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Kerala

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Kerala [1] is a state in Southern India, famous for its culture, spices, beaches and backwaters. It is also one of the most literate and prosperous states in India. Keralalites call their state "God's own country" and it is blessed with tropical forests, a fertile coastal plain, fishing, tourism and a relatively stable political situation.

Myth has it that Kerala was created by Parasurama (an avatar of God) when he tossed his axe dripping with the blood of his mother, over the Western Ghats Mountain into the sea. He was asked to decapatitate his own mother by his father over an allegation of adultery. Parasurama chopped of his mother's head and this pleased his father so much that he granted him any wish he wants. He asked for his mother to be put back to life and it was granted. However Parasurama felt so bad after this that he tossed his favorite weapon to the sea and renounced violence once and for all. However the sea which is depicted as a Goddess didn't want to receive the spooky axe and receded creating the land of Kerala.


A typical houseboat floating down the backwaters near Alleppey in Kerala

Districts

Cities

  • Thiruvananthapuram also known as Trivandrum, the capital of Kerala
  • Kochi divided into Ft Cochin and Ernakulam, and is the financial capital of Kerala
  • Kozhikode also known as Calicut, It is the place where Vasco da Gamma landed for the first time in India
  • Thrissur also known as Trichur and the cultural capital of Kerala
  • Kannur also known as Cannanore -The land of lores and looms

Other destinations

Understand

Kerala is one of the few places in India that was not under direct British rule. Parts of Kerala, The Thiruvithankoor region were ruled by local kings during British rule in India. People lived the same way they lived for the past 2000 years and much of its rich culture and heritage is well preserved. It has Hindus from time immemorial, Christianity, believed to have been brought over by St. Thomas, Christ's disciple, and Judaism were there for a couple thousand years and as well as a strong Muslim culture in the North of Kerala. The local dialects of Malayalam, the cuisine, the ethnic cloths all reflect this diversity.

One thing that separates Kerala from the rest of India (perhaps West Bengal may share the same) is that people here are very politically active. Trade Unions in Kerala would put the British or French Unionists to shame. Marxism and Communism have flourished in Kerala since 19th century. However the Communism in Kerala perfectly blends with Democratic ideals of India at large. Kerala had the world's first elected Communist leader of a state.

Kerala has a sizable majority of atheists due to strong Marxist influence. Irrespective of religion, people are a little less religious when compared to other cultures in India and communal and sectarian tensions are less.

The state has an area of 38,864 km2 and is home to 33 million people. The languages of the state include Malayalam, English, Tamil, Kannada, and Hindi.

Onam

Onam is the national festival of Kerala. It is celebrated is during the month of August-September. The festival cherishes the memory of the legendary King Mahabali and his prosperous reign during which, perfect communal harmony and prosperity prevailed. It was a glorious period and people were happy. The King Mahabali's popularity was at its height and led to the envy of the Gods. This golden age ended when Vamana, the dwarf incarnation of Vishnu expelled him from his throne to the neitherlands. But Mahabali was allowed to visit his dear subjects once in a year.

He visits his dear Kingdom during the first Malayalam month of Chingam an occasion that fills the whole state with joy and merriment.

Onam is also the harvest season. Nature is divinely beautiful and Kerala becomes lush green with the spring season. Flowers bloom in plenty and butterflies bring a rainbow of colour. The people decorating their houses with `Onapookalam´ or floral arrangements on floor to welcome Mahabali. A grand lunch with 21 curries and three types of sweet porridges or `payasam´ are prepared and enjoyed with fervour. Songs in praise of Mahabali and his golden reign are sung along with kaikottikali – danced by maidens in the household. Onam is is celebrated in ten day long festivities.

People

  • Most parts of Kerala are densely populated. In fact, it stands third in the entire country in this regard, with West Bengal topping the list. People speak different languages and follow different religions like the rest of India. However compared to other parts of India, there is less Communal and Sectarian tension. Having said that, at any given day there could be violent fights between political parties somewhere in Kerala. People are more political than religious and a sizable chunk of people are atheists but politically active.

Weather

  • Kerala has four seasons as against three for the rest of India. The Summer, Monsoon, Spring and Winter. March to Second half of May would be summer. Its very hot and isn't the best time to visit. Mid of May to Mid of October would be called the Monsoon or Rainy Season. Sometime during Mid of August to End of September would be the Spring Season or 'Onam Season'. This would be the ideal time to visit Kerala with Onam related festivals all over Kerala. Onam by the way is a festival that's celebrated all over Kerala by all sects of people. Mid of October to say Mid of February would be the winter of Kerala.
  • When in Kerala, carry an umbrella no matter what time of the year it is. You may get flash rains that may leave you drenched in a summer afternoon, and bear in mind that Kerala sun can be unforgiving in the summer months.

Government

  • Kerala is a state in the Union of India. The state has a cabinet of ministers headed by the Chief Minister. A Governor appointed by the Central Government of India oversees the State Government. Kerala's governing body is called the Legislative Assembly and the law makers are called Members of Legislative Assemblies. MLA's in short.
  • The State of Kerala is divided into 14 districts and the districts are further divided into Taluks. Each district has a Central Government of India appointed District Collector to oversee the government activities. Each Taluk is headed by a Thasildhar. Again a Taluk is divided into Villages, which are the smallest revenue division.

Economy

  • Kerala's Growth rates are 9.2% in 2004–2005 and 7.4% in fiscal year 2003–2004.
  • At least one person, usually a wage-earner would be working somewhere outside Kerala, typically the Middle East. Most youngsters used to leave Kerala to western countries or other places in search of work. Their remittances make up for around 20% percentage of the economy.
  • During recent years, Kerala is undergoing an image make over. There is a growing IT and ITES industry which in turn booms the construction industry in big cities.
  • Tourism is now a booming industry in Kerala and is one of the premier tourist destinations in the world.

Why should you visit

  • Kerala is wedged between the Arabian Sea and the Western Ghats Mountain range. The terrain is mostly hilly. The sun, the sand, the back water lagoons, the mountains and the culture is a unique combination that you won't find anywhere else.
  • Due to its unique geography, Kerala gets rains for at least 8 months of an year and the forests are classified as 'rain forests' a la Amazon. You'll be spoiled by the number of opportunities to trek, camp, see wild life and live the Tarzan.
  • There are many back-water lakes along the coast making it an ideal location for water sports. Time your arrival for the 'Vallam kali', annual boat race.
  • Take a trip in the Water Routes of Alappuzha, the Venice of the East

Talk

The people of Kerala speak Malayalam (a palindrome when written in English). However, most of the people speak and understand English. Most bus routes and other important signs are written in English.

Towards the east of Kerala(especially in Palakkad), there is a sizable population of Tamil speaking people, greatly enriching Kerala's culture. Also towards North, some communities speak Kannada and Tulu.

Get in

By plane

There are three airports in Kerala. The airports at Kozhikode, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram are international airports. The international airports have several carriers operating from Singapore, Colombo, Male, Muscat, Bahrain, Kuwait, Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Also Kerala could be reached through the major air-transport hubs in India, Chennai, Mumbai and Delhi and sometimes that would be cheaper than flying directly to airports in Kerala. Some Airlines based in India are Kingfisher Airlines, Air India, Air India Express, Alliance Air, Indian (formerly known as "Indian Airlines"), Jet Airways, Sahara Airlines

By train

Indian Railways [2] operates several trains to and from (and within) Kerala. Trains into Kerala start from all the neighbouring states like Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, etc.

Log on to the Indian Railways booking site to book tickets online or you can walk up to any railway station to book tickets between any two destinations in India.

Be aware that trains are the most popular method of transport and almost all trains in Kerala originate or terminate in Thiruvananthapuram and are usually heavily booked. Buy your tickets as early as possible.

By bus

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.

Get around

Trains, buses and taxis provide the easiest way to get around Kerala. Trains are good for long distance travel, say from the north to the south.

Taxis are good but expensive way to get around for short distances. Do negotiate the price before you get into the taxi.

Buses are good for very short travel. Both government and private buses travel between and within cities. Buses within cities are very crowded and if you travel on them, please take care of your belongings (wallet, passport) as pickpockets are not rare.

Auto-rickshaws are another convenient mode of transport for very short travel - not too expensive and fast. By law the auto driver has to start a meter for every journey. However this is rarely done except in Kozhikode. The best way not to get tricked would be to ask a helpful Samaritan how much it would cost to your destination and check it up with your driver before you get into the auto.

See

Itineraries

Three weeks in Kerala, see some of the highlights that Kerala has to offer: experience the bustling Kochi (Cochin), relax in the Backwaters, hike in the mountains and enjoy the beaches.

Do

Kerala is one of the few places which caters to all kinds of tourists. It has hill stations, virgin beaches, lazy backwaters, rain forests, historical and cultural destinations.

Eat

Kerala cuisine is never complete without sea food and coconut. Almost every dish will have coconut paste in it.The oil used for cooking is also coconut oil. Unlike rest of India , beef is also popular in Kerala. It is always best to stick to sea food as it is been rated as one of the best.

One of the favourite for any connoisseur of food would be the sadhya served especially during festive occasion in a plaintain leaf.
Onam Sadhya
It can have up to 24 items served in it. The snap shown is just a sample sadhya. It usually have oolan( a dish of pumpkin), avial(an assorted mix of all vegetable) , injipulee (ginger & tamarind), kaalan (made of yam and yogurt), thoran (deep fried beans sprinkled with grated coconut) etc.

Drink

  • Water is usually safe to drink, but mineral water is available at almost all shops and is the safest bet.
  • Fruit juices, tender coconut water, coffee and tea are available in even the smallest towns.
  • Alcohol. 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' to Scotch Whisky. Alcohol consumption in public is frowned upon.
  • Locally made toddy is tempting to try, but be aware that some people become sick due to bad Brews.

Sleep

Kerala was one of the first states in India to pioneer the concept of Homestay 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. Lots of them are ex-servicemen.

And it is always advisable to have someone who knows Kerala (mentality, geography, politics..) with you. Kerala is a beautiful state, but strikes and other bandhs are quite frequent. Situation in Kerala has improved a lot compared to even 5 years back, but it could be better.


Budget

Rs 322.50(~7 US$) and Rs 700(~15 US$) 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 could expect basic facilities with a bed, T.V and an attached bath-room. There could be an attached restaurant(Not the norm) catering mostly South Indian Cuisine.

Medium

For a little more comfortable stay, you need to shell out above 500 Indian Rupees(~11 US$) for a Non AC room or More than 1200(~26 US$) 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, India is the wrong place to be in. Only 5 star hotels and resort cottages provide extended stay facilities.

If you are in one of those yet to develop tourist spots like Munnar, you would find hotels only in this range.

Themed resorts also would fall in the category. Prepare to shell anywhere above Rs 2000 and you could rent out a whole cottage in an idyllic location and they do come with kitchens.

Splurge

Five Star hotels in India don't come cheap. If you are willing to stay in these hotels, most of them would 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. However be prepared to shell out more than 300 US$(The five star hotels usually have their tariff in US$ so its easy on the eye. i.e $300 looks better then 10000 INR)

House Boats in the South of Kerala would charge you on a similar tariff to Five Star Hotels.

The crime rate is low in Kerala and people are very friendly.

Respect

Visiting Religious Centers

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.

There are exceptions to these rules, example everybody is welcome at Adhi Shankaracharya's temple. At Shabarimala any male who have done the prerequisite rituals are welcome, but females are not.

At a Muslim mosque females have some restrictions.

At Christian churches usually males should be at left side of aisle and females on right side.

The synagogue at Kochi is not open to non Jews on Saturdays.

Get out

This is a usable article. It gives a good overview of the region, its sights, and how to get in, as well as links to the main destinations, whose articles are similarly well developed. An adventurous person could use this article, but please plunge forward and help it grow!




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