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Travel Guide Asia India Kerala

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Introduction

Traditional House-Boat in the backwaters of Kerala

Traditional House-Boat in the backwaters of Kerala

© All Rights Reserved arif_kool

The state of Kerala, divided into 14 districts has emerged as one of the hottest tourist destination in India over the period of years. This lush green state lies in a narrow strip of land bounded by the Arabian Sea in the west and the Western Ghats on the east and bisected by numerous small streams. A long coastline lined with plenty of clean and beautiful beaches, vast stretches of Backwaters, hill stations full of exotic wild life, sprawling tea plantations, traditional art forms and dances, exotic cuisine and the famous “Ayurvedic” treatments have all made Kerala a dream destination for tourists, both domestic and international. Kerala is often referred to as “Gods Own Country” as the region has preserved much of its natural beauty.

Kerala has the highest literacy rate amongst all the states of India. The people of this state are simple, God-fearing and hospitable. The local language spoken here is Malayalam, but the majority of locals can speak communicable English.

Ayurvedic” treatments have become very popular among the foreign tourists. This is an ancient form of treatment which uses herbs and leaves having curative properties. These herbs are extracted from the forests which are scattered all over Kerala. Ayurveda believes in not only the treatment of the affected part, but the individual as a whole. It is natural way to rejuvenate yourself thereby eliminating all the toxic elements of the body. The monsoon season is considered the best for such therapy as the atmosphere is dust free and cool enabling the body to open up the pores of the skin so that they respond well to the herbal oils. Since this form of medicine has become extremely popular, many such centres have cropped up. Tourists are advised to take treatment in government approved Ayurveda centres.

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Geography

Kerala lies between the Lakshadweep sea and the Western Ghats, roughly between north latitudes 8°18' and 12°48' and east longitudes 74°52' and 77°22'. The state has a coastline of about 590 kilometres and geographically, the state can be divided into three climatically distinct regions: the eastern highlands (rugged and cool mountainous terrain), the central midlands (rolling hills), and the western lowlands (coastal plains). The eastern region of Kerala consists of high mountains, gorges and deep-cut valleys immediately west of the Western Ghats' rain shadow. The Western Ghats form a wall of mountains interrupted only near Palakkad, where the Palakkad Gap breaks through to provide access to the rest of India. The Western Ghats rises on average to 1,500 metres above sea level, while the highest peaks reach to more than 2,500 metres. Anamudi, the highest peak in South India, is at an elevation of 2,695 metres. Just west of the mountains lie the midland plains comprising central Kerala, dominated by rolling hills and valleys, ranging between elevations of 250-1,000 metres. Kerala’s western coastal belt is relatively flat, and is criss-crossed by a network of interconnected brackish canals, lakes, estuaries, and rivers known as the Kerala Backwaters. Lake Vembanad, Kerala’s largest body of water, dominates the Backwaters; it lies between Alappuzha and Kochi and is more than 200 km2 big. Around 8% of India's waterways (measured by length) are found in Kerala.

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Cities

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Sights and Activities

The entire state is so beautiful that you can spend weeks traveling and exploring Kerala. The main sights of tourist interest can be grouped under the following heads:

  • Beaches - Kerala has a long coastline and it has some of the best beaches of India. Some of the more important beaches are world the famous Kovalam, Varkala, Poovar, Alleppey, Kappad (Historic place where Vasco da Gama landed in 1498), Shanghumughan Beach, Cherai beach etc.
  • Hill Stations - The lush green mountains of Kerala have a number of hill resorts which are home to many exotic species of wildlife. Most of these hills are covered by tea, coffee and spice plantations which is a visual treat to watch. Some of the important hill resort towns are Munnar, Devikulam, Echo Point, Wayanad, Rajamala, Poonmudi, etc.
Backwaters of Kerala, India

Backwaters of Kerala, India

© All Rights Reserved arif_kool

  • Backwaters - Kerala is famous for its backwaters, which are a network of canal, rivers and deltas that drain into the Arabian Sea. The major portion of this backwater is navigable and it connects the villages lying along and it is also used for transportation of goods and people. The largest stretch of Backwater is the Vembanad Lake and the major towns around which backwater activities occur are Alleppey (often called the Venice of the East), Kumarakom and Kollam. An overnight cruise in the traditional ‘House-Boat’ floating the serene backwaters is the dream of any tourist. These house-boats have air conditioning and have comprehensive facilities and are often expensive targeting the premium travelers. Budget travellers have an affordable option in the regular ferry service between Kollam and Alleppy. This is a full day trip along the backwaters and normally has a group of around 20 people on the upper deck of the boat.
  • Wildlife - Kerala has abundance of species of wildlife due to easy availability of water and extensive vegetation. Some of the famous natural parks are Eravikulam National Park, Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, Silent Valley National Park, Thattekad Bird Sanctuary, Wayanad Muthanga Wild Life Sanctuary and Chinnar Wild life Sanctuary.
  • Tree Houses - Tree Houses are ethnic houses built on trees high above the ground in the tropical rainforest of Wayanad Sanctuary, which can be reached by a two hours drive from Kozhikode (Calicut) railway station. Each tree house is a self contained unit having a double bed room with attached toilet, wash basin and even a veranda to sit-out. These tree houses are built and designed by local craftsmen using local materials. Food is prepared from the vegetables grown in organic farms and the renewable energy sources are being used. No doubt, this is unique experience of staying so close to nature which can be cherished for a lifetime.

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Events and Festivals

Kerala has a rich cultural heritage and numerous traditional dance forms are popular in this region. Some of the more famous traditional dance forms are Kathakali, Mohiniyattam, Thullal and Oppana. The region is also known for the ancient Martial Arts technique. The tourism authorities hold regular shows of these dance forms to entertain the tourists. Besides these some of the other events worth watching are the Snake Boat Race and Elephant Race.

  • Nehru trophy Boat Race - Nehru Trophy Boat Race is an annual event which is organized at the Punnamada Lake in Alleppey, Kerala, India. It is held every year on the second Saturday of August and in 2012 Nehru Trophy Boat Race will be held on August 11, 2012. This is the most popular boat race in Kerala and this year the committee has decided to make the town more colourful in the evenings to the run-up to the race, to woo tourists as the famed event celebrates its diamond jubilee year this year. Address: Punnamada Lake, Alleppey, Kerala, India
  • Thrissur Pooram - Thrissur Pooram is one of the largest festivals held annually in state of Kerala. Address: Thrissur
  • Onam - The traditional 10-day Onam harvest festival takes place in Kerala during August or September and marks the return of the mythical King Mahabali. The Hindu celebration welcomes the monarch by arranging flowers outside their houses, wearing new clothes, feasting, dancing, and racing in snake boats.

National Events and Festivals

  • Holi is quite popular in the Indian sub-continent and is traditionally celebrated on the day after the full moon in the month of Phalguna (early March), according to Hindu calender. Holi is a thanksgiving festival, where people offer prayer to God for good harvest and fertility of the land. Holi is a festival of freedom from social norms and caste inhibitions are shed for a day as people indulge in fun and merry-making. Colors and 'gulal' are showered on the people dressed up for the occasion and the whole community seems to merge into one big family under the guise of colors, without any distinction whatsoever. Children with face smeared with colors run around with 'pichkaris' (big syringes to splash colored water) and play amongst themselves. People exchange good wishes, sweets and gifts. Holi is also marked by vibrant processions which are accompanied by folk songs, dances and drum beating. Parties are also organized where snacks and the traditional milk-based drink “Thandai” is served which is often intoxicated with “Bhang”. Of late, lots of foreigners have started taking interest in this festival and they even enjoy the colors and the intoxicating drink. It is advised to cover your hair with a cap and eyes with sunglasses to avoid the colors splashing the eyes and damaging the hair.
  • Republic Day - Republic Day is a national holiday in India every January 26 to commemorate the adoption of the Constitution in 1950 and the declaration of independence in 1930. The capital of New Delhi is the focus of the celebrations, including a flag raising ceremony, wreath laying, 21-gun salute, Presidential speech, and presentation of awards for selflessness and bravery. A massive military parade includes elephants ridden by children who have received national accolades.
  • Gandhi Jayanti - Gandhi Jayanti is a national public holiday commemorating the birth of the peaceful activist, Mohandas Gandhi on October 2, 1869. The celebration coincides with the United Nations’ International Day of Non-Violence. In India, Gandhi is remembered through statues, flower and candle offerings, prayers and singing the devotional hymn Raghupati Raghava Raja Ram. The Indian government issues special mint rupees and postage stamps bearing his picture.
  • Diwali - Diwali is the five-day festival of lights held in India in late October or early November each year. The widely celebrated Hindu event marks Lord Rama’s victory over the demon Ravan. Homes and streets are decorated with lights, candles and small clay lamps, and new clothes are worn and sweets are exchanged.

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Weather

Kerala has a tropical climate and moderate weather conditions exist throughout the year though the summer months (March to May) can be quite hot. Since Kerala is located on the coast and lush green plantations are present all around the temperature are moderated to some extent. It rains heavily in Kerala during monsoon season (June to August) which keeps tourists away during this period. The best time to visit Kerala is during the winter season (November to February) when the temperature is moderate and there is hardly any rain. Temperatures during the day vary from around 28 °C in July and August to 33 °C in March. Nights are in the 23-26 °C range year round. The average annual precipitation is around 3,300mm! From December to March it's mostly dry, but from May to October it pours! Especially June and July with around 800-900mm each month are extremely wet.

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Getting There

By Plane

Kerala has three international airports to cater the requirements of foreign and domestic tourists:

By Train

Kerala is well connected by rail network to rest of India. Direct trains are available from important cities of India to all parts of Kerala. Indian Railways operates the rail network in India.

By Car

Taxis can be hired for traveling to the state of Kerala from the neighbouring states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka but it is advisable to travel by train or plane instead as the journey is comfortable, efficient and affordable too.

By Bus

Interstate buses are available from the neighbouring states but the journey can be tiring and time consuming.

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Getting Around

By Plane

Flights are available between the major cities (Trivandrum, Kochi, Kozhikode) of Kerala, but it is more convenient to cover the same distances by rail/road as the distances involved are not much and it saves the hassle which is associated with air travel.

By Train

Excellant train connection is available between most of the major cities of Kerala. With the completion of the Konkan Railway project, journey time has considerably reduced from western part of India to the major cities of Kerala.

By Car

Taxis can easily be hired for travelling to the major tourist locations of Kerala. The rates vary depending on the season in which you are visiting but it is better to enquire about the rates from more than one tour operator.

By Bus

The roads are by and large good in this area and even the interior town and villages are well connected by State Transport Corporation buses. Kerala receives heavy rainfall during the monsoon season which sometimes damages the roads in interior locations. These local buses display the destination station mostly in Malayalam (local language) hence it is advisable to double check the destination station before you board the bus. Fortunately majority of local population can speak some level of English.

By Boat

Many of the cities of Kerala are located along the famous Backwater Stretch extending from Kollam to Alappuzha and then from Alappuzha to Kochi. It is unique experience to undertake this inter-city travel on a boat passing through the beautiful backwaters. Regular ferry service is available from Kollam to Alappuzha at an affordable rate.

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Language

The people of Kerala speak Malayalam (a palindrome when written in English). Most well-educated people are also able to speak Tamil, Hindi and English. Though Kerala is often regarded as a highly literate state this doesn't mean that everyone can communicate in English. Most of Kerala's urban population is able to communicate in English and in 'broken' Hindi. As Tamil and Malayalam are closely related, locals may understand spoken Tamil, with some difficulty.

Almost all bus routes and other important signs, including name boards, are written in Malayalam and some are also in English. Most city bus destinations are prominently written in Malayalam, some having English signage represented in small fonts which are often difficult to read, though all of the bus conductors and ticket checkers understand basic English. Most Kerala Government offices use only Malayalam signage and most Kerala government documents such as receipts and bills are in Malayalam, though there will usually be English-speaking staff on duty.

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Eat

Kerala cuisine is distinctly different from food elsewhere in India. The major difference that one can easily notice are dominance of rice as staple food and popularity of non-vegetarian dishes. Seafood gets a lion's share in typical Kerala's cuisine and lavish use of coconut (in form of coconut oil, coconut milk, powder or paste) gives a distinct taste. Food in Kerala tends to include a variety of spices and most of them are extremely fiery. Kerala also has its own fair share of famous vegetarian cuisines and normally only vegetarian foods are taken during festival days, particularly Onam

Kerala's cuisine is divided into four basic regional styles, according to ingredient availability and historical influence: Malabar, Central Travancore, Southern Travancore, and Central Kerala. Although all four styles can be found throughout the state, the food will be most authentic within each given region.

Seafood is available all over Kerala and is part of regular Kerala cuisine. In regions bordering the backwaters and lakes traditional cuisine includes fresh-water fish such as karimeen (black pearlspot), prawns, shrimps, kanava (squid) and many other delicacies. In most of the parts of Kerala, various varieties of sea fishes are extremely popular and consumed regularly in afternoon lunch. Another popular option is fiery hot fish curry served along with 'kappa' (tapioca) or rice. Steamed and mashed tapioca flavoured with turmeric served along with spicy fish curry or mashed chilly gravy is a favorite among Malayalees, particularly those in rural areas.

Sadhya

One of the favourite for any connoisseur of food would be Kerala's traditional buffet, the sadhya. It is served especially during festive occasion and normally presented upon a plaintain leaf. It generally has up to 24 items and is accompanied by various desserts and savories.

A typical sadhya consists of piping hot parboiled rice with popular Kerala vegetarian dishes like olan (a dish of pumpkin), avial (an assorted mix of all vegetables), injipulee (a ginger & tamarind flavouring), kaalan (made of yam and yogurt), thoran (pan-fried vegetables sprinkled with grated coconut), kichiadi (roasted cucumber in yogurt), pachadi (a sweet dish made out pineapple or grapes mixed with sour yogurt), kottukari (a mixture of few vegetables like raw bananas or pumpkin or potatoes, pan fried mixed with a spicy tomato puree curry base) etc. In some sadhyas, options like potato stew, masala curry are served. The sambar (a watery all-Vegetable curry) and parippu (lentils, either mashed or curry form) along with ghee are served as the main entrée'. Normally 2 to 3 spicy pickles called as achar are served.

Other assortments include pappadam (fried Lentil-flour paper-thin bread), along with banana chips and jaggery sweet, served as main appetisers. Towards the end of sadhya, rasam (similar to mulligatawny soup made out of pepper and tomato water is served, which is good for digestion) as well as mooru or sambharam (spiced buttermilk) are served. Bananas are also taken as a final note to end the elobrate sadhya's main course. The desserts includes payasam (a sweet porridge-like, made of jaggery or sugar along with rice, cereals, fruits depending on what type of payasam) as well as boli, a sweet flour bread, which looks similar to an omelet, along with a banana and sometimes unniappam (sweet fried rice flour dumpling).

Normally sadyas are served on lunch time and normally will be pure vegetarian. Onasadhya (served on the Onam day) is the most famous, due to having more than 30 curries and an elobrate range of special payasams. Many leading hotels and restaurants now serve smaller versions of sadhya as part of a regular lunch offering. In Malabar, sometimes, fried-fish or chicken curry constitute part of the sadhya, as the Malabar sadhya does not have a vegetarian tradition.

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Drink

  • Water - Tap water is usually not safe to drink. Mineral water is available at almost all shops and is the safest option.
  • Tender coconut water, (karikku), is available in even the smallest towns. Tender coconut water is extremely popular. This sweet, creamy treat contains an ice-cream like cream which can be drank, housed in a delicious pulp that can be eaten. It's good for you, too.
  • Coffee, (kapi) and tea (chaya), unlike other parts of South India, in Kerala tea is more popular than coffee. It's virtually impossible not to find a stall selling tea. The famous tea of Kerala is the Kannan Devan brand. In Kerala one can find Milma (a milk brand) booths selling tea with milk and snack eateries. Coffee is more popular in urban areas, particularly in Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram. Popular national brands like Cafe Coffee Day and many local cafes offer various flavours of coffees with western/oriental snacks. Kerala's own traditional cafe is Indian Coffee House, which are old-fashioned pre-1970s styled coffee shops that offer Kerala coffee along with regular Kerala foods. From the new generation of cafe, comes Kerala's Coffee Beanz which is now open in many parts of Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram. They offer various innovative coffee flavours and traditional Kerala snacks along with lite burgers.

Juices and shakes - Kerala, being a tropical state, offers many delicious tropical juices and juice cocktails. Almost everywhere one can find small juice stalls selling mango, orange, pineapple, lemon, water melon and other juices. Milk shakes mixed with ice-cream is very popular and the best way to beat the Kerala summer heat. Sharja shake and chikoos are popular milk shakes mixed with various fruits and fruit flavour ice-creams.

  • Alcohol - Kerala tops in per capita alcohol consumption in India, despite the high rate of government taxation. You'll find a bar in most hotels serving anything from 'kallu' (Kerala traditional palm toddy) to Scotch whisky. Alcohol consumption in public is frowned upon, and the bars in everything except the most expensive hotels tend to be seedy. Bars in urban areas nowadays are bit more upscale and hence bit more expensive or carry additional service charges. For budget travellers who wish to have liquors in private, you can buy most of the liquor brands along with beer from Government-run Kerala State Beverage Corporations Limited (popularly known as Beverage Shop or Bevco) stores and drink in private. However, there is usually a very large queue in front of these stores and the wait is often long. Additionally, they are closed on the 1st of every month. Kochi and Trivandrum have many posh bars and pubs in which to drink. Several restaurants in cities like Kochi, Trivandrum, Kottayam and Kollam serve alcohol along with regular menu food. Cocktails are extremely popular.
  • Locally made palm toddy, called kallu, is tempting to try but be aware that some people become sick due to bad brews. If you do try it, make sure you stick to the license-made brew, and not local moonshine. However on Alapuzha-Changaserry route, you can find a number of good toddy shops which offer authorised toddy in addition to very tasty, unique Kerala specialties. Even if you don't try toddy, having food from these toddy shops is an excellent was to experience of the best, distinctive food.

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Sleep

Kerala Tourism Development Corporation (KTDC) has numerous guesthouses and hotels across Kerala, which are comfortable and well-maintained. Most of the KTDC properties are for the premium segment but numerous other budget hotels and guesthouses are available to suit the needs of travellers of all budget. The peak tourist season in Kerala is from November to February, when the rates shoot up for all activities. However if u enjoy the rains and don’t mind getting drenched you can try visiting Kerala during the monsoon (June to August) when the houseboats and hotels are all available at dirt-cheap rates.

Homestays

Kerala was one of the first states in India to pioneer the concept of homestays and make it a successful industry. Under the homestay concept, you get to stay with a family who can show you around and help you experience the best of Kerala. Your accommodation and food is taken care of at a nominal cost. You will probably stay with a family whose members are well versed, or at least speak decently, in English. All the people offering homestays are vetted by the Government and will have to register themselves as such.

The majority of the home-stays are concentrated in the Fort Cochin area, where traditional large colonial bungalows and Jew houses have been converted into homestays. Alleppey and Kottayam have many large homestays catering to both rich and budget tourists. Kollam also has its own share of home-stays which are mostly traditional Portuguese bungalows in addition to those owned by the industrialists of the town. Recently, many small-scale backpacker oriented homestays have popped up in Kannur and other Malabar towns.

The government has strict guidelines for Homestays and hence they are generally safe and well-maintained. These homestays range between ₹ 300 (6 US$) to ₹ 3,500 (70 US$) per night depending upon the property and its profile.

Budget

₹ 322.50 (US$7) and ₹ 700 (US$15) are magic numbers when you are looking for budget non-AC and AC rooms respectively. You can expect basic amenities: a bed, a TV and an attached bath-room. Most of the budget hotels call themselves tourist lodges, tourist Home and some hotel. They are rarely star-rated. Most of the hotels near railway stations inside cities traditionally target budget-minded guests. Kerala has a good number of Brahmin's tourist homes which provide rooms for families and couples. If available, choose this option as they are quite safe and quiet. If you are expecting a cheap, extended stay with an attached kitchenette, there are not many hotel options available in Kerala.

Mid-range

For a more comfortable stay, expect to pay above ₹ 700 (US$14) for a non-air-conditioned room or more than ₹ 1,200 (US$26) for one with air-conditioning. This category includes many 3 star hotels. You can expect more spacious rooms, English proficient concierges, and airport/railway station pick-up and drop-off. Themed resorts also may also fall in this category. Expect ₹ 3,000 and above. It is possible to rent out an entire cottage, in an idyllic location. These cottages do come with kitchens.

Splurge

Almost all 3 star and above hotels and resorts fall under this category. Star rated hotels in India are not cheap. If you are willing to stay in these hotels, most of them throw in a complimentary guided or packaged tour. Most five star hotels provide an attached kitchenette. If you think you might grow tired of Indian food, this would be a good option. Most of these hotels offer only air-conditioned rooms. Average costs can be ₹ 5,000 and above for a night. For middle and upper class tourists these are attractive options as they are generally very safe and provide a sound holiday.

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Quick Facts

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Coordinates
  • Latitude: 9.340672
  • Longitude: 76.805420

Contributors

as well as Hien (10%), traviop (4%), georgescifo (1%)

Kerala Travel Helpers

  • Dreamcasters

    I'm basically from Kerala and have traveled most of the tourist attractions in Kerala. With the experience i have earned from my traveling i can offer you any help in all the travel queries about Kerala.

    Ask Dreamcasters a question about Kerala
  • vasimambadan

    i am a student & helping travellers is my hobby ,by which i can know there culture and gives them the taste of our culture..i travelled all over in kerala..i know every tourist places in kerala.....travellers those who intrstd to travel through bike can contact me..in my number.00919895946700....

    Ask vasimambadan a question about Kerala
  • Neenu_Raj

    I have traveled to the popular tourist destinations, cities and towns in my state , Kerala . This have given me good information and idea about what people would like to know about a place when they plan a holiday.

    If you require ideas about where to stay, what to see and how to travel , please feel free to email at neenu.raaj@yahoo.co.in. I am happy to help you with the holiday planning ...

    Ask Neenu_Raj a question about Kerala

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