The blurbs describe it as God-made country. The environmentalists find their echo here. The surfers and the sunbathers rave about it as an exotic paradise. The Yoga-buffs find it extraordinarily tranquil and peaceful. It is a pilgrim's progress. Indeed, variety is the spice of life here.
Befitting all these eulogies and many more, is Kerala, the Emerald Land, a narrow fertile coastal strip between the high- ranges of the western ghats and the Arabian Sea. Endowed generously by nature, this tropical paradise boasts of as many as forty four rives, lakes, virgin forests, backwaters, lagoons and some spectacular stretches of beaches. When the south-west monsoon breaks over Kerala in all its fury, the highlands are covered by mist and present a breathtakingly beautiful view of the tea, rubber and coffee estates. And swaying enticingly in the gentle breeze are the pepper creepers which have all through history brought sea- traders and fame to this legendary land.
According to legend, Parasurama, one of the ten in- carnations of Lord Vishnu, threw his Parasu (axe) into the sea to wash away the sin com- mitted by him in slaying Kshatriyas. The sea receded at the place where the axe fell and created the land mass - Kerala.
Kerala's history has, explicably, entwined itself to the pepper vines and areca nut trees. It was the Arabs who discovered the monsoon winds carrying the aroma of the spices. Thus, Islam sailed into India through Kerala on gentle wings much before the marauders invaded North India with unsheathed swords. And even before Vasco-da Gama set foot on her shores in 1498 A.D., Kerala had been a happy hunting ground for the Egyptians, Chinese, Phoenicians and the Babylonians. In the early 17th century, the Dutch, the French and the English too were lured to Kerala by her wealth of ivory, teak and spices and formed alliances with the local kingdoms to protect their trade interests. In the ensuing struggle for supremacy, the British emerged winners and Malabar and Cochin became a part of British India.
Malabar, Cochin and Travancore were reorganized in 1956 to form the present. day Kerala. Both Travancore and Cochin were princely states ruled by enlightened Maharajahs. They ruled with a commitment to improve the lot of their people through providing education and basic facilities and had also introduced some revolutionary land reforms even a century ago. Kerala has continued these legacies. It has the highest literacy rate in the entire country, has a relatively low infant mortality and is a pioneer in land and labour reforms. Malayalam is the official language.
Kerala is also unique in several aspects. It is a happy abode of Hinduism, Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Bhakti movement of the 9th century witnessed the renaissance of Hinduism under the great Advaita (Monotheist) philosopher Sri Adi Shankara, and inspired the construction of many beautiful Hindu temples. St. Thomas, the Apostle landed at Malankara in 52 A.D and established 7 churches at different parts of the state. The Syrian liturgy followed by his disciples lost its importance as a result of the Latin liturgy introduced by the Portuguese in the churches, Protestantism made its entry into the land through the Dutch and the British. The Jewish Synagogues and the mosques also speak eloquently of Kerala's harmonious religious spirit.
Kathakali, an ancient dance form, is the embodiment of the divine spirit of Kerala. With elaborate make-up, lavish costumes, highly colourful and exotic masks, this all-night pantomime show is a visual treat. Depicting stories from the epics through vigorous dance and sonorous music, it transports/the audience to the primeval world. Mohiniattam, also born in Kerala, is a lyrical and sensuous dance associated with Mohini, the enchantress of the Hindu mythology.
Kerala has a lot to offer to the tourist. It will therefore be advisable to select a city as your base and cover all the nearby places conveniently. To start with:-
Full day & Half day local sightseeing conducted by KTDC.
Trivandrum which is also known as Thiruvanan- thapuram is the capital of Kerala and is a sea-side city built on seven hills. It was also the capital of the erstwhile Travancore state under the reign of Raja Marthanda Varma and has retained its magical ambience. The city is at its best during the annual festivals held in the Padmana- bhaswamy temple in the months of March-April and also in Sept-Oct.
Most of the services and places of interest are on or close to M.G. Road, the main road of the city. The railway station, long distance bus station, tourist reception centre and budget hotels are all close to each other.
Sri Padmanabha Swamy Temple: This renowned temple is in the heart of the city. Only Hindus are allowed in- side the temple. Built in the Dravidian style with a magnificent seven-tiered tower, it is an eye-catching land mark of the city.
Napier Museum: Houses an attractive range of exhibits including ancient musical instruments, bronzes, stone sculptures, ivory carvings etc.
A model of the typical Nair joint family dwelling can also be seen here. (Nair is a caste in Kerala).
Sri Chitra Art Gallery: Is attached to the museum. Contains paintings of Ravi Varma, a royal scion of Kerala and has also the highly evocative paintings of the Roerichs, the father and the son. There are also canvasses of some other countries of Asia.
Zoological Gardens: Set in sylvan surroundings, it is acclaimed as one of the best zoos of the country. Has an interesting collection of rep- tiles.
Veli: This is a lake situated at a distance of 3 kms from the airport. It is noted for its scenic beauty and quiet atmosphere. There is also provision for boating.
The Thiruvananthapuram city tour is available daily. Additionally, there are tours to Kanyakumari, Ponmudi, and Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary.
How to get to
Indian Airlines has a net work of flights to and from Thiruvananthapuram connecting all the major metropolitan cities of India. Air-India also operates Gulf flights to and from Trivananthapuram. One can travel to Male, Colombo and Lakshadweep Islands on Indian Airlines flights.
Thiruvananthapuram is linked by rail to places within Kerala as also Chennai, Bangalore, New Delhi, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Rajkot and Mangalore.
By road, long distance buses run between Thiruva- nanthapuram and Chennai, Mysore, Mangalore, Nagercoil, Bangalore etc. Video coaches run between these cities but equip yourself with a pair of ear-clogs!
Thiruvananthapuram is at a distance of 790 kms from Chennai and Kanyakumari is only 87 kms away.
Places in the vicinity:
Kovalam : At a distance of 18 kms from Thiruvanan- thapuram is the fabulous stretch of beach called Kovalam. Consisting of small Palm-ringed bays separated by rocks, it presents a spectacular scenic beauty. The waters offer a good swim though one has to be beware of strong currents in the bay.
A visit to the nearby fishing village offers the tourist an in- sight into the tranquil life style of the people.
Taxi services and local buses are available to visit Kovalam.
How to get there:
Bus: "City buses" connect Kovalam with Thiruvanan- thapuram at least 25 times a day. Besides Kovalam is directly connected with Ernakulam, Kanyakumari, Thekkady and Kollam.
Antvikara: This picnic spot on the shores of an artificial lake is at a distance of 16 kms from Trivandrum. Amidst enchanting scenery is a small temple on the banks of the Karmana river which is the source of this lake.
Neyyar Dam: Yet another picnic spot. 30 kms from Trivandrum. Boating facility is available. The nearby Kallipara hills offer trekking facilities.
Ponmudi: Ponmudi which is 61 kms north-east of Trivandrum is a small hill station situated at an altitude of 912 metres (3000 feet). It is a health resort as well as a holiday resort.
Ponmudi is amidst tea and rubber plantations. Tourists can stay at the sanitarium.
Padmanabhapuram Palace: Padmanabhapuram is at a distance of 55 kms south of Trivandrum but is now a part of Tamilnadu. The palace set amidst a wildly beautiful locale is the epitome of the Kerala style of architecture. This was the seat of the erstwhile Travancore Maharajahs and contains many old relics of historical and artistic value including some murals. But what strikes the eye is the aesthetic and traditional architecture using wood and black polished floors. The Council chamber, the Mother palace, the Dance Hall and the corridors fascinate the visitors.
Varkala: A pilgrimage centre dedicated to Lord Vishnu, it is also a sea- side resort with mineral water springs on the beach.
Varkala is at a distance of 54 kms from Trivandrum and is only 19 kms away from Quilon on the Trivandrum-Quilon route.
Quilon is a 9th century city built on the edge of Ashtamudi lake and is situated at a distance of about 75 kms from Trivandrum. Surrounded by cashew and coconut groves, Quilon is the gateway to the spectacular backwaters of Kerala. A boat trip to Alleppy through these placid stretches of water filled with lotus and lilies and the water-birds flap- ping their wings as though to greet you is an out of the world experience. The journey through these backwaters also provides an insight into the lives of the people for whom water is an inseparable part of life. People belonging to all faiths co- exist in a harmony befitting the" tranquility of Nature.
Thangassery about 5 kms away from Quilon is the site of the ruins of an old fort built by the Portuguese and later acquired by the Dutch.
Cantilevered Chinese fishing nets are in extensive use in the waterways and add the right touch of colour to the scenery.
How to get there:
Bus: Buses connect Quilon (Kollam) with Alappuzha, Kochi, Trivandrum, etc.
Train: Trains connect Kollam with Trivandrum, Madras, Bombay, Kanyakumari, Mangalore, Madurai, etc.
Boat: Trips to Alappuzha, Guhanandapuram, Muthira- puram, Amritap'uri, etc.
At Alleppey, the bus station and the boat jetty are close to each other on the camal.
The main attraction of this town is the snake boat race conducted annually on the second Saturday of August. On this day scores of long low- slung dug-outs with highly decorated stems and upto 100 rowers compete for the Nehru cup. Thousands of spectators watch this most colourful and fantastic event.
Hindu tourists can visit a temple located in front of the India Coffee House to see the elaborate wooden carvings.
Alleppey is noted for its coir-products,
How to get there:
Bus: Buses connect Alleppey with Kollam, Trivandrum, Ernakulam, Cannanore, Kozhikode, Palakkad, etc.
Train: The new broad-gauge line connects Alleppey with Ernakulam.
Boat: Boats make trips to Kollam, Kottayam, Changanacherry and Cochin.
Kottayam is situated on the foothills of the scenic western ghats having rubber, tea, pep- per and cardamom plantations. The delightful backwaters are to the west of city. There is a regular ferry service between Kottayam and Alleppey.
The Syrian Christians have built a number of churches here. The two noted churches are Cheria Palli and Valia Palli which are 5 kms from the rail- way station.
How to get there:
Bus: Kottayam is connected by bus with Trivandrum, Kol- lam, Kochi, Thekkady, Periyar, Madurai, etc.
Train: Express trains connect Kottayam with Trivandrum and Kochi.
Boat: Boats make daily trip to Alleppey.
Idukki: Idukki literally means a narrow gorge. The presence of streams, valleys and hills have enhanced the beauty of the place. An arch dam has been constructed across the Periyar river between two granite hills known as Kuruvan and Kurathi. Legend has it that Kuruvan and Kurathi were a tribal couple who turned into rocks on being cursed by Rama.
Idukki is 100 kms away from Cochin. It has the biggest hydro-electric project of the state.
Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary Thekkady: This is one of the finest wild life sanctuaries of the country. Cruising across the man-made Periyar Lake, one can watch the gay abandon of the wild elephants at the water' s edge. If one is lucky, a tiger or a sloth bear can also be spotted; Sambar and deer also show up regularly. A variety of birds like Darters, blue-winged Parakeets, Egrets, Herons & Babblers seek refuge in Thekkady.
The best time to watch the wildlife in action is either dawn or dusk. And the best season to visit the sanctuary is between Nov-June.
Kottayam (150 kms) and Madurai (144 kms) are the nearest cities by road. Kerala State Transport buses ply to Thekkady from Trivandrum and Ernakulam. From Madurai, Tamilnadu Road Transport buses run trips to Thekkady.
Tourists are advised to equip themselves with warm clothing, depending upon the season as the altitude here varies between 914 metres and 1828 metres above sea level.
Munnar : Munnar meaning 'three rivers' is situated at the confluence of three mountain streams and is a delightful, small hill station. Far from the madding crowd, it offers an ideal retreat.
Cochin or Kochi is the largest city in Kerala with a population of 5.5 lakhs. An all weather harbour, Cochin is an important centre for commerce and industry. It has a maritime history that began in the remote past. The Portuguese, the Dutch and the English had established them- selves here at one time or the other. In fact the Cochin fort was built by the Portuguese with the permission of the native ruler.
Cochin consists of main- land Ernakulam, Willingdon island, Fort Cochin Mattancherry peninsula, Bolgatty Gundu and Vypeen islands.
Cochin can be reached either by plane or by road or by train (All trains from Trivandrum to Delhi, Bombay, Chennai, Bangalore and Mangalore pass through Ernakulam). Cochin is 67 kms from Kottayam and 63 kms along the coast from Alleppey.
The KTDC conducts daily boat cruises around Kochi harbour. There is also a daily Kochi sunset cruise.
Kerala State Tourism Development Corporation has 2 conducted tours that touch upon both old and new Cochin.
Govt. of India Tourist office, Willingdon Island, Cochin - 682009. Ph: 668352
Information on Lakshadweep at Cochin: 'Sports' Lakshadweep Tourism, Indira Gandhi Road, Willington Island, Cochin-682 003. Tel: 666821.
What to see:
St. Francis Church: This Protestant church was built by the Portuguese circa 1510 AD. and is also the oldest church built by the Europeans in India. Vasco-da-Gama's gravestone is located here though his mortal remains were taken back to Portugal several years later. Originally the church was built of wood. Later it was demolished and rebuilt in stone probably after 150 years. The Dutch and the English were also masters of the church during their occupation of Cochin. It is now a part of the Church of South India.
Cochin Fort: This fort was built by the Portuguese in 1503 AD. and is at the entrance to the port. The spidery Chinese nets at the entrance to the harbour, forming a silhouette against the sky create an ethereal picture.
Santa Cruz Church: This cathedral was also built by the Portuguese in the 16th century. Strangely enough it was blown up by the English in 1795 AD. in their anxiety to prevent the Dutch from occupying it. It was renovated subsequently.
Bolgatty island: This picturesque island has a palace built by the Dutch in 1744 AD. which is now run as a hotel by the Kerala Tourism Development Corporation.
Jewish Synagogue: This magnificent prayer hall was constructed in 1568 AD. and is the oldest Synagogue in the Commonwealth. The original building was destroyed in 1662 AD. due to shelling by the Portuguese. It was rebuilt a few years later.
There are hand painted tiles imported from China in the middle of the 18th century by a businessman named Ezekial Rahabi who has erected a clock tower at the top of the building. Scrolls of old testament are preserved here We can also see the copper plates inscribed in ancient Hebrew script granting a village Anjuvannam to a Jewish merchant by Ravi Varma I.
The Synagogue is open from 10 a.m to 12 noon and 3pm to 5 p.m except on Saturdays and Jewish holidays. There is no entrance fee.
Dutch Palace, Mattan-cherry: This palace was actually built by the Portuguese in 1557 AD. and gifted to Veera Kerala Varman, the then ruler of Cochin, probably to seek trading favours. However the Dutch undertook the renovation of this two storeyed quadrangular building after 1663 AD. Since then it is being referred to as the Dutch Palace. It is also known as Mattancherry Palace by virtue of its locality.
The coronation of the kings used to take place in the central courtyard of the palace. Some of the royal possessions such as dresses, turbans and palanquins are displayed here. The most attractive aspect of the palace is the extensive range of murals depicting scenes from the Hindu epics in the bed- chambers and other apartments.
The palace is open Monday through Saturday from 8.30 a.m. to 12.30 p.m. and again from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Places of interest in the vicinity:
Alwaye: This industrial town is at a distance of 23 kms from Ernakulam. The river Periyar and the Shiva temple are its attractions.
Kaladi: Kaladi which is also on the banks of the Periyar river is 19 kms away from Alwaye. This is the birth place of the great Indian philosopher Adi Sankaracharya. There are two shrines here, one dedicated to this monotheist and the other to Goddess Sharada (Goddess of learning).
Cranganore: Once the capital of the Cherman Perumals, Cranganore is 32 kms away from Cochin. A mosque said to be the oldest in India, a fort built by the Portuguese and the famous Bhagwathi temple are its tourist attractions.
Kodanad: This elephant training centre is situated on the banks of the Periyar river, 52 kms from Ernakulam.
Kallil Temple: This rock- cut temple of the Jains is at a distance of 13 kms from Perambarur. It has a statue of Mahavira, the founder of Jainism, carved out of a rock.
Trichur is situated 74 kms north of Ernakulam and is famous for its magnificent temple called Vedakkunathan temple dedicated to Shiva. But more famous than this 17th century temple is its Pooram festival held during April-May in the sprawling grounds out- side the temple. During this festival a procession of bejewelled caparisoned elephants carrying ceremonial umbrellas takes the deity on a chariot around the precincts. Fireworks add a dazzle to the show.
Trichur has a museum and a zoo with a sizeable collection of snakes.
Nearby is the Peechi dam which is a good picnic spot.
Other nearby places:
Kerala Kalamandalam: This art centre is situated 32 kms north of Trichur and can be reached either by road or by train. Aimed to revive the Kathakali dance form, this centre was set up by the late Malayali poet Vallathol.
Guruvayoor: A pilgrimage centre for the devout Hindu, Guruvayoor enjoys great popularity. The installation of the idol of Lord Krishna is attributed to Guru (Brihaspati), the preceptor of Gods. Thus the name. A festival is held in the temple every year during Feb- March. The highlight of this annual festival is the performance of Krishnayattam which is the precursor of Kathakali.
Only Hindus are allowed in- side the Guruvayoor temple.
Malampuzha Dam: The Malampuzha Dam built across the river Bharathapuzha at the foot hills of the western ghats can be reached via Cheruthuruthi from Trichur. The highly attractive terraced garden with green lawns and colourful flower beds is illuminated during the week end, appearing like a set straight out of the movies. The huge dam is awesome. There are some attractions for children and also provision for boating.
From Malampuzha, one can go to Kozhikode (also known as Calicut) either by road (145 kms) or by rail from Shoranur (87 kms). It shot into history as Vasco-da-Gama's first port of call in India. It was also the capital of the Zamorins. Tipu Sultan had also captured this place; Finally it passed into the hands of the British in 1792 A.D.
Tourists can make Kozhikode as their base to visit the following places:
Cannanore: This sea-side resort is 87 kms from Kozhikode. It has an old fort built by the Portuguese.
Sultan's Battery: Nestling among coffee-producing hills of Wynad and Lakkidi is Sultan's Battery at a distance of 97 kms from Kozhikode. It owes its name to Tipu Sultan who built a fort here. This hill station is highly picturesque.
Sabarimala: This is the abode of Lord Ayyappa, the son of Shiva and Mohini (the female form of Vishnu) according to legend, Hence this deity is also known as Harihara Puthran. Soaring high among the forests of the Sabari Hills, it attracts million of pilgrims during Vishu held in April and then during the most ardous festival called Mandalapooja held during December-January. The third major event is of Makara Vilakku (Divine light) when multitudes of pilgrims try to catch a glimpse of a strange light appearing in the temple.
Kottakal: This is a renowned Ayurvedic centre dealing exclusively with the Indian system of medicine. It is at a distance of 168 kms from Cochin.
Kumarakom: Kumarakom is at a distance of 10 kms from Kottayam. Migratory birds can be seen here. The nearby islands also provide a haven for these birds. This typical Kerala village is built on the eastern bank of the Vembanad lake.