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Why Kerala should be your first trip to India
God’s Own Country is Human by Nature
Like everything about India, the memories of my first trip there are so vivid. It was 17 years ago in the region of Kerala and I wouldn’t have wanted to start in any other place.
The first thing to know about India is its immense physical and cultural diversity. This is a country that spans from glaciers to coconut palms and has speakers of 780 languages within its borders. You can’t see all of India on one trip and people have spent lifetimes trying to experience all this county contains. I am one of them. I have been back three times since my first trip.
What Kerala is not
To get your priorities in order, I will tell you what Kerala is not. Kerala is not the Taj Mahal. It is not trekking in the Himalaya. It is not crossing the desert by camel and climbing the palaces of Rajasthan. It has a different “Indian” cuisine than you might be used to. Save all this for another trip to India. It‘s all worthwhile.
What Kerala is
Kerala is tropical. It is a narrow coastal region of southwestern India with long stretches of sandy beaches on the Arabian Sea, serenely beautiful life in the backwaters, and a gently sloping hill country of the Western Ghats. Kerala is an abundance of nature.
Kerala is also the rich and vibrant cultures that make this extraordinary region come to life. Here you’ll meet some of the friendliest people on the subcontinent. Kerala is a world away from the frenzy of the rest of India. It is not a place to rush through. Kerala is for slowing down and savouring, connecting with people, and reconnecting with yourself.
Kerala has evolved a way of life distinct from the rest of India – a way of life that expresses a fascinating interplay of nature and humanity across the most diverse terrains one could imagine.
Kerala has a verdant coastline of 360 miles (580 km), most of which is fringed with sandy beaches. Kovalam is the most visited beach in the state but others include those at Kappad, Varkala, Kollam, Alappuzha, Kozhikode Beach, Marari Beach (Mararikulam, Alappuzha), Nattika (Thrissur), Vadanappally Beach (Thrissur), Cherai Beach, Beypore Beach, Marari Beach, and Fort Kochi. I have great memories from the cliffs above Varkala, which are lined with boutique guesthouses and small cafes. Payyambalam Beach, in Kannur, is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in Kerala, and several more are in the vicinity.
Kerala fashions itself as God’s Own Country and the region’s stunning coastline quickly gives way to mountains as you head east. The Western Ghats rise to about 5,000 ft (1500 m) above sea level. Here between the mountain peaks, gorges, and deep-cut valleys are dense forests and historic tea and coffee plantations. Travelers like to visit some of the popular hill stations like Munnar, Vagamon, Paithalmala, Wayanad, Elapeedika, Nelliyampathy, Peermade, Thekkady, and Ponmudi.
While hill resorts and beaches can be found in other parts of India, the backwaters are unique to Kerala. The Backwaters are an intricate network of lagoons, lakes, canals, estuaries, and river deltas. These more than 560 miles (900 km) of both manmade and natural waterways meander behind Kerala’s coastline before flowing out to the Arabian Sea.
Traditionally used for transportation, today the Backwaters offer a special experience for tourists visiting Kerala. The backwaters can be explored by hiring a houseboat for one or more days or simply catching an inexpensive ferry from one town to the next. You can expect the scenery to unfold in front of you: palm trees, rice paddies, forests, villages, birds, and the stillness of the very early mornings.
The State of Kerala
Kerala is considerably cleaner and better governed than other Indian states. This means travelers will be a little less shocked by what they see when they first arrive. Getting off the plane and stepping into old Delhi maybe a little too much to handle for some first-time travelers. Kerala also has the highest literacy rate in India and its education and healthcare are on par with developed countries.
Tourism in Kerala
Tourism is not new to Kerala. It has been a leader in ecotourism initiatives for years. Growing at a rate of about 13% per year, the tourism industry is a major contributor to the state’s economy. It continues to be one of India’s most popular destinations for foreign tourists. And it’s not just government initiatives and growth of private tour companies that is leading the way. When I visited Kerala, it was ordinary people that I met on the street that were interested in why I had come and were willing to show me to a good local restaurant or give me directions. Kind and helpful people make all the difference in the world when you are traveling.
Kerala isn’t a place to travel to with a bunch of sights to tick off. Travel here is more experiential.
Feature image by Brian Scott
This post was Sponsored by Kerala Tourism but all words are the author’s.