Difference between revisions of "Kerala"
Revision as of 20:01, 14 November 2012
Kerala, a state in Southern India is known as a tropical paradise of waving palms and wide sandy beaches. It is a narrow strip of coastal territory that slopes down the Western Ghats in a cascade of lush green vegetation, and reaches to the Arabian sea. Kerala borders the states of Tamil Nadu to the east and Karnataka to the north. It is also known for its backwaters, mountains, coconuts, spices and art forms like Kathakali and Mohini Attam. It is the most literate state in India, and a land of diverse religions, where you can find Hindu temples, mosques, churches, and even synagogues. With world class tourist sporting options, ayurvedic spas and treatments, eco-tourism initiatives, a large number of visit options ranging from beautiful high altitude blue mountains to pristine rain forests to golden sun-sand beaches and an enormous range of accommodation, Kerala has much to offer the visitor.
The tourism department of Kerala boasts that the state is God's Own Country. Once you visit, you will see where this claim comes from. The state really is blessed with great natural beauty, and diverse ecology.
The state is also considered to be one of the safest regions of India. Incidents of local people cheating tourists are almost non-existent. Kerala has high standards of living compared to its neighbours and other Indian states and has social lifestyle indices such as education and healthcare that are on par with developed countries . Therefore tourists can relax without being followed around by taxi drivers, touts, guides and similar. However still be prepared to put up with beggars who have migrated from poorer neighbouring states. Abundant rainfall means that you can find lush greenery that remains pretty much throughout the year. A holiday here is an opportunity for rejuvenation. You can get an Ayurvedic oil massage, spend a day or two on a houseboat with nothing to do but watch coconut trees pass by, or just laze around on Kovalam or Varkala beaches. Thus tourism is more experiential here, rather than being composed of superficial sightseeing options.
Kerala was named as one of the "ten paradises of the world" and "50 places of a lifetime" by the National Geographic Traveler magazine. Kerala is a state wedged between the Western Ghats on the eastern side and the Arabian Sea on the West, thus having a wide range of topography from high altitude mountains to golden beaches and is criss crossed by 41 rivers. The tributaries, unique backwaters, lagoons and numerous small islands provide many scenic attractions for visitors.
Large parts of Kerala were not subject to direct British rule. Malabar was a district of Madras Presidency under direct British rule, but Tiruvithamkoor (Travancore) and Kochi (Cochin) regions were autonomous kingdoms ruled by Maharajas during the period of the British rule in India, and were known for their progressive attitude which resulted in various welfare reforms, particularly in the areas of education and health care.
Kerala was the place in India where European colonization first started. The Portuguese were the first to discover a direct sea route between Lisbon and Kozhikode in Kerala, and this marked the beginning of European colonisation in the country. Soon the Dutch, French, Italians and British were all lured by the wealth of spices and silk, and came with the intention of forming colonies. The defeat of the Dutch by the Travancore Army at the Battle of Colachel, and the decline of Portuguese Empire and French problems in Europe, resulted in the British gaining the full influence in country, and the annexation of the Malabar region into the British Madras Presidency.
However, the Kingdoms of Cochin and Travancore remained independent with little interference from the British, and they were staunch allies. After the independence of India, the Kingdoms of Travancore and Cochin choose to accede into the Indian Union, and were later merged into a single State of Travancore-Cochin. With the linguistic reorganisation of States, the Malayalam-speaking regions of Malabar and Travancore-Cochin were integrated into the State of Kerala on November 1st 1956. This realised a united Kerala, a dream held since the partition of the ancient Kerala Empire of Cheras in the eighth century. Today, people in Kerala live a largely traditional lifestyle, and much of the rich culture and heritage of the region is well-preserved.
November 1st is celebrated as Keralappiravi (Birth of Kerala) Day (also observed as Malayalam Divasam or Malayalam Day).
Kerala, being very close to equator, has a tropical climate. Kerala experiences heavy rains almost throughout the year, and is one of the wettest areas on the earth.
Kerala has three distinct seasons:
When in Kerala, carry an umbrella no matter what time of the year it is. You can be caught in a sudden shower in summer which will leave you drenched if you are unprepared. The Kerala sun coupled with high rate of humidity can be unforgiving in the summer months.
The temperature averages around:
Temperatures may drop down to 10°C or sometimes even little below during Winter seasons (November, December) in Hilly areas of Western ghats, especially at popular hill-stations like Munnar and Wynad etc, which results a misty days and freezing nights coupled with light cold showers. However in other places, the temperatures never drop below 15°C.
Recently summers have become hotter. Though the maximum temperature on summers has never risen higher than 36°C, the rising humidity has made recent summers difficult. The height of the Kerala summer is normally between mid-March and May. Wear only light loose cotton clothes during this season. Consider a trip to hilly areas where the temperatures never exceed 26°C.
Kerala experiences mild winds throughout most of the year.
Hinduism is the largest religion in the state. Hinduism in Kerala is bit different to other parts of India, due to assimilation of traditional Dravidian culture, and later due to the unique practice of Marumakathyam (matrilineal system) which made the society highly matriarchal unlike patriarchal values found else where in India. This also helped the society to be highly tolerant to cross-caste/religious marriages and co-living systems. Also Kerala is the only last place in world, where ancient Hindu Vedic Tantric rites are practiced widespread.
Kerala's Islam is also unique. Its believed that Islam reached shores of Kerala around 700 AD, due to strong trading relations between Kerala and Arabia that time. This resulted in Kerala adopting highly liberal Shafi'i School of Islam like many Arab countries such as Oman and Yemen, and unlike the Hanfi school elsewhere in India.
Christianity too has made a unique mark in Kerala's history. St.Thomas the Apostle came in 52 AD and spread the message of Christ. This resulted in large influx of Syrian Immigrants who soon assimilated with the locals. Kerala has the largest number of churches, of which many are considered very sacred, in India. Kerala is home for 2 Syrian Catholic churches, 3 non-catholic churches and 1 independent church apart from major state for CSI Church and several independent congregations.
For thousands of years Buddhism was the most influential religion in Kerala. It was only in the 11th and 12th centuries that Brahmanism took hold in the state and Buddhism waned. Another religion, found in minority is Jainism, with limited number of followers in Wayanad, Kozhikode and Kochi. The presence of considerable followers of Sikhism, mainly those who have migrated from Indian state of Punjab, also brought the religion to Kerala.
Judaism has existed in Kerala for about 2,000 years, and today a minority of Jews live around Kochi, although there was a mass migration to Israel in 1950s following the founding of Israel.
Due to its strong socialist values and history of several communist movements, the state has a considerable people following Atheism.
Hindus constitute about 56% of the population, Muslims 24% and Christians account for about 19%. Communal and sectarian tensions are rare. Kerala is considered as the most peaceful place in South Asia.
Unique to Kerala, the Malayalee culture is derived from ancient Tamil-Dravidian practices combined with Arya-Indian culture, with influences from China, Japan, Arab countries, Portugal, Holland and even from the British. There are a lot of Tamil-Sanskrit elements, resulting in many unique practices and customs. Each community in Kerala has its own unique Malayalee culture which will not be found anywhere outside Kerala.
The Buddhist influence brought Ayurveda into a prominent position as well as Kalaripayattu (Kerala's traditional martial art). While religious beliefs and its associated myths & legends are well rooted in the Malayalee psyche, the influence of communism and the Kerala renaissance has resulted in separation of religion from the daily routine of life.
Kerala architecture has lot of Tibetan-Chinese influence, due to its seclusion from other parts of India when the Western Ghats prevented Tamil influences. Most of the buildings have gabled, tiled roofs and a heavy use of wood with prominent slanting windows and ornamental flora designs. The Sree Padmanabhapuram Palace near Trivandrum, is a classic example of this style.
Dance, music, drama all have distinctive styles. Dances and music often attract large crowds.
A good way to experience the entire arts and culture of Kerala in one place is at the Annual Kerala State School Art Festival, normally held in December or January. The location changes between various district headquarters on a rotational basis. This was constituted by the government as a competition amongst school children to promote Kerala arts and culture. This is Asia's largest festival according to the Guinness Book of records, with more than 82 art forms show-cased during its ten day duration.
There are more than 14-15 various Dance forms, all indigenous to Kerala. A detailed check with locals or web search, may help you to identify some others.
Kerala has its own indigenous music and orchestration.
Kalarippayattu (Kalari) is believed to be one of the oldest martial arts in world. It soon became a major weapon of war. Kalaripayattu has many styles, the best known being Northern Style and Southern Style. While former is focused on using various weapons, the Southern style uses powerful strokes with the bare hand. The knowledge of vital spots, known as Marma, on the human body helped Kalaripayattu warriors, make blows that can freeze or kill a person.
The British Government passed legislation banning Kalari, considering it a potential danger, and this resulted in a brief decline. Today, it is a popular sport and exercise option which gets international attention. There are many cultural centres which showcase Kalari techniques as well as schools in Thiruvanathapuram, Kottayam and many places in north Malabar.
Drama was once a very popular medium in Kerala, and played a large role in the spread of Communist ideology and the social renaissance of the region. Due to the popularity of television soaps and cinema, the popularity of live drama has waned. However, some high-end dramas involving technology and innovative themes are gaining popularity in major metropolitan areas. JT Pac in Kochi and Tagore Theatre in Trivandrum regularly features dramas, particularly English and other vernacular features. Thrissur is the hub of Kerala drama, with many theatres hosting regular shows. Thrissur also hosts the annual International Drama Festival of Kerala, attracting prominent dramatists, from across the world. Most Kerala dramas are performed in Malayalam, and the stories based on social realities. Some temples offer dramas as part of their Temple festival programs.
Malayalam Cinema is a popular local entertainment option. It tends to focus on social realities, and avoids the glitz & glamour prevalent in the Bollywood and Tamil movie industries. If you want to watch a Malayalam movie in a local theatre, be aware that there is no sub-titling, except for those movies nominated for out of state awards. Trivandrum hosts the annual International Film Festival of Kerala which focuses on Asian and Latin movies.
The traditional costumes of Kerala are called mundu and neriyathu, for both men and women. Sarees and blouses form the traditional costume of Kerala women. Kerala Mundu is very popular in the state and is worn by many men. Its a special white/cream colour dhoti worn across the waist. The dhothi has a golden thread work as a strip running down from the waist to bottom, and the width of the gold thread determines the cost. It is an elegant costume, mostly used for ceremonial purposess. The women's Mundu Neriyathu is similar and has an upper shawl of same material. White colour is one of the most preferred in the state. Today different versions of Mundu and Neriyathu with different colours and motiffs is available.
Kerala is a state in the Union of India. The state government has a cabinet of ministers headed by the Chief Minister. A Governor appointed by the Government of India has a titular role as head of state. Trivandrum (Thiruvananthapuram) is the state capital and houses the Kerala Secretariat, the legislature house called Niyama Sabha and offices of various ministers and officials. The state is divided into 14 districts which are further divided into Taluks. Each district has a major city as its district headquarters, which houses offices of district administration. Each district administration is headed by a Government official known as District Collector. The Kerala High Court is located at Kochi.
Kerala is a traditional socialist leaning state, and has a strong communist movement. This was the first place in the world where a communist government was elected to power through democratic means. Kerala's communism today appears almost like the Chinese way which focuses on a market economy and reforms, although officially they are against it. Kerala has a tradition of two major alliances: one led by the Communist Party called LDF (Left Democrats), and another led by the Indian National Congress called UDF (United Democrats). These tend to swing to power for alternate five year terms. The current government is lead by the UDF under the leadership of Oommen Chandy who is the State Chief Minister.
Kerala has a strong decentralized government culture, by which local governments and district administration are empowered to take many decisions. Most of the government related applications and requests can be handled at local level. District Administrators known as Collectors do have wide range of powers being executive magistrates. Tourists can avail Visa related as well as immigration procedures either at District Superintendent of Police or City Police Commissioners or at Cochin Airport FFRO.
Kerala has been through a period of strong growth with one of the highest per-capita income and poverty levels are extremely low compared to elsewhere in India. Most households have family members working somewhere outside the state, typically the Middle East, and their remittances make up for around 20% of the economy. Agriculture is highly focused on cash-crop cultivation such as rubber, tea, coffee, spices and coconut plantations. Tourism is now a booming industry in Kerala, and accounts for a significant part of the state's economy.
The people of Kerala speak Malayalam (a palindrome when written in English). Most people understand English. However visitors will find that everyone does not speak the same language or dialect. Though Kerala is often regarded as a highly literate state it doesn't mean that everyone can communicate in English. Literacy is considered to be the universal ability to read, write and speak in one's own mother tongue. Most of Kerala's urban dwelling population are able to communicate in English and in 'broken' Hindi. Locals may understand spoken Tamil also with some difficulty. Kannada is understood in districts bordering near Karnataka. Many Malayalees particularly in Malabar areas and among Gulf returnees, can understand Arabic and some can speak in a limited way. Almost all bus routes and other important signs including name boards are written in Malayalam and some are in English. Most City Bus destinations are prominently written in Malayalam, some having English signage represented in small fonts which is often difficult to read. All of the bus conductors and ticket checkers do understand English. Long Distance and Inter-state buses do carry English signage. Railways and other central government establishments use signs written in Malayalam, English and Hindi. Highway signs are normally in Malayalam and English. Most Kerala Government offices use only Malayalam signage and most Kerala Govt documents such as receipts and bills are in Malayalam. The only exception to this, would be Judicial Department and Courts, as they use English as official language for all its communications, even though the judicial transcripts are normally in Malayalam. Translation centers are normally seen near all court areas for the purpose.
Most of the signages of shops and other private establishments are normally written in English along with Malayalam. Most of the bills and other documents other than government's will be in English.
There are three airports in Kerala, with flights to domestic and international destinations: Kochi(Cochin), Kozhikode, and Thiruvananthapuram(Trivandrum). The airports have several carriers operating international flights around the world.
In addition Mangalore Airport (IATA: IXE) and Coimbatore Airport (IATA: CJB) in neighboring states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu respectively offers limited connectivity to Northern and Eastern districts of Kerala respectively.
There are 20 to 25 international carriers offering flights to Kerala. Apart from international carriers, Air India, Jet Airways, Kingfisher offers international connections from the 3 airports. Domestic destinations accessible by direct flights from these airports include Chennai, Bangalore, Mumbai, Agatti, Hyderabad,Mangalore,Goa and Delhi. There are daily, and some bi-daily flights, to most Indian cities from airports in Kochi and Trivandrum. All the Indian low cost carriers (LCC) such as Spicejet, GoAir, Indigo and Jetlite offer daily flights from major Indian cities. During tourist season, charted flights from leading travel companies in Europe, Russia and US flies into Kochi and Trivandrum. Kochi has Air-Cruise turnaround program with chartered services.
Shuttles are available from airport to its respective cities. Taxis are the most popular for Airport-City connection.
Indian Railways  operates several trains to, from and within Kerala. Trains into Kerala start from neighbouring states like Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Long-haul direct train services from cities like Delhi and Mumbai are also available.
Be aware that trains are the most popular method of transport and almost all trains in Kerala originate or terminate in Thiruvananthapuram or Kochi, and are usually heavily booked. Buy your tickets as early as possible. Another option is using Tatkal. You pay almost double, but have a chance of getting a seat. Tatkal is an emergency service, hence its booking is open just 24 hours before departure. Some travel agents have authorised booking quotas for certain trains.
Recently, the luxury tourist train The Golden Chariot has introduced a South Indian Rail Tour, which includes many parts of Kerala. This is a good option for those who want to visit the South Indian states on as tight schedule. The train starts from Bangalore and covers Chennai, Pondicherry, Trichy, Madurai, Trivandrum, Alapuzha, Kochi and back to Bangalore. The 7 night/8 day package tour, costs US$3,000-7,000 depending upon the class taken.
Inter-state private and government buses operates between neighboring states. Usually the journey is performed in the night so that you can escape the heat of the day. The most common inter-state bus is Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC-Karnataka) with daily bus from most of Major cities of Kerala to Bangalore, Mysore and Mangalore. Tamil Nadu State Bus like SETC also operates regularly from Kerala. Kerala's State bus- KRSTC-Kerala do have regular Ordinary bus to most of nearby places in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. KRSTC-Kerala also operates a few Volvo AC bus to Bangalore and Coimbatore.
However Private bus players to operate more buses than Govt options. Most of them are well maintained. Kallada, Shama, KPN are the major bus players, though recently Raj National and few others have entered with Pan India operations. Kallada, KPN, Shama etc have regular buses to Bangalore, Chennai and many other places in Tamil Nadu as well as Karnataka on various times
It is recommended that you consider booking long distance bus tickets on "air conditioned Volvo buses" operated by all operators as the quality of the other buses vary significantly.
Kerala is well connected by National Highways and recently it was renumbered. Both numbers are used interchangeably:
Most of the NH roads are two lane carriageways. Only NH 544 is currently 4 lane carriage with dedicated service roads. However its tolled highway. As vehicle density is very high in Kerala, accidents are common. You must be extra cautious while driving here.
Kochi is a major cruise port and currently the most busiest cruise port in India. The port has International Cruise Facilitation Center and almost all major cruises that have global voyages have Kochi as port of call. All Lakshadweep bound cruises originate in Kochi and make return trips.
Also private yachts and other sea going boats regularly call at Kochi Marina. A few cruises call at Trivandrum.
Kerala is quite well connected with all modes of transport. The flat southern side is better connected than mountainous north. One of unique feature of Kerala, is its continuous urban and semi-urban areas across both sides of any road or rail. As a result, you might not feel you exited from village/city into another, being continuous. This helps in getting transport to travel around easily.
Trains are good for long distance travel within the state. Most trains are long distance trains with stops at many of Kerala's stations. Short distance trains are mainly intercity passenger trains, connecting only major cities like Trivandrum, Kochi, Palakkad, Alapuzha, Kollam, Kottayam, Kozhikode, Kannur and Thrissur. The main Intercity trains are:
Express trains are relatively faster, as they stop only at major stations and gets priority in event of crossing. Passenger trains stops at all stations in a route and can be held-up in event of an express train crossing, thus takes longer time. However latter is good option, if one needs to align at small village or town stations, not catered by express trains.
Railways have introduced MEMU services, between Kochi-Thrissur-Palakkad and Kochi-Kollam sector, similar to Mumbai's Local trains, connecting small suburban stations on route, at increased speed.
Roads remain the primary popular options. Almost each nook and corner of the state is well connected by road. The primary roads are NH 66, NH 544, NH 85, NH 183, NH 744, NH 766 and NH 966 which all National Highways. The NH 66 is one of most busiest as it connects Kochi and Trivandrum, while NH 544 which connects Kochi to Coimbatore and further to Chennai and Bangalore is equally a very busy commercial route. The traditional primary road is MC Road, which covers on the most scenic places in south Kerala. However NH 66 cut the time at least by 1 hour for a travel between Kochi and Trivandrum.
State Highways connect to almost all parts of Kerala. Most of the SH are Bi-lane roads. Due to heavy rains, its common to see potholes in many roads.
Unless you seek adventure, its not advisable to drive a car. Narrow roads with bustling traffic with little driving discipline makes self drive not safe, especially those accustomed to western kind of driving. Most of Kerala highways are two-lane with no medians. Though many are recently upgraded to better standards with proper signages and markings, its equally common to see roads without these. Street lighting in most of highways and roads are non-existent, which makes night drive dangerous for people not accustomed. Driving is on the left, and all foreign drivers need a valid International Driving Licence attested by any Road Transport Office (RTO). Most of the bridges and few roads carry toll charges collected at manned toll plazas or checkpoints. Almost all tolls are uniformly charged separately for one/two way; 2 wheelers- Rs 3/5, 4 wheelers- Rs 5/10 and bus/minivans - Rs 15/25. Almost all the toll pass is valid for unlimited travel for a period of 24 hours, though a few bridges allow one time validity.
Car rental is not so popular among foreign visitors, particularly among westerners. Many car rental companies refuse to provide self-drive cars to Westerners. Normally a bank guarantee letter or security cheque/traveller's cheque to the value of the car or a passport are taken as security for renting the car.
However chauffeured car rentals are available for visitors for daily or weekly or even monthly basis. No security deposit is needed if the car is chauffeur-driven. There are multiple car rental companies as well as call taxi agencies, operating in most of the towns. Equally in major cities, drivers can rented on daily basis, if you have a car availed from friends. Most hotels with three stars or more provide private cars for their guests at rates slightly higher than elsewhere.
Its pretty easy to travel across Kerala in tourist taxis. India's iconic HM Ambassador, is normally the popular tourist taxi. Though there is no formal color/livery for tourist taxis, Ambassador taxis are more popular in their white color, with black circles on both sides of front doors with signage of taxi written with it. Tata's Indica and Toyota SUV models are now getting popular as tourist vehicles. There is no meter system for any taxis in Kerala, while a few cab companies offers cabs with GPS facility. Equally there is no Cab Top Sign in these vehicles.
There are two type of taxi services, regular and call taxis.
Regular taxis are normally available at designated taxi stands located at places such as railway stations, the airport, boat jetties, major bus stations and in front of important hotels.
There is no need to negotiate prices, as most of them follow fixed rates. Regular taxis have tariff cards displayed on the dashboard. Call taxis have charges fixed by their respective companies (although they are normally uniform). Its more common to see such cabs mainly in cities. The standard tariffs are Rs 50 for first 3 km, and Rs 8 per km thereafter. Add 10% for a cab with A/C, and 50% at night.
In Hilly areas, a 6 seater SUV known as Trunk or Mahindra Jeep models are more common as taxis. The hilly terrains demands 4 wheel vehicles as taxis. Normal taxis from other parts to operate to such areas, though in some difficult areas, a change of vehicle might require. One can find such trunk stands near the main junction of small towns in the region. Better to check with locals. Generally the rates for Trunk Cabs are normally higher than regular taxis. Its better to negotiate with the driver first.
Many cab companies offer full or half day services. Typical rates are Rs 1,100/1,500 for standard/AC cabs for a full day and Rs 500/750 for a half day. Evening rates with a hike of 25% is applicable after 8 PM and its common to pay driver an additional amount for overnight stay during the trip known as bata.
Bus transport is most popular transport to travel within Kerala and ideal for budget conscious travellers. Kerala has an excellent public bus system operated by both government-owned Kerala State Road Transport Corp (KSRTC-Kerala) and various private operators. All fares are determined by Transport Department and uniform across the state in accordance to nature of buses. Typically, there are 4 class of buses, all are non air-conditioned.
In addition, KSRTC operates air-conditioned premium buses known either as Hitech or Garuda services, in a limited manner between major cities, as part of inter-state services. The fares of inter-city of such services are Rs 35 as minimum fare with Rs 1 to Rs 1.2 for every Km depending upon type of bus.
KSRTC brands all SF/FP operating in northern districts as Malabar and Venad for all South Kerala districts. Note for the initials, to differentiate whether its FP or SF. Though KSRTC services are not known for its comfort, its one of the most reliable services in the country, with punctuality at its top order. Whereas private bus services are not keen in punctuality, but keen in maintaining the bus and its comfort level. In some places, there exists unhealthy competition among private operators, in regard to the speed and time taken to cover the scheduled distance, making the services erratic.
While KSRTC has different liveries for each of class of service (red for Ordinary, green for FP, blue-white for SF), private operators has no uniform liveries and paint according to their choice. Most of the private bus services are known popularly among locals in the name of the bus company like Angel, Rajesh, Kallara etc. The name are normally written in super-size on top of the windscreen, mostly in English.
All KSRTC buses have its own bus depots or stations in major towns and villages and stops only at those stops that displays its logo. Whereas private buses do stop at any convenient part of towns and villages, though in few cities it has its own private bus stands and stations. Check with locals, to know where each class of bus operates. There is no route numbering for buses in Kerala. Destination will be written in bold on Windscreen as well as side of the buses in Malayalam and English (not in all cases), along with on-route places written below to it, mostly in Malayalam. Most of the ticket-conductors can help with basic simple English.
While KSRTC mostly issues e-ticket slips, private buses normally go for traditional paper slips with destination hand-written or color coded. Retain the ticket till end of the journey, as often ticket-inspectors may board in-between for surprise checks and in event of loss of ticket, you are liable for fine for a travel rate from place where the bus originated.
Most of the buses are crowded and must beware of pick-pockets.
Also called autos, these are a convenient mode of transport for very short distance travel. By law the auto driver has to start a meter for every journey. However at times this law tends to be overlooked. It is wise to ask the driver, politely, to ensure he starts the meter at the start of your journey or negotiate and fix the price of the trip before boarding, to avoid unnecessary arguments at the end of the trip. The general behavior of drivers varies places to places. While places like Kozhikode, Malappuram, Kottayam etc have some of the best friendly drivers who go beyond to help passengers, drivers in major cities like Kochi, Trivandrum etc are often reported to be errant. Must apply lots of common senses, especially when dealing with drivers in touristy places like Alleppey, Munnar, Fort Kochi, Wayanad etc, where they trend to appear helpful and drive the passengers to the places where they get hefty commissions or rewards.
Generally the fares of autos are 10% more than government fixed rates.
Most of the larger railway stations and all the airports as well as in key junctions of tourist places, have pre-paid auto-rickshaw and/or taxi stands. Just tell them where you want to go and you will get a slip of paper with the destination and amount written on it. Pay only that amount of money and nothing more. You can seek assistance of Tourist Police, deployed in touristy places.
Kerala has an extensive series of water bodies with rivers, backwaters and lagoons making travel by ferry an effective service. In some places, ferries are more popular and easier than road transport. Most of the places in Alapuzha-Kuttanad area is interconnected with regular ferry services.
The main waterways route, served by Kerala Water Transport Department boats are as follows
SWTD charges tickets between places, which is pre-determined. Most of the tickets costs between Rs 3 to RS 11. Certain services, especially those operate between Alleppey-Kollam are Double Decker in nature, which has no-frills ordinary class at lower deck and premium class, mostly intended for tourists, in upper deck. Premium class costs inbetween Rs 200 to Rs 500 per trip.
The frequency of ferries varies from station to station. The average waiting time is 10 Mins. Services commences from 5:00 AM to 8:00 PM daily, though in some places in Alleppey, Kottayam and Kollam districts, services are extended upto 10:00 PM, due to demand. Some ferries requires minimum number of passengers to operate.
In some places, RO-RO ferries operates known as Junkars that help ferrying vehicles. Rates for vehicles for RO-RO services vary for Rs 50 to 120 per vehicle, depending upon size of vehicle.
Most of the ferries vary from traditional wooden boats to modern fiber-glass built ones and considered safe in general. Expect heavily crowded during peak hours of morning and evening.
Helicopter and Air-taxi services are available from Kochi and Trivandrum which can be used to connect between these two major metros with District Headquarters, though its expensive. Heli-taxis and heli-tours have recently commenced from Kozhikode and Malappuram etc which need to pre-book.
Scheduled air connections operated by leading domestic brands like Indigo, Spicejet, Air India Express and Jet Airways connect between Kozhikode, Kochi and Trivandrum airports.
Kerala is a large state and its advised to check individual cities and regions, to know local sightseeing attractions, restaurants, hotels etc.
Due to its unique geography, Kerala gets rain for at least 7-8 months of the year and the forests are classified as rainforests. There are many opportunities to trek, camp and see wildlife.
Kerala has 650 km of coastline and numerous beaches. Some of the more notable are:
Kerala was the first state to formally embrace the eco-tourism concept in South Asia, and has made considerable strides in this respect.
See Religious destinations of Kerala for details
Kerala is famous for its religious harmony. Keralites are very religious people and religious functions dominates all walks of life. However religion donot make the final word in anybody's life here, thus its an very open society for debate and discussions about religions.
See Festivals of Kerala for further details.
Kerala is considered as land of festivals, with numerous festivals falling across the year. The national festival of Kerala is Onam, marking 10 day long festivities across the state, happening between August-September. The second biggest festival is X'mas due to large Christian population in the state, celebrated in grand zest in many cities, particularly in Kochi and Kottayam. All Muslim festivals are celebrated among the community in grand way, especially in Malabar where they form majority. Apart from major religious festivals, most of temples hosts annual festivals as part of anniversary celebrations, famous for large parade of decorated elephants, temple orchestration and fireworks. The most famous among them is Thrissur Pooram celebrated in the Thrissur town during April-May.
Other major festivals celebrated are Vishu (Malayalam New Year day mostly on April 14th), Thiruvathira (considered sacred for Hindu women celebrated during December) and Holy Easter Week. National secular holidays like Independence Day (August 15th), Republic Day (January 26th), Naval Week (December 1st week), Nehru Trophy Vallam Kalli (Snake-boat race in Alleppy on 2nd Saturdays of August) etc are celebrated in grand way in various cities.
Bank and money
Kerala has one of the excellent banking systems in India, thus cards (both debit, credit and cash cards) are widely accepted in almost all towns and cities. Banks, money exchange facilities and ATMs are widespread. Traveller's Cheques are accepted in almost all banks. Credit and local debit cards are widely accepted in towns. Rural areas traditionally have a cash-based society, though credit/debit cards are widely accepted in tourist-oriented villages and areas. Foreign debit cards are not accepted, though foreign credit cards are accepted in almost all places. However chip-embedded cards are not accepted. There is a cash limit that can be drawn per day, limiting to Rs 10,000 (US$ 200) when drawn thro' ATMs. A surcharge of Rs 50 (US$ 1)is charged for transactions beyond first ten transactions in a month. Foreign currency can be converted into Indian Rupees at any authorised money changers or nationalised banks up to Rs 50,000 in value (in one transaction) and any amount above this, requires a bank account and Indian PAN Card. Foreign currencies are not accepted anywhere in Kerala, except in airports.
The largest Kerala bank is Federal Bank with its headquarters in Aluva,Kochi, with wide range of branches across the state. Major Kerala banks include, State Bank of Travancore, South Indian Bank, Catholic Syrian Bank, and Dhanalakshmi bank, apart from almost national bank brands. International Banks such as HSBC, Standard Chartered and CitiBank operate mainly in Kochi and Trivandrum.
Service charges are common in hotels and restaurants which will be normally included in your bill (standard is 10%, which varies depending upon the status and rankings, but not beyond 15%). In addition to this, tipping is common everywhere and its a social norm to pay tip in hotels as well as restaurants which is normally in between Rs 10 to Rs 20. In larger five star hotels or similar large restaurants, the tipping norm is normally 10% or 12% of your bill value. No tip is given for auto or taxi drivers, though over-night taxi drivers have to be pay bata (official tip) which shall be charged separately in your taxi bill.
Currency Exchange is very easy in Kerala, as there are many international money changers as well as forex players across the state.
Kerala is generally an expensive destination when compared to elsewhere in India.
Budget tourists normally require Rs 1,000 (US$20) per day for a decent stay including food. They can depend ordinary restaurants or road-side hawkers (called Thattukadas) for their food which costs less than Rs 40 (less US$1). Middle class tourists must keep around Rs 1,400-Rs 2,000 (US$24-US$40) per day a stay in pretty good hotel and for food in standard restaurants. For rich, Kerala is a destination that costs normally beyond Rs 4,000 (US$80).
Shopping is a national hobby in Kerala, with vast options in all metros. Do shop during Onam or Christmas seasons. Its going to be amazing rock bottom discounts, that make you mad with shopping. The best shopping during Onam is white goods and electronics, whereas its more of dress and jewelery shopping during Christmas, though you get discounts for all in these seasons.
To cash on Shopping Tourism, Kerala Government organizes Grand Kerala Shopping Festival , that aims to transform Kerala into one-stop shopping destination. Special events, huge discounts and mega raffles are the key highlights of the event. The Mega raffles of 101 Kg of Gold as well as daily and weekly draws, on-spot scratch win cards and mobile SMS based prizes, do pull large number of tourists. Kochi is the key hub of the festivities, while other cities have themed activities and shopping options through participating outlets. Almost every shop has a sale, starting in December and ending in January.
Apart from regular shopping, consider the following in your shopping list, as made in Kerala items.
Oils and spices
Murals and paintings
Kerala is home to many famous national and international painters. The celebrated Kerala murals and oil paintings of legendary Raja Ravi Varma and many others, surely add more charm to your interiors. You can buy murals and paintings of all size and style, that fit to your budget, which is comparatively cheaper in Kerala.
Kerala cuisine is distinctly different from food elsewhere in India. The major difference that one can easily notice are dominance of rice as staple food and popularity of non-vegetarian dishes. Unlike other parts of India, the Kerala society do not emphasis on any religious dietary taboos or restrictions. Thus various beef and pork dishes take a key position in Kerala cuisine without any societal taboos. Seafood gets a lion's share in typical Kerala's cuisine and lavish use of coconut (in form of coconut oil, coconut milk, powder or paste) gives a distinct taste.
Food in Kerala tends to include a variety of spices and most of them are extremely fiery. Kerala also has its own fair share of famous vegetarian cuisines and normally only vegetarian foods are taken during festival days, particularly Onam
Kerala's cuisine is divided into four basic regional styles, according to ingredient availability and historical influence: Malabar, Central Travancore, Southern Travancore, and Central Kerala. Although all four styles can be found throughout the state, the food will be most authentic within each given region.
One of the favourite for any connoisseur of food would be Kerala's traditional buffet, the sadhya. It is served especially during festive occasion and normally presented upon a plaintain leaf. It generally has up to 24 items and is accompanied by various desserts and savories.
A typical sadhya consists of piping hot parboiled rice with popular Kerala vegetarian dishes like olan (a dish of pumpkin), avial (an assorted mix of all vegetables) , injipulee (a ginger & tamarind flavouring), kaalan (made of yam and yogurt), thoran (pan-fried vegetables sprinkled with grated coconut), kichiadi (roasted cucumber in yogurt), pachadi (a sweet dish made out pineapple or grapes mixed with sour yogurt), kottukari (a mixture of few vegetables like raw bananas or pumpkin or potatoes, pan fried mixed with a spicy tomato puree curry base) etc. In some sadhyas, options like potato stew, masala curry are served. The sambar (a watery all-Vegetable curry) and parippu (lentils, either mashed or curry form) along with ghee are served as the main entrée'. Normally 2 to 3 spicy pickles called as achar are served.
Other assortments include pappadam (fried Lentil-flour paper-thin bread), along with banana chips and jaggery sweet, served as main appetisers. Towards the end of sadhya, rasam (similar to mulligatawny soup made out of pepper and tomato water is served, which is good for digestion) as well as mooru or sambharam (spiced buttermilk) are served. Bananas are also taken as a final note to end the elobrate sadhya's main course. The desserts includes payasam (a sweet porridge-like, made of jaggery or sugar along with rice, cereals, fruits depending on what type of payasam) as well as boli, a sweet flour bread, which looks similar to an omelet, along with a banana and sometimes unniappam (sweet fried rice flour dumpling).
Normally sadyas are served on lunch time and normally will be pure vegetarian. Onasadhya (served on the Onam day) is the most famous, due to having more than 30 curries and an elobrate range of special payasams. Many leading hotels and restaurants now serve smaller versions of sadhya as part of a regular lunch offering. In Malabar, sometimes, fried-fish or chicken curry constitute part of the sadhya, as the Malabar sadhya does not have a vegetarian tradition.
Thalis/fixed price meals
Most of the hotels offer smaller version of sadhya called as thali (fixed or unlimited serving) as part of regular lunch. A thali normally has around 8-10 curries along with 2 pickles and pappadams and a payasam. The small hotels and regular lunch homes offer a very small and popular option called meals as a regular lunch option. A normal lunch Meal shall consist of 3 to 4 curries and 1 pickle and pappadam. Fish curry or fried fish are part of fish-meals.
Seafood is available all over Kerala and is part of regular Kerala cuisine. In regions bordering the backwaters and lakes traditional cuisine includes fresh-water fish such as karimeen (black pearlspot), prawns, shrimps, kanava (squid) and many other delicacies. Cooking styles include Pollichatu (spicy marinated fish, wrapped in banana leaf and steamed until cooked), roasted (pan stirred roasting method), deep fried as well as curry boiled. In most of the parts of Kerala, various varieties of sea fishes are extremely popular and consumed regularly in afternoon lunch mostly fried or curry or both. Another popular option is fiery hot fish curry served along with 'kappa' (tapioca) or rice. Steamed and mashed tapioca flavoured with turmeric served along with spicy fish curry or mashed chilly gravy is a favorite among Malayalees, particularly those in rural areas.
Kerala cuisine takes emphasis on non-vegetarian note, with multiple cuisine styles for almost all kind of meat. While Chicken, Duck, Beef, Mutton are the most popular among non-vegetarians, pork and lamb meat are taken as special festive cuisine. Its not uncommon to see rabbit, pigeon and quail meat based cuisine in some parts of the state. All meat are normally marinated heavily with spices before cooking. Pan stir frying (roast), deep fried and curry boiled are some of the popular cooking styles.
Kerala is very famous for its elaborate breakfast food. It has been adjourned as one of the best breakfasts in the world, partly due to its high nutritional value and low oil content . Unlike other parts of India, few non-vegetarian items are available on Kerala breakfast menus. Some of the popular breakfast items are;
Dinner traditionally used to similar to Lunch in Kerala, though instead of rice, congee or kanzhi (rice porridge) used along with spicy raw chillies and roasted pappadams. However today dinner is more like North Indian style, with chappathis and parathas dominating the main course along with some vegetable or non vegetable curries.
Breads & rice
Kerala doesn't have any indigenous wheat breads in its traditional recipes, though today most of the North Indian breads like naans and parathas are more popular options. There are also many more unique rice-flour made breads which are not often seen much outside Kerela.
Due to the lesser influence of Arab & Central Asian food on Kerala, the use of sweets is not as widespread as in North India. Kerala does not have any indigenous cold desserts, but hot/warm desserts are popular. The most popular example is undoubtedly the payasam: a preparation of milk, coconut extract, sugar, cashews and dry grapes. There are more than 18 varieties of payasam all having same base constituents and differs from others due to main ingredient. Some of the popular variants are paal payasam (made with rice grains), Ada payasam (with beaten rice flakes), Paripu payasam (made from lentils), pazham pradhamam (made from banana), gothambu payasam (made from wheat grain) or semiya (made with vermicelli).
Other popular indigenous sweets are:
Savories are extremely popular in Kerala, with fried banana chips as most preferred. Jack-fruit chips, chips made out of rice flour in various forms like achappam, kozhalappam, paka-vada, and hard balls made out of rice flour with jaggery like avilose unda are popular options.
Tap water is generally not recommended for outsiders, as the quality varies. Mineral/Bottled water is considered better choice and widely available. Soft Drinks like Colas brands, branded juices are also widely available across stores. Tender coconut water (karikku), are available in even the smallest towns. Tender coconut water is extremely popular and along with this the sweet creamy pulp is an ice-cream like cream which can be eaten.
Coffee and Tea
Coffee (kapi) and tea (chaya) are commonly available. Unlike other parts of South India, in Kerala, tea is more popular than coffee. Its virtually impossible, not to find a tea stall selling tea. The famous tea of Kerala is the Kannan Devan brand. People generally take a strong dose of tea content and some even seek for double strong. In Kerala one can find Milma (a milk brand) booth selling tea with milk and snack eateries. Coffee is more popular in urban areas particularly in Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram as a cafe drink. Popularly national brands like Cafe Coffee Day and many local cafes offer various flavours of coffees with western/oriental snacks. Kerala's own traditional cafe is Indian Coffee House, which are old-fashioned pre-1970s styled coffee shops, offering Kerala coffee along with regular Kerala foods. Coffee shops and bakeries are booming across the key cities, offering various innovative coffee flavours and traditional Kerala snacks along with lite burgers.
Kerala tops in per capita alcohol consumption in India, despite the high rate of government taxation. You'll find a bar in most hotels serving anything from 'kallu' (Kerala traditional palm toddy) to Scotch whiskey. Though alcohol consumption in public is frowned upon, the society is accommodating to drinking culture. Drinking in general, is highly associated with men and hence its uncommon to see ladies in bars etc.
One can find large number of bars are seedy, though many in urban areas are renovated to posh setting, as part of government regulation promoting bar licence only in star hotels. Government of Kerala do not allow stand-alone pubs or bars. Bars and pubs are allowed only within any 3 star ranked above hotel facility. Restaurants are not allowed to serve liquor, unless they operate within the same hotel facility having a bar licence. Sale of beer or any beverage with alcohol content, are not allowed in any retail stores. Bars are also subjected additional service and luxury taxation, as part of government strategy to curb drinking. However despite of higher costs, one can find the drinking culture on higher note. Pub culture along with discotheques, themed lounge bars and nightclubs are getting popular in major cities within 4 or 5 star hotels.
Retail sale of liquor is restricted to exclusive Government run retail network stores under Kerala State Beverage Corporations Limited (popularly known as Beverage Shop or Bevco) stores. One can buy most of liquor brands as well as beer for use in private. Ideal for budget conscious, due to comparative lower rates. However, there is usually a very large queue in front of it and you have wait a long time to get the item.
All bars and Bevco stores are closed on the 1st and 2nd day of every month, as well as on major public holidays known as Dry days. Except a very large queue on eve of such dry days, as part of stocking bottles.
Locally made palm toddy called as kallu is tempting to try, but be aware that some people become sick due to bad brews. If you do try it, make sure you stick to the license-made brew, and not local moonshine. However many local toddy shows in Alapuzha-Changaserry route, you can find a number of good toddy shops, which offers authorized toddy as well as very good tasty unique Kerala specialties like seafood, chicken, mutton and beef. Even if you don't try toddy, having food from these toddy shops is a good idea, to taste some of the best distinctive food styles.
Tobacco and Cannabis
By law, sale of loose cigars is illegal. However its quite possible to buy individual cigar of popular Indian brands from small road-side stall are available. Packets are commonly available in most of the road-side stalls as well as supermarkets, stores etc. ITC Brands like Wills, Gold flakes are key popular brands. A packet of cigarettes costs from Rs 40 to above, while individual cigars costs Rs 2 to 5.
The High Court of Kerala, banned public smoking and smoking in front of children. If caught for smoking, a fine of Rs 1000 will be imposed. If caught in purchase of loose cigars or smoking in front of children, a fine of Rs 2000 will imposed. Smoking is prohibited in bars, restaurants etc. However it depends upon the management of such bar/restaurant in tolerating smoking.
Now a days, Arabian styled hookahs are getting popular and hookah/shisha parlours selling flavored hookas are popular in major cities
Recently Kerala government imposed a blanket ban on Pan Masalas and some other cannabis, which were permitted earlier. Sale and purchase of any Pan Masala, loose or packed ones is strictly illegal and if caught, a fine of Rs 2000 will be imposed. Even possession of such is an offence.
With tourism being one of the most important source for the state's coffers, a wide of accommodation is available for tourists across the world, suiting individual tastes, cultural preferences and all options that fits everyone's pocket.
Almost all major cities have hotels ranging from tourist lodges to 5 star hotels and theme resorts. In addition to this, there are youth hostels, home-stays, travel dormitories and small lodges catering budget tourists, determining their necessity.
Kerala was one of the first states in India to pioneer the concept of Homestays and make it a successful industry, providing a much needed source of extra income to the locals, while at the same time giving travelers more than a peek at the real Kerala. Under this homestay concept, you get to stay with a family who can show you around and also help you to find what makes Kerala tick. Your accommodation and food is taken care of at a nominal cost.
You will in all probability be staying with a family whose members are well versed in English or at the least can speak decent English. All the people offering homestays are vetted by the Government and will have to register themselves as such.
Traditionally started as an option for budget tourists and backpackers, who wish to save a few pennies by avoiding hotels, today homestays also cater for hyper-rich, with large historical Tharavadus (traditional large maternal homes of upper class) converting itself into posh homestays for those wishing to stay with Kerala families in a grand way. Some homestays became almost a mini-resort. However still there are lot of budget home-stay options still available.
Majority of the home-stays are concentrated in Fort Cochin area, where traditional large colonial bungalows and Jew houses have been converted into homestays. Alleppey and Kottayam have many large homestays catering both rich and budget tourists. Kollam also its own share of home-stays, mostly traditional Portuguese bungalows as well as those owned by industrialists of the town. Recently many small-scale backpacker oriented homestays have popped up in Kannur and other Malabar towns.
The government has strict guidelines for Homestays and hence generally most of them are safe and well-maintained. These homestays range inbetween Rs 300 (6 US$) to Rs 3500 (70 US$) per night (depends upon the property and its profile)
Rs 322.50 (~US$7) and Rs 700 (~US$15) are magic numbers when you are looking for budget non-AC and AC rooms respectively. Most budget hotels in Kerala will have a room in this price. You can expect basic facilities with a bed, TV and an attached bath-room. Most of the budget hotels call themselves as Tourist lodges, Tourist Home and some as hotel and rarely star-rated. Most of the hotels near to Railway stations in cities are traditionally for budget minded guests. Kerala also have good number of Brahmin's tourist homes which provides rooms for families and couples and choose this option as they are quite safe and quiet.
For a more comfortable stay, you need to shell out above Rs 700 (~US$14) for a Non AC room or More than Rs 1,200 (~US$26) for an AC Room. This category would include many 3 star hotels. You could expect to have more spacious rooms, English proficient concierges, Airport/Railway Station Pick-Up and Drop. However if you are expecting a cheap extended stay hotel, with attached kitchenette, not much options are available in Kerala much.
Themed resorts also would fall in the category. Prepare to shell anywhere above Rs 3,000 and you could rent out a whole cottage in an idyllic location and they do come with kitchens.
Almost all 3 star and above hotels as well as resorts come under this category. Star rated hotels in India don't come cheap. If you are willing to stay in these hotels, most of them throw in a guided tour or a packaged tour as a compliment. Most five star hotels provide attached kitchenette and if you are sick of Indian food, this is an option. And most of these hotels offer only air-conditioned room and prepare to shell out Rs 5,000 and above for a night. However its ideal for middle class tourists, as they are generally very safe and provide a sound holiday option.
If you are plan to stay more than 2 weeks, its far better to look for monthly stay options, rather than hotels. Housing in Kerala is not expensive, though it may be slightly on higher side in major metros like Cochin and Trivandrum. However in most of other places, housing are cheaper, even by Indian standards.
Serviced apartments are very common in Kochi, Kottayam, Alapuzha, Thrissur, Kollam, Kozhikode, Trivandrum etc. There are popular service apartment, which offer hotel-like facilities for an extended stay, in Kochi city. In other cities, apartments owned by NRIs (Non Resident Indian who work outside India) are given to apartment companies for renting on daily and monthly basis. Thus it won't be a major problem. Most of these apartments are well furnished with Kitchenette facilities. However more facilities means higher costs and mostly such serviced apartments suits to middle class and upper class tourists.
For budget tourists, lodges are best option. In most of the places, you can find lodges or tourist homes, that offer single or double room for daily, weekly and monthly basis. Most of them have standard facilities, including attached toilets, though cheaper ones may not have TVs or personal Landlines in each room. However its a suitable option for budget tourists who wish to stay longer. There are also options of Men's hostel and Ladies hostel, where single can stay on monthly basis.
Kerala is known to be one of highly political aware society in the country and extremely proud for its strong democratic culture. The society is highly tolerant to expression and one can easily find national and international politics being discussed even in rural belts. It need not be surprised to see villagers discussing US politics in a village tea-stall. The society at large is more pro-socialist, though need not be seen as communist. Due to this, in many regions people do find critical to policies of Western countries, particularly US. In few areas where communist parties have its strongholds, particularly certain villages in Malabar, criticizing communist principles or praising US is not welcome and may result in hostility. One must be aware of local sensitivities. However the society at large encourage debates and discussions.
Visiting religious centres
Kerala is one of the places where multiple religions exist in great harmony. This is achieved by one respecting the customs and rituals of other religions. A visit to these shrines is necessary to understand the breadth of cultural influences in the state.
In some Hindu temples non-Hindus are not allowed enter the shrines. It is best to ask someone at the temple. Many are happy to let you in as long as the usual rules of the temple are observed. However, photography inside the temple is a strict no-no.
Also for male visitors at many places inside a temple, dress code is traditional mundu without a shirt - the no-shirt rule will be enforced even if the mundu rule is not. The best thing to do is to watch what others are doing and follow. You are also expected to take off your footwear outside the temple. Usually there are no locker facilities, cheap footwear is best.
For females any non-exposed dress, preferably not shirts and trousers. Tidiness and personal hygiene is very important while entering into temples. A bath at morning is required for those entering into temple. Women who are in "menses", must refrain entering into temple for 7 days after the first sign of menses. Likewise its a ritual to refrain entering into temple, if any close maternal relative dies for a period of 16 days as a token of mourning. Same, in case of birth of any newborn which prohibits maternal relatives refraining from entering the temple for a period of 11 days since the birth of the newborn.
There are exceptions to these rules. For example everybody is welcome at Adhi Shankaracharya's temple. At Shabarimala any male that has performed a set of pre-defined rituals is welcome, but females are not. Women between the ages of 10 and 50 are not allowed to enter the temple, since the story attributed to Ayyappa prohibits the entry of the women in the menstrual age group.
At a Muslim mosque females have some restrictions. Some mosques do-not allow females inside and in those which allows, ladies must dress in absolute modesty. They must wear fully covering dress and cover their head with a shawl or scarf. No photography or any electronic equipments such as Ipods, FM players or Mobiles etc are allowed inside.
At Christian churches usually men sit to the left of the aisle and women to the right. Some of the more traditional churches don't even have pews; you'll have to stand. Ladies must cover their head with a shawl or scarf during the mass.
The synagogue at Kochi is not open to non-Jews on Saturdays. And on other days, visitors need to dress with modesty. Sleeveless tops, short trousers etc are not permitted to wear while visiting synagogue.
Though Kerala is a tourist-friendly state, famed for its hospitality, there are some customs and social etiquette which should be understood if you would like to be respectful and respected as a visitor.
Keralites prefer to shake-hands only between same genders. While greeting cross genders, a Namasthe with palms folded is recommended. For all purposes use only Right hand, liking receiving anything etc. Taking left hand, is considered rude. Never touch money, books etc with legs. In event of such, while taking it, touch the right hand on your forehead and neck, while taking it. Similarly when you stamp on somebody's feet, especially elders, a similar act must be done while telling sorry.
Kerala being a tropical destination, its advisable to wear cotton light dress. Ladies are expected to dress conservatively, though its not uncommon to see them in sleeveless tops or halter-necks. Most of the ladies prefer wearing Churidar/Salwar suits, even though its not national dress of the state. Saris and Set-mundu is equally popular among ladies and those from rural belts prefer it. Men normally prefer to wear half sleeve shirts with full length trousers or Mundu. Tourists are more likely to be expected in smart causal clothing. Its not uncommon to see tourists in sleevless vests and shorts, which is indeed tolerated. However it would be adviced to dress conservatively when visiting rural places or visiting elder people or shrines.
Public nudity is strictly prohibited and not allowed in beaches. Men and ladies can opt for swim-wear in beaches. Men can go topless in evenings, as most of the men do, while ladies are not expected to do so. Most of the Keralite men prefer topless with a lungi/mundu at home in evening while ladies prefer full covering gown like nighties.
In hilly areas, one must carry a sweater or woolen shawls, as temperature drops sharply in evenings even during summer time. Its advisable to carry an umbrellas as well as caps always to counter unexpected showers and harsh tropical sun.
Though Supreme Court of India decriminalized Gay/Lesbian relationships, most of the law-enforcement agencies still considers such as an offence. However knowledge of the law, helps to advice the officials to save you from any such. Kerala society in general is critical towards LGBT and considers it as a deviant to nature. Hence public expressions of LGBT behavior is frowned upon. However one can identify several companions in many cities as well as on net.
The legal age for consensus sex is 18 above. Any attempt below the age, is considered as a serious crime and can lead to life imprisonment. Though consensus sex is legal, often police charge such as prostitution/adultery. Prostitution is illegal and punished under charges of immoral traffic which could land up in jail upto 5 years. Police often raids small cheap lodges, where such prostitution are more likely to happen, as Kerala donot have any red light district in any cities.
Kissing in front of public is strictly frowned upon, though its likely to see in Airports or Railway stations as part of send off by relatives, which is quite accepted. Same sex members embracing/hugging each other is considered normal, while between genders is not much accepted, especially in rural areas.
Emergency and assistance
Fire and public rescue
Tap water is generally safe for drinking, though tourists are advised to buy bottled water for drinking. As a tropical country, Kerala is hot and humid so drink a lot of water.
Sanitation standards as well as personal hygiene among Malayalees are very high. However most of the toilets do not have toilet paper option, hence it is advisable to carry a roll always. It is better to have bath atleast once a day, while in Kerala. This is because it is a social norm in addition to being a relief from the extreme humidity which makes a traveller sweat a lot. A bath atleast once (twice is always better)is a true remedy for this problem.
Malaria is completely eradicated and not an issue, but dengue fever, cholera and viral fever is endemic to the region. Moonsoon time is considered as one of the major epidemic season, due to wet atmosphere, providing breeding ground for various water-borne virus. The state's mosquito control measures are not effective and mosquitoes still pose a major challenge. You require good mosquito controlling repellents which need to be applied regularly or use of mosquito coil or mosquito repellent mats etc at room as well as use of mosquito nets over bed. Various Kerala's spice extracts and oils prove an effective option to control mosquitoes.
While touring during summer days, its advised to always wear a cap or have an umbrella to avoid the harshness of the tropical sun. Also wear only cotton while touring during summer. Its also advised to drink Sharbath- a local popular road-side stall drink made of lemon juice mixed with sugar syrup with slight salt and mixed with soda. This helps to control dehydration a lot.
The standard of medical care in Kerala is excellent and this is a popular destination for medical tourism (and medical research). There are many leading hospitals, speciality centres, medical institutions of excellence, clinics, combined with large Ayurvedic hospitals as well as Siddha, Unani, Naturalopathy medical practices. Many hospitals in Kerala are of international standards and provide excellent medical care. Government run clinics and hospitals are free for all but can be crowded. Private hospitals offer good treatment at comparatively low prices.
Government runs 4 types of medical care facilities
In addition, Govt runs specialized tertiary hospitals and super-specialty centers.
Both Govt and private operators also run Ayurvedic, Homeopathic and Naturalopathic community centres and clinics across Kerala.
For minor ailments, almost any private hospital or clinic found anywhere is good. Most of the private care hospitals are well equipped and have good physicians and specialists. Out-Patients are required to get appointment to avoid large ques and majority of them have pharmacies nearby.
Large super-specialty hospitals are available in major metros which are major research centres and famed for complex surgeries and treatments, thought its slightly expensive in Indian standards. Most of the hospitals in large towns and metros do accept foreign medical insurance cards, mainly issued in US, Europe and Middle East countries, apart from almost all national medical insurance covers, which needed to be check at hospital reception.
Kerala has some of the prestigious large Ayurvedic hospitals as well as super-specialty Ayurvedic Research centres, some even equipped to conduct surgeries and cancer treatments. Generally Ayurvedic healthcare centres are more expensive than Allopathic centres.
Like any other part of India, India Post operates extensively through out the state and quite reliable. India Post also operates Speed Post Services, which is a fast courier services, that have higher rates. Kerala has extensive private courier networks. Its very easy to find one such and quite reliable. However private couriers are more expensive than India Post's Speed Post (EMS) services.
Mobile Services: - If you require an Indian phone number it is strongly recommended that you get a pre-paid mobile connection. To do this you need a photocopy of your passport (including the visa and the ID pages), two color photos, and (officially) proof of local address or a sponsor like guide or tour company etc. Most star hotels allow you to use their address for this. In the event of not having address you can still get a pre-paid connection using your visa number, finger prints and in some cases providing passport size photographs.
Most of the mobile operators in India operate in Kerala, GSM as well as CDMA. Popular GSM service providers are BSNL Mobile, Vodafone, Idea Mobile, Aircel, MTS, Airtel, Tata DOCOMO, Uninor, Virgin Mobile GSM and Reliance GSM. Popular CDMA service providers are Tata Indicom, Reliance India Mobile and Virgin Mobile.
Public Telephony :- PCOs (Public Call Offices) are a good option. You will find them almost every noke and corner. These are public pay-phones (post-pay) and there will be a person on the shop to take the payments. Check your bill generated (from the billing machine) and make the payment accordingly. Payments are always in Indian rupees. Coin boxes are available everywhere where you can make local calls (within a radius of 10km from the phone).
BSNL Calling cards are available in all stores, which is a prepaid calling card, that could be used in any phone, without charging the phone user. Vodafone World Cards and Airtel Globe cards are also another good option.
Kerala leads the country in telephone density and highest internet penetration in the country. One can easily find internet cafes across the state, including in rural areas. In rural belts, internet cafes normally operates as part of local shops. rates varies according the cafes and its facilities as well as its locations. Normal rates should be around Rs 15 to Rs 25 per hour. One can find more cafes near colleges and educational institutions, where rates will be comparatively lower.
With most of mobile operators rolling out 3G networks, its pretty easy to avail high speed nets in one's own mobile device. Most of the coastal side of Kerala is covered under 3G network. However speed varies depending upon areas. Mobile networks often gets distorted in Hilly regions, due to its terrain and climatic conditions. BSNL has better coverage for hilly areas than private networks.
Tata Communications, Airtel India, Aircel have rolled out Wifi-cards which can be brought and accessed in suitable hotspots, mostly posh coffee shops, hotels as well as in malls. Most of the mid-range and posh hotels offers complimentary or paid Wifi access. Most of the low end hotels have internet cafes in its lobby and guests can avail on pay-per-use basis.
Based on Government of India's security policy, its mandatory to show a valid original ID card, to any kind of net access in internet cafes. All cafes are bound to take a photo of the user as well as photocopy of the ID Card like Passport, visa or National ID etc along with registration of valid local address and a contact number, which normally will be verified. Some cafes even take thumb impressions.
Keralites are voracious readers of newspapers. The state is known for its high literacy and its a daily habit for an average Malayali to read atleast 2 newspapers every morning, along with morning coffee. The state has largest number vernacular publications and some of the Malayalam dailies have national record in terms of subscription. The state also have many English newspapers published from the state. The major English language dailies are The Hindu, The New Indian Express, The Times of India, The Pioneer, Hindustan Times, Deccan Chronicle, Economic Times, Business Standard etc. A few American and British magazines like Forbes, Mirror etc are available in bookstalls in major cities. Popular Indian English Magazines are India Today, The Week, The Frontline etc are available commonly. One can find newspapers even in small road-side stalls. One can find complimentary newspapers available near local tea-stall/coffee booths where people sit and read in morning along with their tea. Most of the hotels provide complementary newspapers or keep copy in their lobbies.
Bookstores are commonly seen in almost everywhere. One can find them in cluster, near educational institutions. In addition, lot of private publications as well as local area based publications are seen.
One of the noteworthy factor of Kerala, is presence of community libraries across the state. The Granthashala (Library) movement, has established a series of small libraries and reading rooms across the state, even in remote interiors. However one can get mostly Malayalam based publications in these kind of community libraries. Public libraries are common features in most of the cities, where English and other language reading materials are available.
Radio & TV
Kerala has several radio services. However most of them are Malayalam services, though many as part of catering youngsters, have English programs. Most of the private FMs are primarily meant for entertainment. Key Brands are Radio Mango 91.9, Club FM 94.3 (except in Thrissur where it operates as 104.8), Red FM 93.5, Best FM 95, Radio Mirchi 98.3, Big FM 92.7.
The state has made strives in Community radio and multi-lingual social oriented programs. Community radio operates in limited frequency range, mostly operated from nearby colleges or community centers, with local informations and social development program. Many of the programs will be aired in Malayalam, Tamil, Kannada, Hindi and English. Popular community radios are Radio DC in Trivandrum, Wagamon; Radio Matooli, Gynavani, Radio Media Village etc.
The Government of India's All India Radio (AIR) operates 5 AM stations and 9 FM services across Kerala. The services will be in Malayalam prominently, with slots for Hindi and English programs.
Kerala has strong Television viewing culture. The state has 15 Television channels with nearly eight 24 dedicated News channels, apart from several local channels. Though all the services are in Malayalam, some news channels features English News slots. Cable and Direct-To-Home television connections are widespread and almost all hotels/homestays offers complimentary connection. Most of these services have foreign channels as well as most of national services. India's popular lifestyle and Travel channels like NDTV Good Times, TLC, Fox Traveller etc are popular Indian English Travel channels, ideal for tourists.