Kerala is often interchangeably referred to as “God’s own country”, and visiting the state is an experience that is nothing less than that! Similar to all things heavenly, its nature tends to surround you in the most surreal way possible, and yet its people are there for you in the realest, most touching way. Here are some ways in which you can take home beautiful memories of this slice of heaven. Kerala – A Brief History The Kerala that blooms forth us all today is one that was sowed with rich history that spans across centuries. Its notable history starts with it being the only independent kingdom in South India during Ashoka’s rule, and later was converted into an international trade center by the Cheras, which served as a connection to ports across the Arabian Sea, Red Sea, and Mediterranean Sea. Over the years, in the Middle Ages, Brahmins began to crop up in Kerala, and amassed their way to the top of the newly-established caste system that would shape Keralite and Indian society for the years to come. As mentioned earlier, Kerala became an international trade center, especially the port of Kozhikode, which acted as the entry point for the famed Vasco Da Gama from Europe, as well as the colonial era of India. The explosion of colonial interest by the English, French, and Dutch in India led to an interesting turn of events. A lot of battles were lost, but wars were won as well, such as the instance of the king of Travancore, Marthanda Varma, who won against the Dutch. However, over time, the British crown took over Kerala and created the district of Malabar. Festivities An essential part of the reputation surrounding Kerala is the pomp and grandeur with which the festival of Onam is celebrated. As mentioned before, history frames a lot of the state’s beauty, including Onam. Although India is known for its large variety of harvest festivals – a concept that binds the agriculture-driven country together – Onam has a different story beneath it. The figure most commonly associated with Onam is the demon King Mahabali, whose caricatures can be found on every wall and advertisement across the state during the month of Onam. As the fable goes, Mahabali was always beloved and popular to the point where the gods themselves questioned his popularity, with a hint of insecurity. This led to Lord Vishnu leaving the heavens to come to Earth and control the King’s fame, and take it down a notch. But He visited Mahabali in the form of a dwarf priest known as Vamana, forgoing his godly appearance. He went to the court of the king with a specific request for three pieces of land from King Mahabali. As the king was known for his generosity, he granted this wish. Then, Vamana surged in size, a splitting difference from his otherwise dwarf form, and covered the entire sky with his first pace, and the Netherworld with his second pace. After this, he enquired Mahabali on what he should take as his third piece of land. Without hesitation, Mahabali offered his head to Vamana. This act was one that touched the Lord, and so, he allowed Mahabali to visit his kingdom during one part of the year, namely Onam, and his return is celebrated year and year with great pomp. Another festival that is celebrated in Kerala exclusively is Vishu, which is once again linked to a form of Lord Vishnu. Vishu is supposedly the day on which Krishna killed the demon Narakasura. This festival involves the ritual of “Vishukani”, where a family wakes up with their eyes closed, until the first thing they see is the idols to be worshipped. National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries A lot of Kerala’s appeal lies in the fact that every nook and corner of it is a sight of natural beauty. Its greenery continues to astound even natives of the state. Places that capture this beauty accurately that you should definitely visit are national parks. An iconic national park that hides within it both the ethereal beauty of greenery and nature, as well as the ferocious nature of a beast like the tiger, is Periyar National Park. Other tiger reserves include Silent Valley National Park in Idukki, which is a photographer’s paradise. Besides the tiger, you can also see truly cared-for elephants and reptiles in a nearly natural habitat, continuing to bring us splendor by simply existing. Another way to watch nature work is to observe birds at the Kumarakom National Park. not only is it beautifully laden with various species of these flying works of art, but it also happens to be on the banks of the Vembanad Lake, giving it an unreal atmosphere. National parks will continue to stun you throughout the length of the state, including Muthunga Wildlife Sanctuary in Wayanad, Pampadam Shola National Park in Vattavada, and much more. Nature As it is told time and time again, nothing brings out the life in Kerala like its nature. Flora and fauna have never felt more like they belonged somewhere, and they bloom from the depths of the forests to the gates of each household, adorning the lamp posts as a constant reminder that this land indeed belongs to the gods, and you are lucky enough to experience it. They also creep their way up the various hilltops and mountains whose journeys will leave you breathless both literally and figuratively! Ponmudi, the “Kashmir of Kerala” will wrap you around its people’s warmth while also keeping you extremely chilly due to its altitude. Other famed hill stations include PaithalMala and Ranipuram. While there has been a lot of talk about the green that can be seen all around the state, an important part of it that captures the tourist’s soul is its blue. The backwaters of Kerala are almost synonymous with the state, to the point where Alappuzha is now referred to as the ‘Venice of the East’. You will feel at home in a meandering residence, as the houseboat experience on the backwaters is otherworldly in a way that grounds you. Beaches are a staple of Kerala. A beautiful part of discovering this state is the activity of finding hidden beaches where no other people are in sight. While you may have your Kovalams and your Shangumughams with their fast times, bright lights, and merry-go’s, finding random isolated beaches is a different feeling altogether. Waterfalls are another part of Kerala that truly feel fantastical. The rush into the drop will sound and feel like pieces falling right into place. Athirapally, Palaruvi, and Soochipara waterfalls, provide this experience and a lot more, as each place has an aura that both unites it with the rest of the state, but is also absolutely distinct. Although visiting all these natural beauties of Kerala can be a very enthralling experience on its own, sometimes you have to take matters into your own hands. Adventure sports and adventure tourism is a great way of doing so. Examples of this include paragliding, surfing through the coastlines, trekking, and much more. Culture While Kerala is beloved for its natural beauty, it would not feel complete without a thorough delve into its people and its culture. People Kerala is a state that is known to value knowledge and education to the point where it sets an example for the other states. What’s more – it has a consistently impressive sex ratio, with the state of kannur having 1136, namely more girls than boys. You can hear the language of Malayalam in the people’s fluent English words, as the language leaves its imprint on everyone’s tongues. You can also see it sprawled across the walls that are designed with art denoting a certain district’s politics, and other endeavors the people take upon. A great part of the culture is also integrated with the neighbouring state’s similar-sounding language, Tamil. Clothing Kerala has a very distinct, identifiable sense of traditional clothing that includes the iconic white-coloured, golden-bordered settu saree, which is complemented by a colour-blocked blouse. This is generally worn by women, whereas the famous “lungi” is worn by both men and women, both in formal and informal contexts, as well as work settings. They can be a bordered plain white or even vary in colour. Monuments to Visit As mentioned earlier, Kerala’s history frames it beautifully, and proof of this is the plethora of historical monuments you can visit. An example of this is the Edakkal caves that are naturally occurring wonders that were first discovered in 1890. History is etched all over its wallas, as you can observe cave paintings and carvings on its walls. What’s more – the journey to the inside of the caves takes nearly forty-five minutes, amounting to a little trekking adventure as well. Another evidence of Kerala’s history is the St. Francis Church, which is believed to be the first European Church installed in India. An incredibly interesting fact about this place is that it originally served as the burial ground for the famed Portuguese explorer Vasco Da Gama, who was the first European to discover the country, with his first entry point being Kerala. His remains were later moved to Lisbon, but this information makes an interesting visit nonetheless. Another product of European colonialism in Kerala is Fort Kochi, which is treated as one of Kerala’s most important historical sites. It gives one an insane amount of input on the Dutch, French, and British colonisation of the country. A city in Kerala that will definitely appease to your historical sensibilities is the city of Kolam, which is filled to the brim with culture. Anandavalleswaram temple, Rameshwara temple, Thevally palace, and Pullichira Church are only some of the historical places that can be explored in Kolam. While there are many more options, one of the essential visits in Kerala has got to be the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. There is simply nothing that compares to walking into the temple and exploring all four corners of its huge grounds around which the city is centred, adoring its architecture and its beautifully adorned idols, and of course, watching the huge idol of the main deity of the temple, the “Anantha Shayana” posture of Padmananabhaswamy, that takes up a huge area of the grounds. A tiny yet absolutely major aspect of the experience that can not be ignored is the feeling of watching people deep in prayer and going about their day in peace. That is the beauty of Kerala, the peace, the natural flow of its water, its wind, its language, its people. There are many experiences you’ll gain when you enter the state, but when you leave, what you’ll gain is perspective.
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