God’s Own Country is the epithet for Kerala, a state known for its natural beauty and one of the most sought after tourist destinations on the globe. Blessed with great climate, friendly people and pristine natural beauty, Kerala has something on offer for everyone. From misty mountains, lonely treks, abundant wildlife, luxurious houseboats to lovely beaches, the variety is incredible. Here is a selection of five never to miss experiences from one of National Geographic Traveller magazines ‘Ten Paradises on Earth’.
The houseboat ride on the backwaters
photo by McKay Savage
A trip to Kerala would remain incomplete without a houseboat ride on the backwaters of Alleppey. The houseboats or Kettuvallams as they are known locally, consist of a lounge, dining area, kitchen and bedrooms with attached washrooms. The luxury houseboats also feature a balcony for sunbathing. What is special about the boat is that the entire boat is constructed without using a single nail, the boat being held together by a series of coir knots. Guests board at noon and disembark after a twenty-hour overnight ride. The houseboat glides along the backwaters at a slow pace and guests can watch rural Kerala at its best. The chef on board the boat whips us some great food from a menu of your choice. One of the abiding memories of the trip is to wake up in the morning and watch the sunrise in silence.
Ayurveda – Rejuvenating and relaxing
Ayurveda (or the science of life) is a 5000-year-old system of medicine that uses herbs, minerals and massage techniques to add quality to life, and years to life. If all you want is to relax and rejuvenate the body, a three-hour session with a qualified doctor and a trained masseur is the way to go. The warm medicated oils seem to untie those knots in the muscles and relax them. The medicated steam bath that follows opens up the clogged pores giving a sensation of the skin literally breathing. If you have time to spare, try out ‘Panchakarma’ or the five scientific procedures. This particular protocol of Ayurveda is unique to Kerala and is employed to not only treat diseases but also rejuvenate and invigorate the human body.
Prevalent in the northern parts of Kerala, Kalaripayyatu is a martial art that employs bare-handed fighting techniqiues as well as weapons. An ancient technique, Kalaripayattu is considered as the mother of all martial arts prevalent today. Watching Kalaripayattu is a surreal experience, what with the lightening quick movements, high jumps, the sound of steel meeting steel and the sight of sparks flying. The dexterity in the use of weapons beggars belief, especially the ‘Chuttuval’, a circular long sword. Public exhibitions of Kalaripayattu are extremely rare and so permission needs to be obtained to enter the schools where this ancient fighting technique is taught to students as young as eight.
Over 10,000 temple festivals are celebrated in Kerala every year and the biggest of them is the ‘Thrissur Pooram’. It is a temple festival of the Hindus and is held in the month of either April or May in the city of Thrissur. Held every year since 1798, the festival features competitions between two groups of temples and a grand fireworks display lasting three hours. What makes the festival truly memorable and special is the sight of caparisoned elephants and decorative umbrellas swaying to the accompaniment of music. The music itself is heavenly and involves 80 drummers who are accompanied by a few hundred artists on other instruments. The highlight is the sight of around two rows of 15 – 20 elephants standing outside the temple facing each other. These are not ordinary elephants, but the best elephants in the entire state of Kerala chosen for the occasion based on their size, bearing and temperament.
Although Kerala boasts of many beautiful sights, none of them comes close to a sight that is unique to Kerala, the sight of entire hills swathed in blue. Occurring once in twelve years, the entire hills of Munnar are covered in a veil of blue as the Neelakurinji (botanical name Strobilanthes kunthianum) blooms. Revered by the local population, this jaw-dropping sight occurs once in 12 years and tourists from across the globe converge to catch it in the months of August to October. The next occurrence is in 2018 and one of the best spots to view it would be ‘Top Station’, a 1700m high spot that offers panoramic view of the entire valley.