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Kerala: Green Hills and the Blue Sea

January 21st, 2010

kerala-places-interest.jpgThis article by Nidhi Varma is a description of various places of interest in Kerala, a state in south India that was formed in 1956 by merging the areas of Malabar, Cochin, Travancore, and the South Kanara district. Overall, it is a relatively well-developed region and now features a rapidly growing tourism industry. The natural beauty and availability of exotic spices has made Kerala an increasingly popular holiday destination.

Kerala is a land of mystical mountains, rolling hills with plantations, beaches with deep blue sea, and wild forests. It is known in India as ‘God’s own country’. And it truly is. On a recent trip there, I was amazed to find how so much beauty can exist within this small a region. The places that I talk about here are ones where natural beauty abounds, since that is my preference. However, Kerala is also famous for many temples in South Indian architectural styles not mentioned here, and they are no less beautiful than the nature around them.

Cochin (also Kochi) – One of the most important ports for spice trading since the 14th century, Cochin bursts with life, and is what I would call a very crowded city. The two places to see would be Fort Kochi, which was the first European colonial settlement in India, and the Jewish Paradesi Synagogue, the oldest in the Commonwealth. Both are beautiful, but I would suggest that one doesn’t enter the town and takes the main highway to travel. Cochin port is also famous for its history, and one could take a quick look at it as well.

Alleppey (also Alappuzha) – The backwaters of Kerala are famous and stretch from Alleppey to Kumarakom. Kumarakom is actually more expensive. Alleppey is a small, quaint town with friendly people, and you don’t feel lost in a city as you would in Cochin. The best thing to do to experience the backwaters is to board a houseboat from Alleppey and make sure they take you up to the Vembanad Lake in Kumarakom. This lake is the longest lake in India, covering a total area of 1512 square kilometers, being 14 km wide at its widest. The cool breeze on the houseboat deck with the sunset on the lake is one of the most magical experiences. While you travel you see rural life in Kerala in its luscious green environs, with big and small houses tucked away behind a green cover of coconut trees, mangroves, and creepers, which suddenly open out to expansive paddy fields. It is one of the most peaceful experiences I’ve ever had. Farmers here actually till the land below sea level because of the salt water barrier made by the government.

Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, Gavi – The sanctuary is one of the most famous in India with a number of animals including tigers and elephants. They are often found around Periyar Lake, also known as Thekkady Lake, though we couldn’t spot any. I would not recommend going to Thekkady, but to Gavi, where an ecotourism project is run by the Forest Department. They have different options with camping, bird watching, trekking, elephant safaris, and other activities within the sanctuary. The region also has the Sabarimala Temple, a famous pilgrimage shrine.

Kottayam and Munnar – These are two hill towns in Kerala that are famous for their rolling green hills with various plantations of tea, coffee, cardamom, pepper, and rubber. Kottayam is perfect for seeing rubber trees with white or blue bags hanging from the trunk where the gum of the rubber tree is collected. The rubber trees are high and barely allow sunshine to seep through. Kottayam also has tea, coffee, cardamom, and pepper plantations.

Munnar is ideal for sunny walks amidst tea plantations. It is an experience to see hills covered with tea bushes stretching into the horizon with silver oak trees standing among them. The trees provide partial shade to bushes. I’d recommend staying on a plantation rather than a hotel in these places since early morning or after-meal walks rejuvenate your mind. There are many ayurvedic spas in the region that you might want to try out.

Varkala – A white sand beach for water lovers, and cliffs for trekking. This is what describes Varkala. It’s the only place in Kerala, a land of flat beaches, where cliffs are adjacent the Arabian Sea beach. It is pristine beauty that holds you in awe while you sunbathe on the beach, or sit on the edge of a cliff to watch the deep sea rumble and roll its waves. There are many beach resorts to stay in; many have spas and private beaches as well. Varkala also has a famous temple, the Janardana Swami Temple, which is 900 years old, dedicated to Lord Vishnu and his avatars, for which Varkala is often referred to as the Benaras (or Varanasi) of South India.

Kovalam – The most popular beaches in Kerala for swimming are in Kovalam. The shallow waters stretch over the three beaches that are shaped like crescents with a rocky terrain. The deep green sea is a delight in itself for even those who’d like to just sit and relax on the beach. Palms line the beach offering perfect spots for photography.

Kerala is beautiful. That would be the most truthful statement made about it. It’s a place that must be visited. The three airports in Kerala are at Cochin, Calicut, and Trivandrum (or Thiruvananthapuram). Cochin is the international airport. And in case you’re taking a budgeted holiday, I would recommend you stay in a homestay, very popular in Kerala, where you can stay with a family, and yet not share personal spaces. You have your privacy, and it is affordable with flavoursome South Indian food. It is also advisable to hire a cab for the entire trip in case you’re travelling to multiple places rather than hiring one every time you need to go somewhere since you save money that way. Cabs are usually available according to the number of days and a maximum travel limit in kilometres.

4 Responses to “Kerala: Green Hills and the Blue Sea”

  1. comment number 1 by: Debraj

    Great piece. Kerala is sadly, not illustrative of the rest of the country. it far outstrips other parts of India in every possible way. if ur visiting India, ur doing ur self a disfavor if u don’t include Kerala in ur itinerary.

  2. comment number 2 by: Manu

    This piece takes you across some of the most beautiful places in South India. I can ’see’ the places described even better, having seen them myself… I know it is like this.

  3. comment number 3 by: Ashish

    Love Kerala………………………..!!!!!

  4. comment number 4 by: Ashish

    It feels like Jannat….A Part of Heaven……!!!!

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