been appropriate. Perhaps the influence of Islam, as well as the British and Portuguese bringing with them Christian-European traditions, put beef on the menu here.
For the unique hotels
While the north offers the grand palaces with the world’s best service, the south offers hotels that bring you back to the local traditions and exude the Keralan lifestyle. The pace of life here is calmer than that in the north, but this does not for a moment mean the service is lacking. The hospitable nature of the Keralan people means the staff always want to make sure their guests are happy, comfortable, and enjoying their stay.
One hotel that really stood out to me was Spice Village in Periyar, made up of a number of cottages in the style of traditional tribal huts, yet still including all the comforts you’d expect. There are many hotels which feel as though you could be anywhere in the world, but this is one of those special places that you know you wouldn’t experience anywhere other than Kerala. A peaceful atmosphere, a down-to-earth property, and an excellent location for visiting the Periyar National Park.
The most unique accommodation choice in Kerala is the traditional houseboats of Allepy and Kumarakom. Kumarakom Lake Resort boasts the best boats on the backwaters, featuring between one and two bedrooms. Set off at midday for a long cruise around the waterways, passing local fisherman and paddy fields. You’ll moor up overnight and return to land for breakfast. We were fed like kings with our three-course lunches and dinners, which we got to enjoy in the most serene setting. This was the highlight of my stay in Kerala, and the perfect place to curl up with a good book and relax.
To stay in ‘God’s Own Country’
Having travelled through Kerala for two weeks, it was easy for me to appreciate its epithet: ‘God’s Own Country’. What made this real for me was not simply the beauty of the landscapes, but the attitude the state is adopting to how they view the land and how they live their lives.
Kerala is taking giant leaps forward in sustainability and eco-friendliness. Cochin International Airport is the world’s first fully solar-powered airport. More than 46,000 solar panels harness the sunlight to power one of the busiest airports in India.
Throughout India, we are hearing about more and more impending bans on plastic, and Kerala is leading the way in cutting down on plastic use. Hotels such as Spice Village Periyar have their own water treatment and bottling plants where they package and serve purified rainwater in reusable glass bottles. Wastewater from the hotel is also treated and used on the property’s crops.
One final reason why Kerala is truly ‘God’s Own Country’ is its investment in its people. Kerala has a literacy rate of almost 100 per cent, which is very impressive for India. It’s unlikely that one day the number of those living below the poverty line will be zero, but Kerala’s attitude to education is certainly helping to reduce this figure.
Explore the beautiful waterways and culture of Kerala yourself with our suggested Classic Southern India itinerary.