It’s no secret that I have a real affection for India. But it took 16 trips to this amazing country for me to finally visit the state of Kerala.
To the delight of many friends, I decided to change up my planned Eid travel schedule and spend it in Kerala. I based myself in Kochi for practical and personal reasons. The city (known as the Queen of the Arabian Sea) is central, boasts great hotels and is also the hometown of several good friends of mine.
With more than 300 languages spoken and a religiously diverse population (Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Jain…), a rich food culture and history everywhere you look, Kerala was surprising to me on so many levels.
I am hoping that this post will put Kerala and Kochi on your travel radar for the following reasons:
- The Food
This is the natural place to start. A day into my recent trip to Kochi showed me everything I THOUGHT I knew about Kerala cuisine was wrong. The food here is extraordinary – and you will not meet a population as passionate about its food as the Keralites.
One of the lushest places I have been to, Kerala boasts an enviable supply of fresh seafood as well as vegetables. Ancient traders also used Kochi as a center for the exotic spice trade and this is evident in the food. Pepper, cardamom, ginger and cloves were among the spices the traders headed to Kerala for. Also, Kerala is one of the few places in India where you can enjoy beef and you will see it on menus everywhere.
There is an entire blog post (I promise) in the food of this state, from its firey beef fry (dry curry) to its decadent fish and seafood curries laden with coconut milk. All soaked up with appams, kallappams, or vellayappams – rice flour pancakes which have soft, thick white spongy centres and crisp, lace-like edges. I was fortunate to stay at the Kochi Marriott and dine at their acclaimed Kerala restaurant, Cassava, this was my real introduction to the food of this place.
Like the rest of India, Kerala also loves it street foods. The most famous of which is the banana chip, which are sliced and fried on site then tossed in spices like pepper or chilli, or served as they are. Addictive!
For true foodies (not just those who love Indian foods), this is an eye opening and delicious destination.
2. The Scenery
I’m sorry if I keep using this word – Lush – it’s because it most aptly describes Kerala. Thanks to the monsoon and its location, this is truly the green state. From tea plantations in the hills, to waterfalls surrounded by jungle and the verdant tidal basin canals, it’s as close to paradise as I have experienced.
I visited during the monsoon, which while having its challenges, was a perfect time for me. Temperatures were cooler (although a little humid) but the famous waterfalls outside of Kochi were full to bursting.
Admittedly the rain can be confronting (one mildly alarming memory was being on a houseboat during a violent thunderstorm), but it’s amazing how people just get on with things.
But, the best way to convince you to go is to stop typing and show you photos.
3. The People
As I said before, Keralites are passionate about being from Kerala. They even call their state “God’s Own Country”. I’ve lived in the Middle East for 11 years and count many Keralites among my friends, and this warmth and openness extends to their homeland. You will find Keralaites overwhelmingly friendly.
This extended to the big, bad world of social media, where I received literally dozens of messages from people giving advice, offering help and generally appreciating my visit.
4. The History
Kochi, and much of Kerala, is like an open air museum. From the remnants of the ancient spice trade, to the influence of the Chinese (believed to have been introduced in Kochi by Chinese explorer Zheng He, from the court of the Kubla Khan to the Kochi shores between 1350 and 1450) to the Portuguese influence in its architecture (Kochi was the first European settlement in India), the history of the city and the state is evident everywhere.
I was stunned to learn that Kochi has a rich Jewish history, with its own synagogue dating back to the 1500s. It is believed the Jews of Cochin can trace their ancestry to King Solomon. Visiting the beautifully preserved synagogue (no photos inside sadly), was a revelation. There are around 10 families remaining in the area and they still worship at the synagogue. You can do a short and incredibly informative tour of the temple.
5. The Houseboats
These are perhaps one of the best known things about Kerala. Present day houseboats are huge, slow moving exotic barges used for leisure trips, and are in fact reworked version of Kettuvallams of ancient times. The original Kettuvallams were used to carry tons of rice and spices. A standard Kettuvallam can hold up to 30 tons of product from Kuttanad to the Kochi port.
You can rent them for a few hours (a delicious freshly cooked lunch included) or a luxury version few days (with wifi, TV and . Idling around the tranquil backwaters of Alleppey is now one of my most treasured travel memories.
A big surprise for me was the daily life on the canals. People live and work on these backwaters.
You will see women doing their washing in the water, kids heading to school in canoes and small shops selling fresh fish and prawns to passing boats.
I hope these photos and my descriptions of my experiences has done this wonderful part of the world justice. My only remaining advice? Just go!
How to get there: Kochi is a 4.5 hour flight from Doha. Qatar Airways flies twice a day
Where to stay: The Kochi Marriott is beautiful and centrally located hotel, with two terrific restaurants. It’s adjacent to the Lulu Mall (there is a shuttle between the hotel and the mall) and the brand spanking new Kochi Metro. Staff are kind, informed and very passionate about their city.
Must try: Cassava Restaurant at Kochi Marriott, with a menu of Kerala favorites like fish curry and beef fry.
Houseboats: I was looked after by Blue Lagoon Tours and Travel in Alleppey. Tel: +91 9895490990
For more information: Kerala Tourism