Earth : Asia : South Asia : India : Southern India : Kerala
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 great religiosity, 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 considered to be one of the safest regions of India. Incidents of local people cheating tourists are non-existent. Kerala has high standards of living compared to its neighbours and other Indian states and has social lifestyle indices such as education, healthcare etc on equal with Western countries. Therefore tourists can relax without being followed around by taxi drivers, touts, guides etc. But be prepared to put up with beggars who have migrated from poorer neighbouring states. Abundant rainfall means that you can find lush greenery pretty much throughout the year. A vacation 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 palm trees pass by, or just laze around on Kovalam or Varkala beaches. Thus tourism is more of an experiential one, than 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. The uniqueness of Kerala is that, its a state wedged between Western Ghats on eastern side and Arabian Sea on West, thus having almost every kind of topography that ranges from High altitude mountains to golden beaches with heavily criss crossed by 41 rivers and its tributaries and formation of unique backwaters and lagoons as well as well as numerous small islands.
It is believed the land was created by Lord Parasurama (an incarnation of Lord Vishnu) and hence also known as Parasuramakshetram (The temple of Parasurama).
Kerala is one of the few places in India that was not subject to direct British rule. Large parts, including the 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 to Kozhikode in Kerala, and this marked the first 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 Portugese Empire and French problems in Europe, resulted in the British gaining the full influence in country, and the annexation of the Malabar Kingdom 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 ascend into the Indian Union, and on November 1st 1956, Malabar joined the United States of Travancore-Kochi, to form the State of Kerala. 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 Kerala Day (recently renamed 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 in 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 38°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 2000 years, and today a minority of Jews live around Kochi, although there was a mass migration to Israel in 1950s.
Due to its strong socialist values and history of several communist movements, the state has a considerable people following Atheism.
Hindus constitute about 60% of the population, and Muslims and Christians account for about 20% each. Communal and sectarian tensions are minimal
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. The Malayalee culture is Matriarchal, thus women enjoy special status in the society.
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 Youth 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 to 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. Thrissur is the hub of Kerala drama, with many theatres hosting regular showss. 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 Ernakulam (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 lead by the Communist Party called LDF (Left Democrats), and other lead by 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 LDF under the leadership of VS Achuthandan, who is the State Chief Minister.
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 Hindi and 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 'broken' Hindi. As Malayalam is similar to Tamil, locals may understand spoken Tamil with some difficulty. 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. Most 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 Hindi, Malayalam and English. Highway signs are normally in Malayalam, Hindi and English. Most Kerala Government offices use only Malayalam signage and most Kerala Govt documents such as receipts and bills are only in Malayalam.
There are three airports in Kerala, with flights to domestic and international destinations: Kozhikode, Kochi(Nedumbassery) and Thiruvananthapuram. The airports have several carriers operating international flights around the world.
Kochi International Airport (COK) is the largest airport with regular flight connections to most of the Middle East Southeast Asia. Europe and US bound passengers need to transit in the Middle East or Mumbai. Regular charter flights from London, New York and Moscow operate to Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram.
Thiruvananthapuram International Airport (TRV) has regular connections to most of parts of India, as well as to the Middle East and elsewhere in Asia .
Kozhikode International Airport (CCJ) is a new airport with limited international connects others than to the Middle East.
There are 20 to 25 international carriers offering flights to Kerala. Apart from international carriers, Air India, Jet Airways, Kingfisher offers international connections from Kochi. Domestic destinations accessible by direct flights from these airports include Chennai, Bangalore, Mumbai, Agatti, Hyderabad,Mangalore,Goa and Delhi. There are daily, some bi-daily flights to most of the Indian cities from airports in Kochi and Trivandrum.
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 Ernakulam, and are usually heavily booked. Buy your tickets as early as possible. Another option is using Tatkal. You pay double, but have a chance of getting a seat. Tatkal is an emergency service, hence its booking is open just 48 hours before departure. Some travel agents have authorized 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:
Most of the NH roads are dual carriageways. 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 a large international cruise terminal is under construction. Once completed, regular cruises will be operated from Kochi. A regular luxury Cruise between Colombo, Male and Kochi is now operational. Some private players have regular cruises from Mumbai and Goa to Kochi, included in their package. All Lakshadweep bound cruises originate in Kochi and make return trips.
Also private yachts and other sea going boats regularly call at Kochi.
Kerala is quite well connected with all modes of transport. The flat southern side is better connected than mountainous north.
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 Kochi, Trivandrum, Palakkad, Alapuzha, Kollam, Kottayam, Kozhikode, Kannur and Thrissur. The main Intercity trains are:
Note: 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.
Roads remain the primary popular options. Almost each nook and corner of the state is connected by road. The primary roads are NH 47, NH 49, NH 17 and NH 212 which all National Highways. The NH 47 is one of most busiest as it connects Kochi and Trivandrum. The traditional primary road is MC Road, which covers on the most scenic places in south Kerala. However NH 47 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 most of roads. Some of the wettest areas like Alleppey, Kottayam, Iddukki etc have extremely damaged roads.
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;
KSRTC brands SF and LF as Malabar for all North Kerala services and Venad for all South Kerala services.
Apart from above services, air-conditioned buses also operate, mainly between metros and cities, known as Garuda and Hi-tech Services, where premium Volvo buses are used. Minimum fares starts from Rs 50 with 75 paise to Rs 1 for every Km, depending upon bus type.
While KSRTC has different liveries for each of class of service (Red for Ordinary, Green for FP, Blue-White for SF and LF), private operators has no uniform liveries and paint according to their choice. Check at route board, to know the class of service. 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. Most of the buses are crowded and must beware of pick-pockets.
Taxis are a good but expensive way to cover short distances. Negotiate the price before you get into the taxi. Ambassador/Indica Taxis are the big players. Ambassador Taxis are rarely air-conditioned and are most commonly used in Trivandrum. Indica is more common in Ernakulam, Thrissur and Kottayam areas. Most of the Indica taxis are air-conditioned. Normal rate is 50 Rs as minimum rate for 2 Kms and 20 Rs per Km later. A/C cabs charge normally 10 to 15% more. In Cochin, Trivandrum, day cabs are available that charge 450 Rs for 4 hour trip anywhere within City limits or 850 Rs for 8 hour trip within city limits. Most these will be Indica.
Jeeps and 4 wheel SUVs are the most common form of taxi in hilly areas.
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 , to avoid unecessary arguments at the end of the trip. Most of the larger railway stations and all the airports 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.
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
In addition to this, the National Waterway- NW 3 has formally opened, which runs from Kollam in south Kerala to Kottapuram in Thrissur district, which shall be served large boats. The final touches to this waterway is underway and scheduled to open mid of this year.
Helicopter and Air-taxi services are available between Kochi and Trivandrum and can used to connect these two major metros with District Headquarters. However its a very expensive option.
There is no Intra-City Train/Metro services now in any Kerala city, though Kochi is going to start a Metro Service soon, likewise Trivandrum is proposing a Skybus and Rapid BRT option. A proposal for Intra City Rail for Kochi is also proposed. Dedicated Inter-city Rail called MEMU will start within October 2010 between Kochi and Kollam.
Due to its unique geography, Kerala gets rain for at least 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:
Lots of adventure activities like para gliding/ para sailing etc. are arranged in this beach regularly.
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 authorized money changers or nationalized banks upto 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, South Indian Bank, Catholic Syrian Bank, SBT 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 500 (US$ 10) 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 1400- Rs 2000 (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 4000 (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. Kerala, recently launched Grand Kerala Shopping Festival (GKSF) which starts from November last week for a period of 41 days, to position Kerala as a shopping destination. The festival takes place across Kerala and participating outlet offers amazing discounts, apart from attractive draws and scratch & win instant prizes.
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 including beef and pork which are normally taboo elsewhere in India. 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 the sadhya (Kerala's traditional buffet) served especially during festive occasion on a plaintain leaf. It generally has up to 24 items served in it along with various desserts and savories. The snap shown is just a sample sadhya.
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 flavoring), 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 etc, pan fried mixed with a spicy tomato puree curry base) etc. In some sadhyas, options like Potato Stew, Masala curry etc 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 bread), along with Banana chips and Jaggery Sweet, served as main appetizers. 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 look 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 more curries (more than 30 curries) and elobrate range of special payasams. Many leading hotels and restaurants now serve smaller versions of sadhya are part of regular lunch venue. In Malabar side, sometimes, fried-fish or chicken curry constitute part of the sadhya, considering the tradition of having non-veg as part of Malabar sadhya.
Most of the hotels offer smaller version of sadhya called as Thali (Fixed or unlimited serving) as part of regular lunch. A thali normally have around 8 to 10 curries along with 2 pickles and pappadams and offer 1 payasam. The small hotels and regular lunch homes offers a very small version called as Meals as regular lunch option, which is common and popular option in any part of Kerala. 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.
Sea-food 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 like Karimeen (Black Pearlspot), Prawns, Shrimps, Kanava (Squid) and many other delicacies. In most of the parts of Kerala, various varieties of sea fishes are extremely popular and consumed regularly in afternoon lunch. Another popular option is fiery hot fish curry served along with 'Kappa'[Tapioca] or rice. Steamed and Mashed Tapioca flavored with turmeric served along with spicy Fish Curry or Mashed Chilly gravy is hot favorite among Malayalees, particularly those in rural areas.
Kerala is very famous for its elobrate breakfast food. It has been adjourned as one of the best breakfasts in the world in several tourism meets, considering its higher nutrition value and less oily food. Unlike other parts of India, few non-veg items are on popular list of Kerala breakfast menu. 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, Parathas etc are more popular options. However Kerala has many unique rice-flour made breads, which is not seen much outside.
Due to limited 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, dry grapes, etc. 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)etc.
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, hard balls made out of rice flour with jaggery like Avilose Unda etc are some of the popular options.
With tourism being one of the most important source for the state's coffers, a wide of accomodation 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(~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 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 700 Indian Rupees(~14 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, not much options are available in Kerala much.
Themed resorts also would fall in the category. Prepare to shell anywhere above Rs 3000 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 5000 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.
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. 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.
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 must be rigoursly followed, that helps you to earn respect in the society.
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 centers, 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 and not the best option for visitors. Private hospitals offer good treatment at comparatively low prices.
Government runs 4 types of medical care facilities
Both Govt and private operators also run Ayurvedic, Homeopathic and Naturalopathic community centers 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 centers 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 centers, some even equipped to conduct surgeries and cancer treatments. Generally Ayurvedic healthcare centers are more expensive than Allopathic centers.