Travel in Rajasthan, India
A Rajasthani Kid is playing "Ek Tara"
Thar Desert Jaisalmer in Background, Rajasthan, India

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Kerala, [Capital Trivandrum] a narrow, fertile strip on the south-west coast of India, is sandwiched between the Lakshadweep Sea and the Western Ghats, whose dense forests and extensive ridges have sheltered Kerala from many mainland invaders. At the same time, the state's long coastline has encouraged maritime contact with the outside world. Such contact has resulted in an intriguing blend of cultures. With foreign influences as disparate as Chinese, Portuguese, Arab and Dutch, Kerala's multitude of faiths - Islam, Judaism, and a host of sects of Christianity and Hinduism - all coexist harmoniously in a state that is known for its Marxist inclinations! Christianity has been in Kerala for as long as it has been in Europe.

Kerala is the spice coast of India. Edged by a thread of unbroken beachline, the state's heart is composed of intensely green paddy fields and a unique network of rivers and lagoons that comprise its famed "backwaters". The landscape is dominated by rice fields, mango and cashewnut trees, and coconut palms. Upland Kerala, relatively less visited, is composed of hills thickly wooded with teak and rubber. It is here that Kerala's most precious spices - cardamom, pepper and nutmeg - are grown in carefully nurtured plantations.

The present-day state of Kerala was created in 1956 from Travancore, Kochi and Malabar (formerly part of Madras state). Kerala is one of the most progressive and literate states in India. To visitors, Kerala really is "God's own country", offering exquisite beaches, lazy trips along peaceful lagoons and canals, hill stations, wildlife sanctuaries, and healing via the ancient Indian medical system, Ayurveda.

Places to Visit

Kochi (formerly Cochin)

Kochi, center of Kerala's maritime trade for innumerable centuries, is the fine natural harbour created by the famed underwater Malabar mud-banks, whose quality ensures that the rougher the seas are outside, the calmer the waters are within the harbour. Vasco-da-Gama placed it on the world map. Along the harbour, rows of antediluvian Chinese fishing nets indicate Kerala's trade with China, just as buildings along the water's edge testify to the erstwhile presence of Dutch and Portuguese colonisers. Jewtown, with an immaculately preserved synagogue, has a flavour all its own, while Tripunathura, at the other end of the city, has many traditional houses with central courtyards.


The coastal town of Alleppey on the Arabian Sea is known as the Venice of the East, for the numerous canals that meander through the town. This town holds a thrilling snake-boat race every year in August. It is also known for its cashew nuts, coir trade, rice, pepper crops and coconuts.

Kerala Backwaters

The backwaters of Kerala are what have given it the sobriquet "God's Own Country". As you meander through these on a houseboat you drift into a timeless land replete with picture-postcard towns and ancient trading posts. The huge coconut trees provide an apt backdrop and perhaps you can even eavesdrop on the strains of an oarsman's song.

A network of lakes, rivers and canals fringe the coast of Kerala. These backwaters, while a great inland thoroughfare on water, offer an alternative lifestyle. The criss-crossed, palm-fringed lakes traversed with Chinese fishing nets are very popular cruises, especially between Kollam and Allappuzha. The backwaters have become important attractions though they are threatened by population growth and industrial development. Of the 29 major lakes on the backwaters, seven drain into the sea. Stretched over a total expanse of 1500 kms, the backwaters have a network of 44 rivers, lagoons and lakes from north to south.

A great way to explore the hinterland is to go through the villages. A guide takes a group of people through the villages on an open boat or covered kettuvellum. The tour lasts from two to six hours. It's a fascinating experience to wander from village to village, learn how the village economy runs, and watch coir making, boat building, toddy tapping and fish farming. Some of the best village tours operate out of Kochi, Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram. On the backwaters you have the major towns Allapuzha and Varkala and Quilon.

Quilon is nestled among cashew plantations and red-roofed wooden house set among winding streets. It has Portuguese and Dutch and English influences. The boat cruise here consists of passing through the cashew processing factories. There are lots of birds to watch out for - Brahminy kites, egrets, kingfishers, and bee-eaters. You can tickle your taste buds with some sumptuous seafood. Prawn farming, fish catching, copra drying and matchstick making are the main occupations here. After the cruise you can get off at the Government Guest house at Ashtamudi center by the water's edge. There are large Chinese pickle jars, old lithographs of British times, old willow pattern plates that give you feel of its past. Matha Restaurant near the jetty is really cheap and serves up spiced chicken to the local laborers. Jala Subhiksha is Kollam's floating restaurant. The KTDC Yatri Niwas is a great riverside hotel with a pleasant water front lawn. Palm Lagoon is an idyllic resort offering cottages on the shores of Ashtamudi Lake. There are more backwater tours and ayurvedic massages.

Kollam is well serviced by road and rail. Seats in express buses must be reserved in advance, otherwise seats are a problem. Super express Services take11/2 hours to Thiruvanathapuram and a little longer to Allapuzha. The Trivandrum Mail from Chennai goes through Kollam as does the Mumbai to Kanyakumari Express and the Mangalore to Thiruvannathapuram coastal service. For a wonderfully relaxing trip across the Western Ghats, take the Quilon Express.


The Allapuzha area is a place that coaxes you to let your hair down. The canals here form a web that serves the coir industry. There is nothing much here by way of sightseeing, but if you plan your trip around the second Saturday of August each year, you'll be in time for the Nehru Cup snakeboat race, an adrenaline-pumping local event. Low slung chundan vellams or snake boats are decorated and it is rowed by up to 100 people. Allapuzha is known for its lazy cruises where you can float looking at the palm trees reflected in the green cool waters.


The other major place here that you must visit is Kottayam, focus for the Syrian Christians of India, and also the heart of rubber production. Kottayam's backwater cruise is shorter than Allapuzha's. There are elegant Syrian Christian churches that date back to antiquity - some are more than 500 years old. The Kumarakom bird sanctuary on Vembanad Lake is 16km west of Kottayam in a rubber plantation of yore. Waterfowl and other species can be spotted as they flutter about here. Several luxury resorts have opened here. The Coconut Lagoon resort is really beautiful and scenic. The luxury Taj resort and the Kumarakom Tourist Village are extremely popular with the western jet set including Hollywood actors. Buses run regularly from Kottayam to Kumarakom.

As you take a cruise do make it a point to go to Changanacherry and from there to Aranmula near Kottayam. You can enroll at the art village, Vijnana kala Vedi center, to learn woodcarving, dance, martial arts like Kalaraipayattu, and traditional medicine. You can fashion your own course though one month's training is preferred. You can take in an authentic all-night Kathakali performance at Thiruvalla. There are daily cruises from the Alleppey Tourist Development Corporation on alternate days. Many hotels in Komala Road Allapuzha book these. Cruises some of them by private operators start at 10.30 a.m. and reach by 6.30 p.m. The two stops are a midday lunch stop and a brief tea stop at Ayirmthengu or the coir village a mandatory stop.


Boats also drop you off at the Mata Amritanandamayi Mission at Amrithapuri, the headquarters of Amritanandamayi Ma, the female mystic. Some opt to stay here. The Kumarakody temple is also en route as is the Karumadi Kuttan Buddha image on the bank of the canal.

The cruise between Alappuzha and Kottayam is short at 41/2 hours. You can step off to sample some toddy, potter among the snake boats and visit an old church in Pulicunnu. Raiban Shopping Complex at the Boat Jetty Road.

The locals prefer to use public ferries that are cheap and crowded. The trip to Kottayam crosses Vembanad Lake and a green canal. Changanassery is on the road -rail line and Changannassery is on the road. The DTPC also runs a popular four-hour cruise, which departs from Allapuzha at 10 am and returns at 2 pm. Many people prefer this shorter trip to a full day on a boat. It also navigates some of the narrower waterways.

Kettuvelloms and Speedboats

For the best experience there is no option but to try out the more expensive option--- hiring a kettuvellam or traditional rice barge. There are houseboats if you've booked a group tour. Houseboats cater to couples as well with double bedrooms. Overnight stays allow you to make the Kollam-Alappuzha in two days. It moors in the backwaters overnight. Optionally, Malayali food can be cooked for you at a small extra cost.

The DTPC also hires out four-seat speedboats and slower six seaters. This allows you to plan your own itenary, stopping wherever you want. Penguin Tourist Boat Service on Boat Road Jetty has a long list of suggested backwater trips from Alappuzha.

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