Whether chanted, recited or used colloquially, palindromic ‘Malayalam’ is the native language of Kerala. In fact, this south Indian State gets its name from a vernacular Malayalam portmanteau of ‘Kera’ and ‘Alam’ that loosely translates as ‘the land of the coconut trees.’ But to brush it off as any other palm-fringed region is like de-edifying the Taj Mahal to a regular mausoleum down the street. (Not something we’d want to do in a hurry!)
Well, it is not for nothing that it has made it to the “Ten paradises of the world” and “50 places of a lifetime” by the National Geographic Traveler magazine.
Nestled between the Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea, this leaf-shaped State sprawls itself along the verdant Malabar coastline. Despite having warm, oceanic, salt-sprayed waters along its rim; Kerala’s uniqueness lies in a fascinating confluence of water bodies, more popularly knows as the Kerala Backwaters. For over 900 kilometers, the State is interconnected by an inimitable web-work of waterways wherein freshwater lakes, canals, lagoons, deltas and other river-estuaries plunge and merge into the Arabian Sea.
The Kerala backwaters’ tours serve as an interesting blend of well-composed visual frames, tranquil water lapping sounds and soothing physical quietude; all of which can be enjoyed as you sit back and relax in a houseboat.
Right off the emerald green backwaters of Lake Vembanad is the high-end Kumarakom Lake Resort, a luxurious retreat that seamlessly blends the rich Keralite heritage and contemporary amenities with the palmira greens, the rustic browns and the celestial blues from its natural habitat.
But it doesn’t just stop at the heritage-heavy places. In the midst of the seascape, one can also find interesting boutique bed-and-breakfast hotels like The Malabari Escapes in Alleppey, Kerala. Designed with a modern sensibility, this traditional houseboat is eco-friendly and pollutant free, fusing easily with its placid environment.
Since these backwaters are well lined by small agricultural and fishing communities, living on a houseboat can serve as a window to the folkways and mores of the locals in the neighborhood – a perfect haven for shutterbugs and writers alike!
Do not forget to carry a bug spray if you plan to stay in the houseboat at night.
How can you visit Kerala and not see:
Kathakali and Mohiniyattam fall under the discipline of classical dance styles from Kerala. The elements of Kathakali borrow heavily from the precursory dance drama traditions to include ‘story play,’ heroic narratives and mythical episodes that revolve around Rama and Krishna. Apart from dance and enactment, there is a huge emphasis on facial expression, which is why many dancers prefer to do their own stage make up.
Photo Credit: Poo-tee-weet
On the other hand, Mohiniyattam is a more feminine dance form that includes graceful and sensuous dance movements.
Bird watchers and other nature lovers can rejoice. The thickets of Kerala’s Periyar National Park serve as a thriving ground for some of the most exotic species of wildlife. This natural reserve is home to almost 1000 elephants (among other animals) and around 320 different kinds of bird species.
If you plan a visit during the monsoon months of August and September, you cannot afford to miss the entire hullabaloo in this festive celebration of mammoth proportions.
Onam is a harvest festival where people come together, mixing art, dance, music, food, and traditional sports including boat racing, archery and other combative games.
Photo Credit: ToreaJade
Photo Credit: Felix Francis
Pamper your body and spoil yourself silly with an authentic Ayurvedic massage, while still in Kerala. Through the therapeutic use of ayurvedic science, the well trained masseurs use a combination of aromatic oils and organic pastes for the session. A lot of the massage techniques and pressure point focus will depend on your body constitution.
It is not uncommon to be served on a banana leaf (which, by the way, is an outstanding experience). The hot food served takes the flavors from the aromatic leaf, making the whole experience of eating a meal so much more different from what we are used to everyday.
Being right off the coast, Kerala is famous for its delectable fish fry. But go easy on the tongue, cause it’s really really spicy. The other assortment of palatable goodies include chilly beef, duck roast and chilly fried crabs.
Foodie or not, Kerala’s understated beauty is a treat to all the senses and is sure to leave you satisfied in more ways than you’d expect!
Other photos by Ruchi Mohinder, a polymer clay artist from Washington D.C.