Thinking of a trip to Kerala, but not sure where to go or what to expect? Our Bookings Consultant Ben is a long-time visitor to India, and recently returned from this laid-back enclave. Here’s his insider scoop on Kerala’s culture, mountains, backwaters and beaches.
“Kerala is great for first-time visitors to India. The landscape is much more tropical than other regions, and the atmosphere is generally more laid-back. Literacy levels are higher than in northern India and women have a much more visible role in the community, so you can expect the overall interaction with locals to be friendlier. Female travellers and families, in particular, are likely to enjoy a relatively hassle-free experience here compared to other, more intense regions of this wonderful country.”
Everyone talks about the backwaters. Are they worth it?
“Definitely! Alleppey is the main hub for boat trips and I’d recommend booking ahead to minimise hassle once you get there. Traditional rice barges such as Lakes and Lagoons plod along the waters at a glacial pace, allowing you to spend hours watching the world go by over a good book. It’s a very peaceful and relaxing experience – the ideal antidote to an otherwise frenetic trip, but probably not best-suited to children, who are likely to grow restless. Even for adults, I’d say a 2-night trip is the most you’ll need. That will give you plenty of time to stop off at a couple of little villages, take in the local duck farms, and enjoy some indulgent food and drink as you drift along. It’s worth asking your boat owner to take a quieter route if you can, as certain stretches have become mini tourist cruise highways in recent years. Better still, head north to The Lotus at Neeleshwar Hermitage, away from the Alleppey hub, where you’ll likely have the surrounding backwaters to yourselves…
“Oh, and though the sunsets are unforgettable, don’t forget your mozzie repellent!”
As one of Kerala’s main cities, what makes the coastal city of Cochin special?
“Cochin is remarkably peaceful. Whereas many of India’s urban centres are jammed with vehicles and filled with the sound of blaring horns, here traffic regulations mean the central streets have a much more sedate feel. We even saw signs declaring “No Honking!”. With only a few colourful tuk-tuks to distract you, you’re free to soak up the city’s unique colonial charm and its famous Chinese fishing nets at a much more leisurely pace. If you’re after souvenirs, don’t miss the antiques shops in the ‘Jew Town’, where old spice warehouses are packed with amazing Keralan artefacts. Be warned: they offer international shipping and accept credit cards. Dangerous…”
What’s the food like and where should I eat?
“The food in Kerala is amazing; in fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s the best in India. Cochin is famous for its excellent spice markets; the area’s tropical climate yields delicious sun-ripened fruit; and its coastal setting puts fresh fish high on the agenda. Just recently, during my last visit to Fort Cochin, I discovered Masala Fort, a laid-back little restaurant hidden up some stairs in the centre of town. The owner was a wonderful woman with a unique personal style reminiscent of 50s England – all rollered hair and vintage dresses. We were convinced she’d spent time in London but she insisted she’d lived in Cochin her whole life! Not only was she lovely to chat to, but her fish curries served in banana leaves were fantastic.
“On a particularly hot day, Restaurant 51’s waterfront setting is great if you’re in need of a cooling sea breeze – and its spiced coconut cake goes perfectly with a sip of afternoon tea.”
What if I want to soak up the sun?
“Kerala’s beaches aren’t quite as captivating as those of, say, Goa or Sri Lanka, but there are a few gems to be found if you know where to look. The stretch in front of Niraamaya Surya Samudra and neighbouring Karikkathi Beach Houses, in the south, is amazing. Pristine, untouched sands are backed by swaying palms, and your only company will be a few friendly local fishermen going about their work. Perfect for lounging to your heart’s content.”
Tell me something I don’t know…
“Kerala can get oppressively hot and humid (particularly during April and May), but drive just 3-4 hours inland and the Western Ghats mountain range provides welcome relief. When planning your itinerary, it’s worth including a few days in this underrated area to cool down and discover the other side of Kerala. Here there are tea plantations, spice gardens and beautiful national parks where you can hike, view wild elephants and literally get a breath of fresh air.”
Ready to go but don’t know where to begin? Our Tailormade Tours partner can create a bespoke itinerary to fulfil your every whim.