Kerala is a dream visit – perfumed air everywhere

KERALA, INDIA: A rooster screeches its morning call. A few crows join in, and soon other singing birds add melody to the mood as their sharp cries break the morning silence. The surrounding darkness slowly fades as the rising sun throws light onto the dark horizon of sleepy Kerala. The first morning ferry honks its wake-up call and a gentle breeze carries the undulating voice from a nearby mosque, as the ringing of temple bells signals the start of yet another day in the backwaters of this Indian state.

Travellers who have experienced this morning symphony call it wondrous. These backwaters are an integrated network of rivers, lakes, canals, estuaries and lagoons that thread through the length and breadth of Kerala, located in the southwestern tip India tucked between the Arabian Sea on the west (it has 600km of shoreline) and the Western Ghat Mountains to the east. It is in these emerald waters that farmers transport their produce, women wash their clothes, men fish for their livelihoods and children learn how to swim, sometimes even before they learn how to walk.

The real Kerala. Kerala is unquestionably a dream destination. Backwaters aside, it charms with its old-fashioned settlements, un- spoilt coastline, rolling hills and valleys, lush green coconut groves and a spiced perfumed air everywhere you go.

In ancient times, it was scent spices that lured merchant ships from as far away as Phoenicia, Egypt, Babylon, Assyria and China, all willing to brave the currents of the high seas just to land on Kerala’s shores.
They were followed by the Arabs and the Europeans — including the Portuguese, Dutch and British — all of whom marched in after Vasco da Gama established the route from Europe by sailing around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope.

God´s country. Here, the air is fresh and the sky is blue. When travelling across the region, it’s amazing to observe how the placid beauty of the land has influenced the people’s lifestyle, which has remained slow and easy-going. The land seems to be blessed by the gods — and perhaps that’s why one of the nicknames of Kerala is “God’s own country”.

Different religions such as Hinduism, Islam, Christianity and Judaism coexist harmoniously here. These diverse faiths were introduced with the influx of traders, travellers and missionaries. The Paradesi Synagogue in Mattancherry, the Padmanabhaswamy Temple in the state capital, Thiruvananthapuram, the Santa Cruz Basilica in Kochi or the mosque in Munnar still have equal status in the society here.

Needless to say, there is a lot to do in Kerala in terms of sightseeing. You can take a look at what remains of the European and Chinese influence in Fort Kochi located in the municipality of Kochi, or wander through narrow streets of the old Jewish town of Mattancherry, visit the spice gardens at Thekkady or tea gardens at Munnar, or simply relax at the world-famous Kovalam beach after a traditional “Ayurvedic” treatment.

Boating bliss. A backwater cruise in a Kerala-style houseboat called “Kettuvallam” is an experience. Made of bamboo, cane, coir and wood, these beautiful vessels, which were earlier used to transport rice, have been refashioned into stylishly furnished boating cottages. With Kerala’s more than 1,900km of waterways, obviously there are many coastal points to begin a voyage, but the two most popular are Alappuzha and Kollam.

The cruise provides a unique opportunity to witness a pulsing synergy between nature and human life which hasn’t changed much. As the sun rose above the horizon, it was interesting to notice how life springs into action in this rural quarter. Canoes piled with fruits and vegetables or carrying workers and school-children crowd the waterways, while women washing dishes shyly turned away from curious eyes of visitors passing by. The aroma of wood fire and unnamed spices from the kitchen hearths drifted in the air.

Mingle with locals. As the day moved on, the wayside scenery changed: Children on their way to school, farmers worked with ox-driven ploughs while weary fishermen, whose faces are weathered by years of sun and surf, returned home with their catch.

The houseboats stopped at these points for visitors to buy some seafood, but more for an opportunity to mingle with the locals. Many of them can converse in English. Around noon, when the temperature soars, you can see entire families out splashing in the water to get break from the heat. And not just humans — there was even a buffalo half-submerged in the stream.

Lazy afternoon. While a lazy silence filled the afternoon, the joie de vivre picked up again in the evening. With the sun slowly sinking into the horizon, people sat by the banks dangling their feet in water, while greeting travellers in passing houseboats with waves and mirth.
And as night crept in, the croaking frogs took up the chorus of the evening song. It was almost reminiscent of the morning chorus, when nature sounded its “alarm”. It was time to hit the sack.

Tomorrow, another dawn summoned by Mother Nature awaited. And we could not wait for it to begin again.

Make it Happen!

Touch Down: Kerala has three major international airports. One in the southern part, Thiruvananthapuram International Airport, one in central Kerala, the Cochin International Airport and the other in northern part, Karipur or Calicut International Airport. The state can easily be accessible by railway networks and roads.

Stay: Main hotels, restaurants and shopping centres honour major credit cards.

Eat: Kerala is known as the "Land of Spices". As the land of coconut, most of the cuisines contain coconut as a main ingredient in various forms like coconut oil, coconut milk and grated coconut. The taste and aroma of Kerala food is different from other Indian dishes.

Play: Kerala, India's most advanced society: World-class health care systems. India's lowest infant mortality and highest life expectancy rates. The highest physical quality of life in India. Kerala is India's cleanest state.

Mini Guide: Kerala is a small state that lies in the south western part of India. This south Indian state abounds in natural beauty. To its west is the Arabian Sea, and to the east is the Western Ghats mountain range, that separates the state of Tamil Nadu from Kerala. Best time to Visit: High season September-May

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