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  • Writer's pictureMarion Mueller

Kerala - God´s Own Country – A journey through the green heart of India

Updated: May 31



Intro

Travelling to India always divides people – there is one group, and I include myself into that, who is amazed by the overwhelming colours and flavours of this varied country. India is so divers with so many different regions and a sheer endless number of sights and attractions. This country challenges its travellers for all their senses and very often these intense experiences and impressions can be simply overwhelming – but India is like a drug, once you have tasted it, you are longing for more.


And then you have the second group – that says “INDIA – no way”!!! these people have mainly the extreme poverty, the poor hygienic standards and all the social and environmental problems in mind that this country is facing plus they are afraid to end up with the famous-infamous “Delhi Belly” or other health issues….and I can´t blame them for this.


Because India has it all and it is indeed hard to find the perfect balance, therefore the country might not be the right destination for everyone.


However, the state of Kerala marks an exception as it is different from the rest of the country. I would call Kerala the “light version of India” and it is therefore ideal for first-timers to India. Kerala is a very relaxed state with less pollution, less congestion (at least away from the main city hubs) and is cleaner and more organised than in other states of India or the mega cities as Delhi or Mumbai. Kerala is also the most literate state in India and is blessed with a lush green vegetation and a high range of biodiversity


Travelling around Kerala with all its greenery is a feast for the eye and will touch your soul. The friendliness of the people is overwhelming and at the end of your journey you will have made many very unique experiences.


Kerala is well-known for its mesmerizing backwaters, ecotourism initiatives, scenic beauty, amazing beaches and mouthwatering cuisine.


Let´s explore God´s Own state. This is a Blog series consisting of below contents:

  • 1.      Kochi – the entry gate to Kerala (this is where you are now).

  • 2.      The fascinating water world of Kerala´s backwaters.

  • 3.      Kerala´s Mountain area: the vast tea plantations of Munnar and the green jungle around Tekkady.

  • 4.      Beach life and Ayurveda on Kerala´s coastline.

 

Good to know before you travel

How to get there

Kerala is very well connected to the world with many international flights as well as domestic flights from various cities within India. Most of the international travellers will arrive either at Cochin Airport (www.cial.aero), Calicut International Airport (www.aai.aero/en/airports/calicut) or Thiruvanathapuram Airport (www.adani.com/thiruvananthapuram-airport).

  

Entry into India

Most of the western nationals can apply for the e-visa online, it is a lot of information that you have to fill in there, but usually it is processed then quite quickly. Read the requirements and formats of the different up-loads carefully before you start the registration process, as this will safe you from problems while in the application process. The original print-out of your visa is required when entering the country together with your valid passport. You also have to fill in a short landing/entry form that will be handed out to you before the passport control counters.

Check out for more information on: www.indianvisaonline.gov.in/evisa/tvoa.html


Currency

The Indian Rupee is the national currency – money exchangers can be found all over, but be careful and only use trusted sources. Usually the hotels also exchange EUR and USD, however as everywhere else for a slightly higher rate. In most of the touristic places as hotels, bigger restaurants and tourism shops, credit cards are accepted – however there are exceptions and for all smaller local shops, restaurants, taxi etc. cash is required.


Language

The official language of Kerala is Malayalam – however English is widely spoken, especially in all areas related to tourism.


Health & Safety

As mentioned above Kerala is in a way cleaner than many other states in the country – nevertheless it is of course still India. Main health issues for travellers are usually related with food – so take your pre-cautions there: only eat in places that look good to you, no ice cubes and only bottled water plus no raw vegetables or salads that are supposed to be washed with tap water. Well cooked or grilled food is always the best option.


In general the healthcare system in Kerala is good compared to national standards and is a mixture of modern medicine and traditional Ayurvedic practice. If you need a doctor let your hotel arrange one for you – for serious cases, look for private hospitals as government hospitals are usually not up to standard.


In terms of safety Kerala has a relatively low crime rate compared to the Indian average. Violent crimes against tourists are rare, however pickpocketing can occur – so leave your valuable belongings at the hotel deposit box.


For female single travellers Kerala is also more or less safe – however in India rape is unfortunately are common crime and makes it nowadays also more into the media. Nevertheless, no need to be scared, just use your common sense and your inner feelings who can be trusted and from whom it is better to stay away. For travel by car or local bus it is always good to find some companion traveller rather to be alone or to use the arrangements of a tour company. At night remote areas and dark streets should be avoided to walk alone, there you can expect the highest risks.

 

Food

Indian food is popular for its great variety, for its unique flavours, for its variety of spices and also for its spiciness. Keralites take the spice level up to new horizons– some of their food is crazy spicy….and as their feeling for spiciness is a complete different one, they look rather stunned when you have ordered a not so spicy meal, but you are ending up with your taste buds burnt.


Well, it is a part of the experience – but there are also so many delicious and not so spicy dishes plus you can always tame them down with mixing yogurt into your dish. Kerala is called the “Spice Garden of India” so expect an explosion of different flavours – I tasted so many spices that I never used in all my life and I was really surprised to hear about their additional health benefits. If you have the chance to visit a Spice Garden don´t miss it. They will provide you with a lot of information and you can buy these precious treasures to bring home with you.


Beside that Kerala is also called the “Land of the coconut” – the whole coastline is lined up with picturesque looking palm trees. Coconut is used in many of their dishes plus you have other products as coconut oil, dried coconut chips, fresh coconut slices or you can refresh yourself with hydrating coconut water.


Travel Arrangements

Of course you can always do your travel arrangements on your own, but in a complex country as India it is always better to choose a long-established Inbound tour operatore to sort out things for you. Thus, you will be always on the safe side and you will have the best experiences.


One agent that is operating throughout India (as well as Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka) and that I can highly recommend for your travel is:

Concord Exotic Voyageswww.concordtours.in

Or the easiest way – contact me and I will get things together for you!

 

So let´s get started!

Kochi – the gateway to our Kerala experience!

Same as for most of the travellers our landing point in Kerala was Kochi International Airport and as this city has a rich cultural heritage to discover, we opted to stay here for our first 2 nights.


Where to stay

For this trip – means for our whole round tour and the beach days at the end we have chosen the CGH Earth Experience Hotels (www.cghearth.com) for the accommodation part. The name CGH – means clean, green, healthy earth and therefore reveals towards which direction this impressive hotel brand is heading. Sustainability and eco-values are a core point for all its brand hotels plus the inclusion of the local communities. In each destination I will tell a bit more about the specifications of each property. Their concept varies a bit on the location, but what they have all in common is to reduce their carbon footprint as much as they can.


I love for example the feature that plastic bottles have been abandoned in all their properties. Instead, they filter their own water, which is served in glass bottles free of charge! to all the hotel guests.

 

In Kochi we stayed at the CGH Brunton Boatyard Hotel (www.cghearth.com/brunton-boatyard), where you can feel the splendour of Kochi´s colonial past. This heritage hotel offers a tranquil get-away in the middle of the buzzling Old Town of Fort Kochi. In this former shipyard you can travel back into colonial times when the city was under the power of the British Empire.


Rooms are spacious with high ceilings and resemble the spirit of the former shipyard in many details. Opt for one of the sea-facing rooms (well it appears rather a river than the sea) and you can observe the lively riverside out of your bed or bathtub. The nearby ferry terminal might appear a bit noisy occasionally, but in general the view onto the garden and water is great.



Outside you can find a small stretch of garden, a sea terrace (you can request a private dinner set-up over here) and the swimming pool.



Further you find a shady courtyard, a lofty lobby, a coffee shop, an Ayurvedic Spa plus an historic restaurant with a BBQ terrace. Breakfast is served at the Armoury, where you can opt for outdoor seating as well.



Don´t miss to take part in their daily sunset cruises – the perfect way to end your exploration tour through Kochi.


If you like to stay in smaller places, then you will find numerous nice Boutique Hotels in that area as well, like for example the Old Harbour Hotel (www.oldharbourhotel.com) or Forte Kochi Hotel (www.fortekochi.in).


What to see in Kochi

Kochi is a very busy trade and business hub with a large container harbour. The commercial town resembles many other Indian cities with busy traffic, many local shops, restaurants, hotels and entertainment facilities.


But the real heart of Kochi lies in its Old Colonial Town – called Fort Kochi. Wander around here under the shades of the huge rain trees and explore Kochi´s rich cultural heritage.



I would highly recommend exploring this part of town on a guided tour so that you can hear about the real interesting history – you can either do that by a combined walking/motor rickshaw tour or even better by bicycle – Fort Kochi is relatively quiet with less traffic, so you can cruise on your bike safely through the old town streets.


Here is our very nice and professional local guide Sanjay Johnson. If you like to book him for your guided walking, cycling or tuk-tuk tour, you can reach out to him on sanjayjohnson@hotmail.com


Places of interest:

Old Portuguese House – this 500-year-old building was the pioneer for the colonial houses of that area, all built in the traditional Portuguese architecture.



Chinese Fishing Nets – a type of stationary lift net which need around 3-4 men to operate. You can see them at the beach shore beside the ferry pier.



Fish market – in the same area you will also find the small fish market, where you can get your catch of the day.




St. Francis Church – is the oldest European church in India. When the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama died in Kochi 1524 he was originally buried here. However, 14 years later his remains were transferred to Lisbon.



Santa Cruz Basilica – this gothic styled Basilica is one of a total of 9 basilicas in India and was originally built by the Portuguese.



Public Laundry – I found it one of the most interesting places of our tour. It´s a century old business that the residents of Kochi bring their laundry over here for washing and ironing. Nowadays it is a business that is soon to die out – most of the staff members are already really old. Very impressive was an 85 year old lady with a real heavy iron.



Mattancherry Palace – which is better known under the name Dutch Palace, was originally built by the Portugues. It houses nowadays an interesting museum with precious Kerala murals, portraits and exhibits from the Rajas of Kochi.



Jewish Quarter – The first synagogue in Kerala and India was built around the 4th century. The synagogue in Mattanchery is the oldest and still functioning one in the entire common wealth countries, built in 1568. Jews have also built many mansions and buildings which have now been converted into Boutique Hotels. The Jewish Quarter in Kochis is the narrow street between the Dutch Palace and the Pardesi Synagogue. The street is famous for its antique shops, colonial buildings and is a nice place for an afternoon shopping walk. The Café Jew Town is a nice spot for a small coffee or tea-break.

 


These were the main attractions of the old part of Kochi.


In my next Blog we will leave this ancient place and venture out to one of Kerala´s top attractions, the fascinating kilometre long waterway system of the Backwaters. We will be our own captain and cruise this labyrinth-like canals on our adorable wooden houseboat.

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