Spend some time in God’s Own Country

Kerala is opening up again. This beautiful state in the south of the country lies prominently on the world tourism map.

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By Journey Man

Kerala is beaches and food and called God’s Own Country. Those are recent additions, but south Indian state has remained in the focus of international travellers and countries for ages. It’s rich heritage, its spices and wealth has been attracting travellers from the world over for centuries. Today, it is still in the focus of international travellers and is among the few states if India that regularly receives a huge inflow of foreign traffic.

The Covid pandemic had ravaged the tourism industry of the state, but with the disease slowly receding, and with the floods too having said goodbye this year, the state is set for a resumption of its reputation.

Kerala is also known worldwide for its herbal health and wellness treatments. Travellers come all the way from the West and even from within India, to experience the special healing touch that Kerala’s Ayurvedic treatment, developed through thousands of years of knowledge, offer.

Travel to Kerala by all means. It will be a rewarding trip, but do take keep Covid norms in mind. The incidence of the disease may have receded, but it has not gone away.

Remember, you need to be fully vaccinated and also will probably need an RT-PCR test. Get these out of the way for a nice trip. As usual, avoid air conditioned rooms, if you can, keep social distancing in mind and keep that sanitizer bottle at hand and the mask always on you and on every member of your family.

With the initiation handled, let us get down to the state per se, starting with its history.

HISTORY
Historians and archaeologists have found mentions of Kerala on rock inscriptions left by Mauryan emperor Ashoka in the 3rd-century-BCE. There the state (then, of course, a different country) was mentioned as Keralaputra.

By the closing centuries of BCE, Kerala’s fame as the producer of the best quality spices became famous among the Greeks and Romans. Their special attraction was for pepper. Meanwhile, there were political changes in Kerala, it becoming a part of Tamil dynasty in the first five centuries CE.

The area was known as part of Tamilakam, or territory of the Tamils. It was often, though partially, controlled by the eastern Pandya and Chola dynasties, as well as by the Cheras. The Cholas had control the 11th and 12th centuries.

However, Jewish immigrants had arrived in the first century itself. Local tradition (Christian) says that St Thomas, the Apostle, visited Kerala in the same century. Hence two entirely foreign religions had already set foot in the state pretty early in history.

ALSO READ ! Goa a place to just chill

However, foreign intervention had started in right earnest by the beginning of the 14th century. While may have been some earlier interventions the main historical point was the arrival of Vasco da Gama in 1498. He landed near Calicut, a place that is still maintained for posterity. You can easily visit that, if you are a history buff.

Arab traders were already doing good business in the area, but when the Portuguese came in the 16th century they superseded the Arab traders and quickly dominated the commerce of the Malabar Coast. That is why the Malabar region of this state still encapsulates a great deal of such history, especially through its culinary delicacies (see Malabar Cuisine section for details).

However, while Goa did fall to the Portuguese, their attempt to establish sovereignty in the region of Kerala was thwarted by the zamorin (hereditary ruler) of Calicut.

Coming back to recent times, two years after India’s independence Cochin and Travancore were united as the Travancore-Cochin state. The present state of Kerala was constituted on a linguistic basis in 1956 when the Malabar Coast and the Kasargod taluka (administrative subdivision) of South Kanara were added to Travancore-Cochin. The southern portion of the former Travancore-Cochin state was attached to Tamil Nadu.

 HOW TO GET THERE
Train : Distance to be travelled by is 3,040 km (from Delhi). This distance is more because the train to Thiruvanthapuram is routed via Mumbai, Pune and even Ahmedabad.
Plane : Distance to be covered by plane is 2,057 km.
Drive : If you want to do an arduous drive you will have to cover a road distance of 2,636 km via NH 44.
Our advice is not to drive, because the recent monsoons may have damaged large tracts of road, and repairs may not have been done by now. Also, taking a train is pretty painful, so avoid. A flight is the best option, and if you book early, rates can even be affordable.

WHAT TO SEE
Bekal Fort
(All information as per Kerala tourism website)
Kasaragod boasts of the largest and best preserved Fort in the whole of Kerala, bordered by a magnificent beach. Shaped like a giant keyhole, the historic Bekal Fort was built in the 17th century.

This historic monument offers a superb view of the Arabian Sea from its tall observation towers, which were occupied by gigantic cannons till a few centuries ago.

Near the Fort is an old Mosque that is said to have been built by Tipu Sultan of Mysore. Originally constructed by the rulers of the ancient Kadampa Dynasty, the Fort changed hands over the years to the Kolathiri Rajas, the Vijayanagara Empire, Tipu Sultan and finally, the British East India Company.

Today, the Bekal Fort and its scenic surroundings are fast becoming an international tourist destination and a favourite shooting locale for filmmakers.

Bekal Fort

Nearest railway station: Kasaragod, on the Kozhikode-Mangalore-Mumbai route, about 16 km.
Nearest airport: Mangalore International Airport, about 50 km from Kasaragod town.

Anjengo Fort
Anjengo Fort is forever remembered in the pantheons of history as the location of the first trade settlement of the East India Company in Kerala. Legend has it that the English were given this site by the Queen of Attingal for trade purposes. Anjengo or Anjuthengu was a small stretch of land with five coconut trees at the time and the fort was named after the same. The old English Fort that once stood here would be constantly attacked by foreign powers for centuries.

Today, this place provides one with a majestic architectural marvel situated in a picturesque setting. Located near the popular tourist haunt of Varkala,

Nearest railway station: Varkala, about 12 km and Thiruvananthapuram Central, about 37 km.
Nearest airport: Trivandrum International Airport, about 35 km.

Mankayam ecotourism
Mankayam boasts of two of the finest waterfalls in Southern Kerala, Kalakayam and Kurisadi. A visit to these spots enchants visitors, thanks to the sheer volume of water along with the view these sites offer. It is a wonderful place to simply relax in the water and enjoy the pleasures of the rainforest. Fed by the Mankayam River, these waterfalls are regularly rated high in lists of weekend getaways for residents of Thiruvananthapuram.

Mankayam acts as the focal point for a huge array of picnic spots in the area. One gets to wake up and sleep with the timeless clock of the forest dictating your decisions.

Nearest railway station: Thiruvananthapuram, about 42 km.
Nearest airport: Trivandrum International Airport, about 49 km.

Thangasseri Beach
The British called this delightful destination ‘Dutch Quilon’ while the locals refer to it as ‘gold village’. Today, the seaside town of Tangasseri is among the most historically significant locations in all of God’s Own Country, has a series of forts and churches that regularly attract a large number of people.

The Portuguese and the Dutch were responsible for a majority of them, and they give one a glimpse at the initial phase of their time as rulers of the place. Its legendary lighthouse was built in 1902 and stands 144 ft tall, and can be seen from 13 miles out at sea. Observing the simultaneous rise of the sun and the moon while cruising on the popular Lighthouse Road offers you one of the finest visuals in the entire state.

Nearest railway station: Kollam Junction, about 3 km away.
Nearest airport: Trivandrum International Airport, about 59 km away.

Varkala Beach
This is situated 51 km north of Thiruvananthapuram city in the Thiruvananthapuram district and 37 km south of Kollam (earlier called Quilon), south Kerala. Varkala, a calm and quiet hamlet, lies on the outskirts of Thiruvananthapuram district. It has several tourist attractions that include a beautiful beach, a 2000-year-old Vishnu temple and the Ashramam – Sivagiri Mutt a little distance from the beach.

Papanasam Beach
This is 10 km from Varkala, is renowned for a natural spring. This spring is considered to have medicinal and curative properties. A dip in the holy waters at this beach is believed to purge the body of impurities and the soul of all sins; hence the name ‘Papanasam Beach’. (papanasam = the destruction or end of papa or sins).

A two thousand-year-old shrine, the Janardhanaswamy Temple stands on the cliffs overlooking the beach, a short distance away. The Sivagiri Mutt, founded by the great religious reformer and philosopher Sree Narayana Guru (1856 -1928), is also close by. Shree Narayana Guru propagated the ideology: “One caste, one religion and one God”, in a society torn by the taboos of caste system. Varkala offers excellent accommodation facilities for tourists and is fast becoming a popular health resort with many Ayurvedic massage centres.

Chavakkad Beach
Chavakkad Beach is in Thrissur and is famous for the Azhimukam, the confluence of the river and sea. Visitors throng here to observe this delightful phenomenon. It is a great place to swim and relax in a serene environment. The nearby lighthouse attracts frequent visitors as well.

On the other side of the beach is Ramachapadam, a vast farmland of the Ayurvedic herb, Ramacham. The fish market available in the evening sees a huge crowd every day. It is among the best picnic spots in Thrissur.

Nearest railway station: Guruvayoor, about 5 km and Thrissur, about 29 km.
Nearest airport: Cochin International Airport, about 79 km.

Nattika Beach (Thrissur)
This is a tranquil beach in Thrissur. Nattika Beach, has a very unique claim to fame. Home to a typical fishermen’s village with longstanding traditions and simple inhabitants, its celebrity status was cemented after becoming the location where the Malayalam cult classic movie, Chemmeen, was shot.

It offers a number of attractions such as backwater cruises, country boat rides, elephant rides and cultural performances for the visitors. Film buffs and tourists alike will find much to admire about this pristine beach.

Nearest railway station: Thrissur, about 30 km.
Nearest airport : Cochin International Airport, about 55 km.

Pakshipathalam Bird Sanctuary
Wayanad is one stop address for every trekker. One such spot in Wayanad that has captured the mindset of every tracker, ornithologist and nature lover is the Pakshipathalam Bird Sanctuary. Here virgin forests, streams and steep hills together offer challenging avenues for trekking. Three hours of trekking is probably the best way to traverse through the rustic landscapes of the bird sanctuary.

Pakshipathalam Bird Sanctuary is best known for the presence of `Edible Nest Swift light.’ It is believed that the nest is made of solidified saliva and is used to make bird’s nest soup. Inside the bird sanctuary, tourists can see a flock of birds chirping and guarding the sky, multiple herbs and trees that possess medicinal properties, and orchid plantation. Within the boundary of the bird sanctuary, there is a temple and watchtower to help tourists navigate their way. It will be advisable to carry equipment for bird watching expeditions, and hire a tourist guide for overnight camping.

Nearest railway station: Kozhikode, about 106 km from Mananthavady.
Nearest airport: Calicut International Airport, about 23 km from Kozhikode town
Kannur International Airport is about 100 km from Kozhikode town.

Thusharagiri Waterfalls
It is located in the hill ranges of Western Ghats, east of Kozhikode. Thusharagiri literally means ‘snow capped mountains’. Two streams originating from the Western Ghats meet here to form the Chalippuzha River. The river diverges into three waterfalls creating a snowy spray, which gives the name – Thusharagiri.

The highest of the three falls is the Thenpara Fall dropping from a height of 75 meters. The first waterfall can be reached easily while the remaining two falls can be reached from the first one by trekking through thick forest. A 5 km upstream trek will take one to the origin of the stream. Widely known as the ‘trekker’s paradise’, the place offers challenging trekking and rock-climbing opportunities. Surrounding the magical waterfalls are the evergreen forests and soothing streams adding to the pristine beauty.

There is a trek path from Thusharagiri to Vythiri in Wayanad and it is not for the faint hearted. Starting from Thusharagiri Falls in the morning, and reaching Vythiri by evening. An ideal destination for nature lovers and wildlife enthusiasts, this Kerala waterfall is also a great picnic spot as well as a nice romantic retreat.

Considered among the most prominent waterfalls near Kochi, Thusharagiri waterfalls never dry out so can be visited throughout the year. Monsoon starting from June brings plenty of water thus creating a great roar. However, because of the heavy downpour and slippery conditions, the peak of the monsoon is not an ideal time to visit here. The best time to visit the Thusharagiri waterfall is from September to December.

Thusharagiri Waterfalls

Alappuzha (Alleppey)
In the early 20th Century, the then British Viceroy Lord Curzon, while visiting Alappuzha, was fascinated by its scenic beauty and declared it as the Venice of the East. Alappuzha, whose foundations were laid by Travancore’s Dewan Raja Kesava Das in the second half of 18th century, had trade relations with ancient Greece and Rome. Alappuzha is also known by its anglicized name Alleppey.

Today, it is famous for its boat races, backwater holidays, beaches, marine products and coir industry. Alappuzha Beach is a popular picnic spot. The pier, which extends out to the sea here, is over 137 years old. Entertainment facilities at the Vijaya Beach Park add to the attraction of the beach. There is also an old lighthouse nearby which greatly intrigues all visitors.

Another delightful experience while in Alappuzha is the houseboat cruise. The houseboats you find in the backwaters of Alappuzha are in fact a reworked version of the Kettuvallams of olden times. Kettuvallam is a Malayalam word, ‘Kettu’, refers to dwelling structures and ‘Vallam’ means boat (also water). In the olden days, kettuvallam or boat with thatched roof that covers over wooden hulls was used to carry tons of rice and spices.

Nearest railway station: Alappuzha
Nearest airport: Cochin International Airport, about 85 km from Alappuzha town.

Indo-Portuguese Museum, Fort Kochi
The Portuguese left an indelible mark on our history and culture. The Indo-Portuguese Museum situated in Fort Kochi tries to encapsulate this bond. Their influence on the art and architecture of the region is on full display here. The constant efforts of late Dr. Joseph Kureethra, Bishop of Kochi, played an integral role in its formation so that future generations could understand the Indo-Portuguese Christian Art heritage.

Nearest railway station:  Ernakulam, about 12 km.
Nearest airport: Cochin International Airport, about 44 km

 WILDLIFE
Idukki Wildlife Sanctuary
Idukki district is among the most naturally endowed districts in Kerala and the Idukki Wildlife Sanctuary is a prime example. Located about 450-750 m above sea level, the sanctuary is cradled by the Cheruthoni and Periyar Rivers. The beautiful lake surrounding the sanctuary is perfect for romantic boat rides. The tropical evergreen and deciduous trees add to the charm of the place.

One can see elephants, bison, sambar deer, wild dogs, jungle cats, tiger and wild boar along with various species of snake including cobras, vipers, kraits and many non-poisonous snakes. There are many bird species as well, like the Grey Jungle Fowl, Malabar Grey Hornbill, woodpeckers and bulbuls. The sanctuary lies adjacent to the world famous Idukki Arch Dam.

Idukki Wildlife Sanctuary

Nearest railway station: Kottayam, about 114 km.
Nearest airport: Madurai in neighbouring Tamilnadu, about 140 km away.
Cochin International Airport, about 190 km.

Periyar Tiger Reserve
Periyar National Park, also known as Periyar Tiger Reserve, is in the mountainous Western Ghats of Kerala. This wildlife sanctuary is home to tigers and a significant elephant population, as well as rare lion-tailed macaques, sambar deer, leopards and Indian bison. In the park’s north, Periyar Lake is popular for boat rides. Farther north, spice plantations surround the town of Kumily.

PILGRIM CENTRES
Sabarimala Temple
One of the most famous pilgrim centres in India is the Sabarimala Temple. It is situated on the mountain ranges of the Western Ghats at an altitude of 914 m above sea level and is accessible only by foot from Pamba (4 km). The temple is dedicated to the Hindu deity Sree Ayyappa.

Nearest railway station: Chengannur Railway Station is 53 km away; Thiruvalla Railway Station is about 102 km.

St. George’s Syro Malabar Forane Church
It is considered to be the biggest church in Kerala. It is locally known as Edappally Church. A Catholic pilgrimage church in Edapally, Kochi is visited by about 5 million people every year.

St. George’s Syro-Malabar Catholic Forane Church is located near the city of Cochin, and is known as Edappally Church since it is located in the area of Edappally. Built in AD 594, this is one of the oldest churches in India. A new church complex was built in 1080 to accommodate the growing Christian population in the region.

Pazhayangadi Mosque
Pazhayangadi Mosque, Kondotty, is located 18 km east of Manjeri, on the way to Malappuram in Kerala. The three-day-long Valia Nercha feast at this 500-year-old Muslim pilgrim centre, celebrated in February/March, is a local cultural event. This mosque with its lovely white dome is unique as it embodies facets of Mughal architecture.

Nearest railway station: Tirur Railway Station, about 34 km from Kondotty.
Nearest airport: Calicut International Airport, about 3 km from Kondotty; Kannur International Airport, about 120 km.

Agasthyakoodam Peak
Agasthyakoodam is nature’s ode to bird watchers. One of the highest peaks in Kerala, it has long been known as a bird watcher’s paradise and many gather here to catch sight of exotic avian species. It can be viewed from near Neyyar Dam as well as Bonacaud.

Agasthyakoodam is also known for its remarkable flora and fauna, especially certain rare medicinal herbs which have been discovered here. Over 2000 species including lichens, orchids, mosses and ferns have been recorded in the area. The peak was named after the sage Agasthya and is a popular pilgrimage site.

Nearest railway station: Thiruvananthapuram Central, around 61 km from Bonacaud.
Nearest airport: Trivandrum International Airport, around 69 km from Bonacaud.

CUISINE
Sadya
Traditionally, Sadya is served on a plantain leaf, with the tapering side of the leaf pointing to the left of the guest. It consists of parboiled red rice, side dishes, savouries, pickles and desserts, all served at different times of the meal. Major savouries of a Sadya include Upperi (deep fried banana chips), Pappadams (fried wafer of black gram flour), Ginger Pickle and Kichadi (sliced cucumber/ladyfinger in curd, seasoned with mustard, red chillies and curry leaves in coconut oil). They are served along with mango and lime pickle.

Kerala Banana Dessert
There is nothing like a yummy dessert to satiate your taste buds after a sumptuous meal. For those with a sweet tooth, we present a truly grand dessert made of banana. So get ready to tuck into this heavenly dessert loaded with health benefits.

Alleppey Fish Curry
Alleppey Fish Curry is an exquisite dish famous for its rich flavour and soft texture. The fish itself is coated with a special spice mix that adds a tangy and hot taste to it that immediately melts in your mouth. Alleppey Fish Curry tastes best when served with a side of rice. It is a magnificent addition to one’s palate.

Aranmula Vallasadya dishes
Aranmula Vallasadya is a ritual offering to the deity Lord Parthasarathy in which the oarsmen of the snake boats are offered a feast. With over 70 dishes it is probably one of the largest vegetarian feasts in India.

Chemmeen Moilee
It is best consumed with rice, which absorbs its rich and spicy ingredients perfectly, and helps elevate the experience of consuming this seafood delicacy to another level. Made using fresh chemmeen (prawns) and locally procured ingredients, this is an easy to put together seafood masterpiece that all our visitors absolutely love.

Puttu
Puttu is made by steaming rice flour along with grated coconut in a Puttu Kudam, a cylindrical container. Kadala curry is made by cooking soaked black chana (Bengal gram) with chopped onion, spices and tomatoes.

Nadan Kozhi Varthatu
Also known as spicy chicken, Nadan Kozhi Varthatu is chicken fried with onion, spices, garlic, and vinegar can be had with chapatis, Kerala Porotta, appam or rice. Traditionally chicken is sprinkled with chilli pepper and salt and then cooked in steaming hot oil and garnished with curry leaves.

Nadan Kozhi Varthatu