The small state of Kerala, southwest India, is presented as a natural paradise full of coconut trees, golden sands that caress the Arabian Sea and fluffy mountains from which the most coveted spices of the world are born and delicious teas are produced. But in addition to its landscape wealth, Kerala is the cradle of Ayurvedic medicine, maintains millenarian traditions and boasts a rich historical legacy that make it an essential destination for those who travel to India.
Perhaps it is true that many say that “Kerala is not India.” The country is so large and diverse that each state has its own characteristics, idiosyncrasy and even its inhabitants have different physiognomy. Something that makes Kerala very special is that its population is among the most literate in the country and that the poverty rate is one of the lowest.
Talking about Kerala is talking about its backwaters, a network of canals and lakes that cover an area of 900 kilometers and that draw the landscape and create a slow way of life on its banks. The best way to know and visit this area is in the “houseboats”, old boats that transported rice around the country and that have been transformed into “small floating hotels” and that for a day – or several, depending on the service that contrast allows you to know part of this fluvial crossroads.
One of the must-see experiences is to slowly navigate the waters and admire how these channels, nourished by 38 rivers, widen and then become narrower, observe how the inhabitants of their villages and, above all, enjoy the sunrise from some lagoon or lake. A wonderful experience!
The slopes of the Western Ghats seem fluffy to the side with all possible ranges of green. Munnar was for years the summer destination of the English settlers, who sought a respite from the tropical climate of the coast – and then became, by its perfect climate and height, one of the largest tea plantations in India. Going through those endless corridors among tea bushes, always looking ahead without knowing where it ends is an experience that is hard to forget. In the distance you can see the women with their colorful saris working in the plantations, picking with patience and under the sun of justice the leaves that in less than 24 hours are ready to be tasted.
To complete the experience, I recommend that you visit one of the tea factories to teach you the whole process that turns a fresh leaf into a delicious tea that you can taste right there.
Beaches of Kerala
If there is something that Kerala has too much, those are beaches. The small state has 500 kilometers of coastline on the Arabian Sea that allow you to enjoy the sea in different natural and urban environments. For me three of the best beaches – considering that a “good beach” for me implies that it is clean, sandy and totally deserted – are Marari, Thottada and Kaddapuram. But the perfect plan is to go jumping from beach to beach until you find your favorite.
One of the things that you should keep in mind when going to the beaches in Kerala -or in India in general- is that unless it is tourist, it is not advisable to wear a swimsuit -especially bikini- because the locals are not used to seeing women in “Minor cloths” and you will become a magnet of the looks and the perfect target for your videos and photographs (it has happened to me a couple of times). If you are going to wear a bikini, choose beaches such as Varkala, which is very touristy and has two different areas: one for foreigners and one for locals who go to the sea dressed head to toe. Another option is to go to deserted beaches, where there will be no indiscreet looks or cameras and you can bathe or sunbathe at your leisure.
The Port of spices: Fort Kochi
One of the areas of Kerala where you can appreciate the culture, inheritance of years of Portuguese, British and Dutch colonialism, that is Cochin and especially the area of Fort Kochi.
For many years Fort Kochi was an important port where the coveted spices (on the famous “route of spices”) were it is in this area where you can admire part of their legacy, appreciate their culture and where the qualities of the state are concentrated whole. Going through this area of the country is more than necessary to better understand its history but above all to see that cultural fusion, the communist identity of which they are very proud -that is why there are so many communist flags, Guevara graffiti and other symbols- or the gastronomy so characteristic.
It would be a sin to leave Kerala without having tried their Ayurvedic massages. This small state is the cradle of traditional Ayurvedic medicine (officially recognized by the World Health Organization) and in any city in the state where you are you can enjoy a massage following the Ayurvedic principle.
If they are made by professional hands and with good oils of natural origin, these massages help to improve and take care of both the body and the mind in an integral way. Of course, you have to know that they should not be totally naked (as happened to me in Varkala) but they should give you a sort of disposable panties. Be that as it may, it is one of those experiences that you should not miss during your visit to Kerala.
A trip to India rhymes with exoticism and authenticity. It is a country with a culture in its own right, and breathtaking landscapes.