Kerala: A three part series exploring God's Own Country

Sharvan Kumar

Pic courtesy: Kyran Low, Unsplash

Join us as we explore Kerala, God's Own Country, in a 3 - part series.

Part 1: Beaches and Backwaters

Nestled in the Southwest corner of the Indian Peninsula is the state of Kerala (http://www.indiaprofile.com/india-maps/kerala-map.html) often referred to as “God’s own country.” It is bounded on the East by the Western Ghats, and on the West is the Malabar Coast, whose shores are gently washed by the Arabian Sea.

Kerala packs in a breathtaking kaleidoscopic of experiences in a tiny state. From golden beaches and jungles, to rubber plantations and houseboats plying coconut-tree-lined backwaters, Kerala’s geography offers a variety of experiences. Add to that aromatic spices, tea and ayurvedic rejuvenating treatments, and you have the perfect combination for a great vacation or honeymoon. While in Kerala, you can enjoy unique cultural experiences, with a potpourri of bright colors, cuisines, festivals and folk dances.

Kerala is unique in other important ways: It has a high level of literacy and upholds higher social status for women in its society. It has a unique history of matrilineal kinship system in which property and inheritances are passed on from mother to daughter.

Malayalam is the primary language in Kerala although most inhabitants speak English in addition to other local south Indian languages such as Tamil and Kannada.

A little about Kerala’s history: The state of Kerala came into being in 1956 in independent India and was formed by merging the Malabar district, most of the state of Travancore-Cochin and Kasargod from Dakshina (South) Kannada. However, the word “Kerala” was first recorded in a 3rd century BC rock inscription left by the Maurya dynasty emperor, Ashoka. The land of Keralaputra was one of the five independent kingdoms in South India during the time of Ashoka. However, the history of Kerala dates way back to about 5000 BC as depicted in stone age pictorial writings in caves indicating the existence in this region of prehistoric civilization. By 3000 BC, Chera Nadu (now Kerala) established itself as a spice trade center with Mediterranean and Red sea ports as well as the Far East. Much later, the arrival of the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama by sea in 1498 to Kozhikode also known as Calicut (in Kerala) initiated spice trade and contact with the Europeans, and over the next centuries, the Dutch, the French and the British all took turns in dominating the trade and controlling Kerala.

In this three-part Kerala series, we start at the southern tip of Kerala, focusing on its capital city, Thiruvanthapuram, and the famous backwaters region of Kerala, filled with a crisscross of lagoons and lakes and interconnected canals, rivers, and inlets, sometimes compared to American bayous or called the Venice of the East.

Thiruvanthapuram (previously, Trivandrum) is the political capital of the state and sits on the Arabian Sea coast far down south. Home to more than a million people, it also houses the Padmanabhaswamy temple, reputed to be the richest temple in the world. The temple has six underground vaults which were discovered by archaeologists in 2001, containing more than $200B worth of treasures, including jewelry gold coins. Experts say there may be more treasures yet to be discovered. Kovalam Beach, perhaps the best beach in Kerala, is extremely popular with Westerners, and is located about 10 miles away from the capital city. Enjoy the sheer beauty of the warm waves lapping against the palm fringed beaches and cool off with fresh coconut water. Experience the exotic flavors of Malabar cuisine, like fresh seafood laced with coconut and black pepper curry. Kovalam has 3 major beaches in it’s approximately 10 miles coastline. The southernmost, known as the Lighthouse Beach is the most popular of the three (the other two are Hawa Beach and Samudra Beach).

Sharvan Kumar for SEEMA Kerala coconut trees

Pic courtesy: Sharvan Kumar, A view of the Arabian Sea through the coconut palms from up on a cliff at Lighthouse Beach in Kovalam.

Moving north along the coast, try to make a stop in Kollam (formerly known as Quilon), the home for cashew and coir processing. It is also the home to Ashtamudi Lake which is the most visited backwater and lake in the state. Take a ride in one of the many luxury houseboats that glide the waterways through palm-fringed canals interspersed with small towns and villages. Enjoy a private custom-cooked meal prepared by your own chef on the boat. A freshly caught fish prepared your way, accompanied by rice and a tangy “pacchadi” with pineapple, mango and yogurt is a unique luncheon experience.

Further up the coast is Alappuzha (formerly, Alleppey) which is also popular for its slow-paced luxury houseboat leisure cruises along a network of canals and lagoons that constitute the Kerala backwaters. Sometimes referred to as the “Venice of the East,” it is a popular vacation destination and a honeymoon retreat. Overnight and weekend cruises are offered complete with three course meals; check out https://www.kettuvallam.com/.

Sharvan Kumar for SEEMA Kerala house boat

Pic courtesy: Sharvan Kumar, A houseboat (Kettuvallam) cruise in the Kerala backwaters of Alappuzha and Kumarakom