If you thought that India is all heat and dust, then you’d be quite wrong. A trip to southern India, and particularly the state of Kerala, will give you a pleasant surprise. This southern state was once the hub of the world spice trade, and its importance in this commodities market dates back as far as 3,000 BC, when its main port Cochin saw traders arrive from the Mediterranean, the Red Sea and from the Far East. It has a long coastline, so there is plenty of opportunity for water-based holidays here.
Cochin: a cosmopolitan capital
The visitor arriving in Cochin will be greeted by the diverse European colonial influences that have survived in this city: Portuguese, Dutch, British and Arab traders have all left their mark here, and you may be surprised to see some remarkably English architecture in the older parts of the city, such as Fort Cochin. This is considered a shining example of an Indo-European settlement: it is India’s oldest example of one and it boasts a number of heritage hotels, including a Dutch palace that will take you back in history, whilst affording you every modern comfort.
Kerala is abundant with water inland, as well as along its coastline. Combine this with its tropical climate and you have a profusion of lush greenery. Kerala is a state of tranquillity, even Cochin is relaxing compared to most cities, but for an experience that will really wash away the stress of modern life, try a Kerala backwater and houseboat holiday. The Kerala backwaters are a unique feature that consist of 1,500 kilometres of canals connecting a network of 44 rivers, lagoons and lakes. Some features have formed naturally, and others are human constructions.
Life on a houseboat
As in the UK, the canals were historically used to transport goods before other transport methods took over most of those jobs. Many of these cargo boats have been beautifully refitted as holiday cruise boats. They come with crew and a chef, so you can experience the distinctive Keralan cuisine, which is largely fresh fish-based and served on banana leaves. Showers and Western style toilets are included. A quick digression for a word about toilets in India: sometimes the Western toilet you’re used to won’t be available and you may not have any choice other than to use an Indian style toilet.
Marari beach and stylish resorts
Many claim that Marari Beach is the most charming fishing village in the whole of the Indian subcontinent. Little has changed here in hundreds of years, and you may feel as though you have stepped back in time to a place that has escaped the modern world, where you can relax on its endless miles of sun-kissed beaches, shaded by palms. Tourism here is kept low key and stylish; you don’t have to worry about coachloads descending on you in this little piece of paradise. There is a small selection of beach resorts, including one with an Ayurvedic health spa, and a couple of boutique hotels. The beach and waters are safe for swimming and it has the distinction of being named one of the world’s top five hammock beaches by National Geographic.
Kerala spa resorts
Kerala has become a very popular destination for both Westerners and Indians wishing to detox, meditate, practise yoga and try traditional Ayurvedic medicine. There is a stunning range of spa resorts for you to choose from. The majority are on the coast, but if you prefer a resort around one of the region’s beautiful inland lakes, then you’ll find those too.
Splendours of the south
If you have at least two weeks to spare, why not explore the splendours of southern India, coast to coast. Starting in Cochin, this tour take you first to scenic Wayanad where you can enjoy views of Kerala’s rain forests and tea, coffee and spice plantations during your train ride. This area is largely untouched by tourism and you can visit Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary, which is rich in flora and fauna. There’s a good chance of spotting a tiger, or one of its many elephants. Nearby, the Eddakal Caves have Stone Age carvings that are the only known examples in southern India. From there, you can cross over to the other coast and the city of Mysore, famous for its sandalwood, and from there to Chennai (Madras) and Mammallapuram, a temple and a UNESCO World heritage Site. Don’t miss the former French colony of Pondicherry before wending your way back to Cochin via Madurai and Thekkady.
Kerala has been called the “destination of a lifetime” and a place of timeless beauty that will refresh you and reconnect you with tranquillity. Whatever your reason to visit it, Kerala undoubtedly is a green and pleasant land.