Alright folks, if you’ve landed here while searching for the offbeat side of Kerala tourism, rejoice. That, since I’m not going to write about the usual list. This list is largely based on my experiences in Kerala where I went road tripping in October 2014. Kerala made me fall in love with it, an unusual statement coming from an ardent lover of Himalayas. To know what made that happen, here’s sharing my list of things to do in Kerala.
1) Kochi Silks & Balaramapuram Handlooms
I’ve never written of shopping as a thing to do in my blog before now. But the silk garments at Kochi are way different from anything else. I, a self-confessed, stay-away-from-sarees-person was so lured by the raw as well as glistening silks at Kochi that I paid extra luggage duty to the airlines while coming back from Kerala.
Add to it the handloom fabrics from Balarampuram and you will have the shopping extravaganza of your life. At Balaramapuram, you can even watch artisans at work and get customised designs!
2) A lot of things to do in Munnar!
If you’re headed to Munnar, do know that there is more to it then sprawling tea estates and waterfalls. Though Echo Point is quite touristy, I loved the place. Well, what else can you feel for a place that’s by the side of a glistening lake surrounded by the greenest forests. As for the echo effect, try shouting out in the wind. Yes, it comes back with a rippling effect. It sounds a very foolish thing to do with tourists all around you, but I did it and liked it too!
Another thing that you cannot miss at Munnar is the ginger coffee that’s sold on cycles. It you see a man cycling around Echo Point, carrying a huge steel container on the cycle, go and get a cup or two. It’s way different from a ginger tea and interestingly delicious. Chinnar Wildlife Reserve here has dolmens that were built by megalithic tribes. These offer an interesting and not too touristy detour.
3) Kumarakom Backwaters and Bird Sanctuary
While most of the people swear by the backwaters of Alleppey, I loved the stretch of backwaters at Kumarakom. With little crowd that’s a feature of the Alleppey backwaters, Kumarakom is more of a peaceful venture. You can ask your boatmen to show you around the villages and the Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary.
The life around Kumarakom backwaters is lavishly laid-back and you would know the difference once you’re at Alleppey. Spend a night or two in the houseboat or a Kerala style cottage right by the backwaters.
4) Kalaripayattu Performances
You would love the Kathakali performances in Kerala. But you would love Kalaripayattu even more. An ancient martial arts, Kalaripayattu is taught at some schools, well-promoted by Kerala Tourism, and can be seen in some Bollywood movies too! That’s how I came to know about it! Before I divert further, I’ll put this in words – DON’T MISS A KALARIPAYATTU PERFORMANCE IN KERALA.
And if it gets you fascinated enough, join a school there and take classes! It takes years to master the arts though.
5) Shop shop shop
Anything from freaky fridge magnets to soaps to incense sticks and umbrellas. Two shopping references in one post – well, this is a new record for me. If you’re into buying knick-knacks and tiny somethings from trips, Kerala is like the treasure chest that your Grandma wouldn’t let you touch.
Choose from freaky (or normal) fridge magnets, soaps that feel like cream milk (too much info here), incense sticks that smell of lemongrass, cardamoms, cloves and even coffee.
And yes, Kerala has got a very colourful, interesting variety of umbrellas. Do buy one. Or two.
6) Junk jewelry at dirt cheap prices!
Oh yes, I’m a big fan of these. Though you might (slight possibility) get such stuff in Delhi or other big cities, the prices differ by a huge margin.
I bought some four pairs of such earrings at a price that would have got me just one pair in Delhi. Get it for yourself or for anyone who loves tiny (and big) trinkets.
7) Vegetarian food of Kerala
This one would talk of the gorgeous vegetarian food of Kerala, since I’ve haven’t tasted non-vegetarian food ever (except for the mistaken bites of mutton momos in Spiti).
Largely famous for seafood, Kerala did not disappoint me at all with the very delicious thoran (a whole variety), lemon and coconut rice (it tastes nothing like what we try to cook in the north of India), really soft idlis, appams, puttus and damn good dosas. Another must try that you would find in hippie cafes at Varkala or Kovalam is the yogi tea that has cloves, basil, cardamoms, star anise and honey brewed together.
8) Surfing, sunsets and cafe hopping at Varkala
Surfing should be on your things to do in Kerala list if you’ve landed in Varkala or Kovalam. The Arabian Sea here is very inviting for surfers, a fact that’s quite evident by a lot of tiny surfing schools that dot the beaches.
So, go battle the waves in the day and sit at the clifftop cafes at Varkala to watch some more than just perfect sunsets. The cliff-side at Varkala has some amazing food joints and cosy cafes, perfect blend for perfect sunsets. I wonder why Varkala is not the focus of Kerala tourism yet; this place’s beauty is enough to make you cry with joy.
I saw a lot of Indian Coffee House joints while driving around in Kerala and couldn’t stop wondering about the huge number of vehicles parked outside each of those. Thus, I walked in and ordered a typical meal of idlis, dosa and filter coffee – all for just ₹65.
Amazingly cheap, Indian Coffee House is more like the McDonald’s of Kerala tourism, with locals and foreigners trooping in whole day for the delicious food. So save yourself some bucks and bad food and walk in to an Indian Coffee House that you see anywhere in Kerala.
10) Kerala Homestays
Another amazing thing about Kerala is the impressive number of grand homestays. When I write grand, I mean you get to stay in century old houses that sprawl for acres, having their own spice farms and an elephant perhaps, huge rooms with even bigger beds and wooden roofs, houses built atop rocks with wild rivers flowing at the backside and amazing homemade food.
Reminds me of my days in Sikkim when I would bunk up at homestays for the love of it. Skip hotels when you visit Kerala this time. There is a lot of history etched in the walls and passages of these homestays; talk to your host and they’ll be too happy to share some anecdotes.
11) Stay inside the Periyar National Park
Wildlife buffs should lap this one up. Though I wouldn’t term the stay facilities inside the Periyar National Park top of the world, it’s an experience that you just cannot miss. Run by the Kerala Tourism Development Corporation (KTDC), these hotels come in three categories, ranging from budget to luxury.
I loved the meal times at the hotel, for the buffet hall became the perfect place to meet the locals who were on a vacation and other backpackers from across the world.
Other than the food, which was perfect, it’s an experience that takes you closer to nature as well as people. Look out for the monkeys though; they are on a prowl around the properties and can swing by if you leave a window or the doors open. So while you are in Kerala, put a night or two’s stay at Periyar in one of the essential Kerala tourism experiences.
While I’ll sign off now, would love to know your take on Kerala and the best places and activities there. This post narrows down my experiences from Kochi to Varkala. I couldn’t attend a festival at Kerala though, including the very fascinating Theyyam. It’s on my to do list the next time I visit this state.
Do leave a comment or write an email to me.
Next time, I’ll be hopping to a different side of Kerala, including Wayanad and the Silent Valley National Park that’s been on my travel list from long. Will be glad if you folks suggest me more wonders of Kerala and help me plan a trip.
PS – Owing to a hard disk crash, I lost most of the photographs that I took in Kerala. Thus, the ones without a watermark above are taken from the Creative Commons. If you have better images and would love to share it here, do mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll publish those giving due credit to the photographers.