Lucy Self discovers the charms of southern India’s laid-back waterways, enjoying India’s quiet side in Kerala
From the relentless party that is Mumbai to the historic grandeur of Delhi, to experience India is to never see the same thing twice. Having been fans of this wondrous country since we donned backpacks in our pre-university days, we didn’t think we could love it more. Then we spent three weeks in Kerala.
The first thing that will strike you about ‘God’s Own Country’ is its sedate pace, which ambles along cheerfully ignoring anyone who tries to rush it. Sleepy and endlessly laid back, Kerala is most definitely the ‘tortoise’ to the rest of the country’s ‘hare’ which, if you ask us, makes it one of the best holiday spots in the world.
In case you hadn’t guessed it, we’re urging you to put Kerala on your must-do–travel-list. Whether you’re hankering for a chakra-chanting-sun-saluting beach retreat or fancy trekking across elephant-filled national parks, Kerala has it all.
Still not sold? Here are four reasons you should be…
Admittedly we spent much of our time in Kerala bowled over by its topography, but none more so than on a winding mountain road to Munnar. Situated 1,600 meters above sea level in the Western Ghats, the town is surrounded by tea plantations – transforming the hill faces into patchwork quilts of emerald green. There’s plenty to do, from the rather eccentric tea museum to the panoramic views at Top Station (a heady 1,880 meters above sea level), so the best advice we can give you is to get a driver and take in as much as possible. We’d also recommend checking into Tea Valley Resort – a boutique hotel set halfway down the valley above Munnar town with huge rooms leading out to even bigger balconies and a cashew biryani we’re struggling to forget.
If the beauty of Kerala is in its pace then no spot is more stunning than Varkala. Situated in the south, just an hour’s drive from capital Trivandrum, this golden stretch of sand and cliff top cafés is the best of the beachside bunch. From morning yoga classes to an afternoon riding the monolithic waves there’s plenty to stop you falling into a holiday coma. The best thing? Fish so fresh it was probably swimming next to you earlier can be consumed at any of the endless elevated eateries. Try Coffee Temple for health conscious breakfasts such as steaming bowls of banana porridge; Ottupura for authentic Keralan curries; and (oddly) Caffe Italiano where the fish tikka will delight. When the sun goes down make like the dread-locked, sun-weathered hoards, grab a bootleg beer and spend a blissful night under the awning of fairy lights with the sound of those knarly waves smacking into the rocks below.
Renting a Houseboat
From the moment you mention your Kerala trip to anyone, they’ll recommend renting a houseboat, and with good reason. Coasting along the Keralan backwaters, gorging on delicious local specialties is not only marvelous, but one of the top reasons people visit Kerala. Like with many an over-subscribed tourist trap, tis best to know your floating palace from your sinking hovel. Get it right (this largely depends on where you plan to set off, the main towns being Alleppey or Kollam, and which company you decide to go with) and you’re talking two days of sunny crew, emerald palms, lunchtime feasts, waterside villages, lazy hours spotting birds, lazier afternoon teas and the never-ending beauty of the surrounding moss green landscape. The four star and rather lovely Hotel Nani in Kollam will happily help with the leg work of arranging a one or two night stay.
Being guilty of spice geekery from time to time, we were always going to love Kerala’s flavours. And, by god, was she good. At Tea Valley Resort in Munnar we tried deep fried moons of potato fierce with chilli and crackling with salt, golden balls of paneer and a whackingly hot curry of red kidney beans enriched with ghee. In Trivandrum we breakfasted on paper-thin dosa topped with a tangle of purple onions, dipped in sharp lemon chutney. On the houseboat our clever crew cooked carrot spiced with mustard seeds, okra fried in woody ginger and tomatoes transformed by fresh curry leaves. At beachside resort The Leela in Kovalam we mopped up a lip puckering, tamarind fish curry with flaky strands of freshly cooked paratha. Even when we least expected it (train journeys scoffing sticky bars of cashew and honey and deep-fried, stuffed chillies) we ate like gods.