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When I heard nothing but coconut palm trees swaying in the soft evening wind, I had a hard time believing that I was still in India. But here I was, deep in the backwaters of Kerala, which felt like they were galaxies away from bustling Bangalore or even the smaller nearby town of Fort Kochi.
I don’t know if it is the relaxed way of life in the backwaters or if people in the south are generally more hospitable, but everyone we connected with made us feel welcome and appreciated.
Not only did Kerala give me the most relaxing experience I’ve had in India, but also the most scenic visuals: the stunning palm-tree fringed backwaters, the laid-back beach towns, the rolling hills of South India’s tea region and the crumbling yet charming town of Fort Kochi.
There’s just something about sitting on the terrace of a tea plantation in Munnar, having just finished a tour through the plantation and learned all about how the tea is grown, harvested and processed, looking out over the evergreen carpets of tea that cover the rolling hills here, that words can’t describe – you have to experience it for yourself. The same goes for an afternoon in Fort Kochi, walking down to the water where the centuries-old wooden Chinese fishing nets are still neatly lined up next to each other. Six to eight men operate each one, and it is one of the most fascinating fishing techniques I’ve ever witnessed. When the fishermen called me down to join in and I was learning first-hand what a hard undertaking this was, and it gave me a whole new appreciation and respect for their work.
In Kerala I got to taste some of the most delicious food of my life, and I met some of the friendliest people I’ve met throughout my travels across 60+ countries. The conversations with little English and many hand gestures were some of the most memorable moments of my time in India. What makes a trip to India so special are the encounters on the road, little moments that burn into your memory, and of course the striking landscapes, that couldn’t be more diverse. Kerala is a wondrous place – a place that pulls you in when you least expect it.
Go see it for yourself – and don’t miss the following places in Kerala:
Alleppey: Kerala’s paradisical backwaters
The small town of Alleppey is the gateway to Kerala’s backwaters. The seemingly endless network of intertwined waterways, canals and lakes is regarded as one of India’s most pristine regions and is without a doubt a highlight of any India trip. National Geographic even included Kerala’s Backwaters in its list of 50 destinations of a lifetime!As soon as the traditional houseboat, on which travelers usually spend one or two nights, glides out of town into the calm waters that are lined with thousands of coconut trees, it is easy to see why Kerala’s slogan is ‘God’s own country’ – Kerala is unlike any other place in India. During your two days in the backwaters, you will get to see some of Kerala’s most untouched scenery, glide past traditional villages, see ferrymen carry villagers in canoes from one side of the canal to the other, and get to eat home-cooked meals prepared by the chef who is traveling on the boat with you. A backwater cruise is hospitality at its finest – don’t miss out on this experience!
Munnar: South India’s tea paradise
Munnar is a small town surrounded by rolling hills covered in neatly trimmed emerald green tea trees. This is South India’s biggest tea producing area, and just a quick walk out of the village brings you right to the tea plantations. You can visit a plantation or simply wander around the area, which is prettiest in the early morning before the clouds lift, with the mist creating a fairytale-like atmosphere. Worth a visit are Atukkad Waterfalls and Echo Point Lake. If you want to venture about a bit further, head to Kundala Lake where you can rent pedal boats and go for a ride around the lake to take in its beautiful surroundings.
Fort Kochi, the gem of South India
Fort Kochi is the main tourist destination in Kerala, famous for its Chinese fishing nets, ancient churches and Portuguese architecture. Take at least one full day to explore Fort Kochi, the historic part of town, with its bustling fish market, crumbling facades of old merchant houses and charming little shops. You can shop for souvenirs, take a cooking class or simply watch the fishermen operating the old-fashioned Chinese fishing nets and take a stroll through the quaint Old Town. Many restaurants near the fish market offer to prepare fish fresh from the market for you, something you should definitely take advantage of if you’re a seafood lover.
Wayanad: UNESCO World Heritage in Kerala
Wayanad is part of the Nilgiris Biosphere, which belongs to lush forests of the Western Ghats, an evergreen mountain range that runs along the entire western side of India and has been declared UNESCO World Heritage for its outstanding natural beauty and biological diversity.
Wayanad is famous for its many tea plantations, which you have to tour at least one of – even if you’re not a big tea drinker! In addition to learning about tea making and seeing how tea is grown, you can spend a day hiking in the forest. The scenery here is stunningly beautiful, with a rainforest-like setting, waterfalls, streams, caves and peaks that can be climbed for panoramic views over the green mountains. Animal lovers should add the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary (also known as Muthanga Wildlife Sanctuary) to their itinerary, the second largest wildlife sanctuary in Kerala. On a jeep safari, you can spot elephants, deer, bison, monkeys, buffalos, a myriad of birds, and if you’re in luck, Indian tigers. In addition, you will be able to enjoy the large biodiversity of the Western Ghats.
This article is sponsored by Kerala Tourism