For CheapOAir Miles Away Blog. December 2017.
The lush state of Kerala, located in the southern peninsula of India, is touted as “God’s own Country.” With such a bold tourism slogan, you can expect the bar to be set pretty high. Well, Kerala does not disappoint. It’s filled with pristine beaches, houseboats floating in clear backwaters, spicy Indian food, and fun-loving people. It’s perfect for a yoga retreat, an adventure holiday, or an eco-friendly vacation. Now that’s a pretty divine package. If you haven’t added Kerala to your travel plans to escape the frigid winter, here’s why you need to do so right away.
You Can Relax, Rejuvenate, and Experience Life in a Fishing Village by the Sea
As soon as you arrive at the world’s first solar-powered Cochin International Airport, you’ll understand why Kerala is the most literate and advanced state in India. Take a chauffeur-driven car (it only costs a few hundred rupees – under $5) to nearby Alappuzha District. Stay at Marari Beach Resort, a village-themed boutique resort located at the award-winning yet somewhat secluded Marari Beach. Recharge your energy levels with some fresh coconut water on arrival at this all-inclusive beachfront property. After checking in to an individual thatched roof cottage, take a yoga lesson, walk around the lily pond and gardens, learn how to wear a Kerala sari or pick your own vegetables from the organic garden for a cooking class. Enjoy a relaxing evening at the herbal spa. There is a resident Ayurveda doctor to consult and prescribe treatments based on chronic ailments like sinus, back pain, asthma, digestive disorders or even jet lag — all with natural herbs and oils.
To catch a glimpse of the daily lives of the locals, head to the nearby town of Alleppey, known as Venice of the East due to its intricate network of canals. Early mornings are great to watch fisherman easily maneuvering their white mundu (a long, wrap-around piece of cloth worn by men) and bringing in the catch of the day, and in the evenings, entire families strolling on the beach, playing games and snacking on street food.
Though most tourists come here to board a houseboat cruise, there are some must-see temples and churches in this historic town, and if you are lucky, you may even get to see a traditional ceremony, participate in a unique festival or, if you’re gutsy enough, crash a wedding (there’ll be a thousand guests so no one will notice!).
It’s believed that Christianity arrived in Kerala in the first century. Kerala also has the largest Christian population of any state in India, so it’s not uncommon to see Christmas decorations throughout December as well as elaborate feasts being celebrated in remembrance of patron saints.
You Can Get Close to Wildlife, Enjoy Fine Tea, and Explore Exotic Spice Markets
The hill town of Thekkady is much cooler than the coastal areas, making it a great weekend retreat for travelers looking for an escape from the beach. It’s also home to Periyar Tiger Reserve. While you’ll rarely get a chance to spot a wild tiger, you can see elephants, wild dogs, giant squirrels, bison, sambar (a large type of deer), langur, macaque, mongoose, and a large variety of birds while trekking or bamboo rafting through the forests.
The other big attractions in the area are the tea, coffee, and spice plantations dotted along the green slopes. Watch how tea leaves are grown and harvested, sample green and black teas, before taking some back home (they are super cheap at the factory outlets). Take a private tour with the owner at Abraham’s Spice Gardens to see hundreds of spices, fruits, and flower varieties, and crush your Instagram following once you post pictures of Vandanmedu, the largest cardamom auction center in the world. In the town, stock up on fresh and very affordable freshly dried spices such as black pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and much more. Also, make sure to pick up deep-fried Kerala banana chips and raw cashews.
Spice Village is the oldest mountain village-style resort and offers traditional huts equipped with modern day facilities, each named after a spice tree. This eco-friendly hotel grows its own food, filters and bottles water, composts food waste, harnesses solar energy, and even makes its own paper. On-site naturalists are ready to escort guests around the property to educate them about the flora and fauna and how it is integrated into the eco-friendly mantra of the resort.
You Can Float on the Backwaters, Take in Some Culture, and Taste Some Amazing Food
Another must-visit destination in Kerala is Kumarakom, located on the banks of the Vembanad Lake. Most backwater cruises rent a houseboat from here for a couple of nights. These boats are fully equipped with bedrooms and a chef who sometimes catches fresh fish and prepares it for meals onboard.
However, if motion sickness is a problem, you can choose to cruise for a few hours only and stay at Coconut Lagoon, an eco-lodge accessible only by boat. These artistically crafted guest cottages, built with materials gathered from old family mansions all over Kerala, are architecturally inspiring. Here you can enjoy views of the lake from your front porch, row a canoe in the lagoons around the hotel, walk in the butterfly garden, or visit the bird sanctuary next door.
In the afternoons, a local lady known simply as Amma (meaning “mother”) offers homemade tea and snacks from her floating shop. There’s also a live musical performance every day with dancers wearing elaborate costumes and painted face masks, delicately expressing themes from Hindu mythology.
If you like spicy food, you’re in for a real treat in Kerala! Three restaurants at Coconut Lagoon offer a wide range of local specialties including a dosa (India stuffed crepe) station, seafood grill where the daily catch is displayed before dinner, and a buffet restaurant where you can taste a variety of homemade chutneys, pickles, and jams.
Kerala cuisine is very distinctive from the rest of India and features rich coconut curries, fragrant meat stews, rice flour breads, jaggery sweetened desserts, and lots of shellfish. The friendly chefs are always eager to share recipes and give private cooking lessons, so you can recreate your experience in Kerala with your newly purchased spices once you get back home.
~ Written for CheapOAir Miles Away Blog. December 2017.