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 the Arabian sea. Kerala borders the states of Tamil Nadu to the east and Karnataka to the north. It is also known for its backwaters, mountains, coconuts, spices and art forms like Kathakali and Mohini Attam. It is the most literate state in India, and a land of diverse religions, where you can find Hindu temples, mosques, churches, and even synagogues. With world-class sporting options, Ayurvedic spas and treatments, eco-tourism initiatives, beautiful tall blue mountains, pristine rain forests, golden beaches and an enormous range of accommodation, Kerala has much to offer the visitor.
Famous for its heritage, spices, textiles, beaches, rainforests and food.
Includes the urban agglomeration of Kochi, the cultural heart of Kerala-Thrissur, and the food basket of Kerala-Palakkad.
Kerala's backwaters, and the land of churches, latex and literacy.
Known for its mountains and hill stations, and plantations of spices, tea and coffee.
Home to the capital city and various monuments, famous beaches, large temples, churches, and sporting events.
Here are nine of the most notable cities.
- Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum) — the capital and largest city, famous for its beaches, historical monuments, parks and temples
- Alappuzha (Alleppey) — heartland of Kerala Backwaters with natural maze of canals criss-cross the city, leading to it being called the Venice of the East
- Kalpetta — capital of Wayanad district, which is home to three wild life sanctuaries and hill stations
- Kannur (Cannanore) — a historical town famous for its 'Kalaripayattu' martial arts, 'Theyyam' temple dance, political movements, forts, folklore, hand looms, beaches, coffee-growing hills and spices
- Kochi (Cochin) — a major port and cosmopolitan city and the largest urban agglomeration with unlimited shopping options, known as the 'Queen of the Arabian sea' and featuring the ancient cities of Fort Kochi and Mattanchery
- Kozhikode (Calicut) — heart of the Malabar region and one of the world's oldest thriving trade centres, with many pretty beaches, waterfalls and trekking possibilities, where Vasco da Gama landed for the first time in India
- Munnar — endless array of rolling tea estates, Eravikulam National Park
- Sabarimala — beautiful mountain temple that attracts 50 million devotees every year
- Thekkady — wildlife and boating are the main attractions; extremely scenic place
- Bekal Fort — a massive coastal Portuguese fort in north Kerala with picture-postcard beauty
- Eravikulam National Park — grasslands, forest and shrublands are criss-crossed by several streams, this provides a habitat for a wide variety of birds, grazing animals, predators such as the leopard, butterflies unique to the area, amphibians, and sometimes elephants
- Kerala Backwaters — stretching across central Kerala; no-one should miss a boat journey from Kollam to Alappuzha
- Periyar National Park — home to one of India's largest tiger populations
- Silent Valley National Park — rain forest with several endangered, protected species
- Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary — caves, waterfalls and pristine forests
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.
The state is also considered to be one of the safest regions of India. Incidents of local people cheating tourists are almost non-existent. Kerala has high standards of living compared to its neighbours and other Indian states and has indices such as education and healthcare that are on par with developed countries. Therefore, tourists can relax without being followed around by taxi drivers, touts or guides, though there are some beggars who have migrated from poorer states. Abundant rainfall means that you can find lush greenery that remains pretty much throughout the year. A holiday here is an opportunity for rejuvenation. You can get an Ayurvedic oil massage, spend a day or two on a houseboat with nothing to do but watch coconut trees pass by, or just laze around on Kovalam or Varkala beaches. Thus, tourism is more experiential here, rather than being devoted to seeing highly touristed sights. Kerala was named as one of the "ten paradises of the world" and "50 places of a lifetime" by the National Geographic Traveler magazine.
Kerala is wedged between the Western Ghats on the eastern side and the Arabian Sea on the west, thus having a wide range of topography from high altitude mountains to golden beaches, and is criss-crossed by 44 rivers. The tributaries, unique backwaters, lagoons and numerous small islands provide many scenic attractions for visitors.
The ancient period saw the rise and fall of the first and second Chera empires, which were the only two periods when Kerala was united under a monarch. Kerala is mentioned in the writings of many Greek, Roman, Arabic, European and Jewish travelers and merchants from the 1st millennium BC. She was known for the spices that were grown in the lush hills of the Western Ghats. During the Middle Ages, there were three powerful kingdoms - Kolathiri/Cherakal in the extreme north, Samuthiri/Zamorin in Kozhikode (north and central), Travancore in the south. The Portuguese were the first to discover a direct sea route between Lisbon and Kozhikode in Kerala, and this marked the beginning of European colonisation in the country. Soon the Dutch, French, Italians and British were all lured by the wealth of spices and silk, and came with the intention of forming colonies. The defeat of the Dutch by the Travancore Army at the Battle of Colachel, and the decline of Portuguese Empire and French problems in Europe, resulted in the British gaining the full influence in India, and the annexation of the Malabar region (Kolathiri and Samuthiri) into the British Madras Presidency.
However, the Kingdoms of Tiruvithamkoor (Travancore) and Kochi (Cochin) enjoyed some autonomy under the British. After Indian independence, the kingdoms chose to accede into the Indian Union, and were later merged into a single State of Travancore-Cochin. With the linguistic reorganisation of States, the Malayalam-speaking regions of Malabar and Travancore-Cochin were integrated into the State of Kerala on November 1st 1956. This realised a united Kerala, a dream held since the partition of the ancient Kerala Empire of Cheras in the eighth century. Today, people in Kerala live a largely traditional lifestyle, and much of the rich culture and heritage of the region is well-preserved.
November 1st is celebrated as Keralappiravi (Birth of Kerala) Day (also observed as Malayalam Divasam or Malayalam Day).
Kerala also played host to the first Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities of India. While the Jewish population declined following the establishment of Israel, Kerala still has a synagogue in Kochi. Kerala is known for its secularism and peaceful co-existence and brotherhood of the three major religions - Hinduism, Islam and Christianity.
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:
- Summer lasts from mid-February to mid-May. The tropical sun is really hot and temperatures can go up to 35°C in the afternoons.
- The monsoon is in place from mid-May until early September. The North-East Monsoon winds bring heavy showers.
- Winter is mild and lasts from about mid-October to early February. Heavy rains occur from the last week of September until early November, due to the retreat of the South-East monsoon. There is no snow in Kerala, although it is quite cold and misty in the mountain regions.
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:
- 28°C - 34°C daytime, 24°C - 28°C at night in summer seasons of March, April
- 20°C - 28°C daytime, 18°C - 25°C at night for the rest of the year
Temperatures may drop down to 10°C or lower during November and December in hilly areas of the Western Ghats, especially at popular hill-stations like Munnar and Wynad, which results 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 has never risen higher than 36°C, the rising humidity has made recent summers difficult. The height of the Kerala summer is normally between mid-March and May. Wear only light, loose cotton clothes during this season. Consider a trip to hilly areas, where the temperatures never exceed 26°C.
Kerala experiences mild winds throughout most of the year.
The most pleasant time to visit is from September to March, when the weather is ideal for sightseeing, trekking and boating.
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. Kerala's trading relations with West Asia brought Islam to its shores around 600 AD soon after its formation in Arabia, through Arab Traders. Islam entered Kerala with an official fanfare and patronage from the ruling Hindu Chera Emperor and ever since that, Islam became one of the most popular religions in the state. Unlike other parts of India, Kerala Muslims are mainly descended from Arabs through inter-religious marriages between fisherman families, thus are called Mappillas (meaning Son-in-laws). Unlike other parts of India, Muslims are given high profile rankings in Kerala society by ruling Hindu Rajas and most of them are placed as close companions of ruling elite. Kerala's Islam is slightly different from Islam from other parts of South Asia, as Kerala follows the Shafi'i School of Islam like many Arab countries such as Oman and Yemen, and unlike the Hanafi 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 a large influx of Syrian immigrants who soon assimilated with the locals. Kerala has the largest number of churches in India. In terms of denominations, Kerala is home to Roman Catholic Latin Rite, Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara denominations, two major Orthodox denominations, two major Protestant denominations and one Nestorian church, apart from innumerable Charismatic/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. Today the state has a small Buddhist population and almost all famous Buddhist temples in Kerala has been converted into large Hindu temples, some still having Buddhist saints worshiped. The famed Vadakkumnath Temple in Thrissur was a large Buddhist Vihara, which was converted into a Hindu Temple.
Another minority religion is Jainism, with a fairly small number of followers in Wayanad, Kozhikode and Kochi. Jainism reached Kerala during the Maurya period, when the Great Mauryan Emperor Chandragupta Maurya retired to Shravanabelagola near Mysore in 3rd Century BC, though a large number of Jain monks accompanied him. Jainism became extremely popular in Kerala, with large number of Jain temples, until 6th Century AD when there was a revival of Hinduism in Kerala. The decline of Jains resulted in many Jain temples being converted into large Hindu temples. The classic example is the famous Irinjalakoda Bharatha Temple which originally was a Jain temple dedicated to Saint Bharatheswara, a Jain monk, which was converted into a Hindu Temple in 5th century AD as Lord Bharatha (Brother of Sree Rama). Many Jain temples later got demolished during Tipu Sultan's raid.
There is also now a considerable number of followers of Sikhism in the state, mainly those who have migrated from the Indian state of Punjab.
Judaism has existed in Kerala for about 2,000 years, and today a minority of Jews live around Kochi, although there was a mass migration in the 1950s following the founding of Israel. Jews arrived in Kerala during the Crusades when the fall of Jerusalem caused a large number of Jewish immigrants to take refuge in Kerala. The Chera Kulashekara Emperor invited Jews to settle down in Kochi and Kollam areas and issued them various grants and privileges. Unlike elsewhere, Kerala is one of the few places in the world where Jews lived peacefully with Muslims and Christians. Cochini Jews became the largest segment of Jews and several famous synagogues were established, though the first Jewish synagogue, which was established in the 15th century (the Commonwealth's oldest synagogue), is the only remaining one. During Portuguese rule, several synagogues were raided and many were demolished, until the Kochi Kingdom officially asked the Portuguese to stop attacking Cochini Jews. This resulted in existence of only two synagogues in Kerala- the Paradesi Synagogue of Mattachery (must see while in Kochi) and a small one in Paravur. Synagogues are off limits to tourists on Saturdays as it is the Sabbath.
Due to its strong socialist values and history of several communist movements, there are a considerable number of atheists in the state.
Hindus constitute about 56% of the population, Muslims 24% and Christians account for about 19%. Communal and sectarian tensions are rare. Kerala is considered the most peaceful place in South Asia.
Unique to Kerala, the Malayalee culture is derived from ancient Tamil-Dravidian practices combined with Arya-Indian culture, with influences from China, Japan, Arab countries, Portugal, Holland and even from the British. There are a lot of Tamil-Sanskrit elements, resulting in many unique practices and customs. Each community in Kerala has its own unique version of Malayalee culture which will not be found anywhere outside Kerala.
The Buddhist influence brought Ayurveda (a system of medicine) and Kalaripayattu (Kerala's traditional martial art) into a prominent position. While religious beliefs and their associated myths and 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 precluded Tamil influence. 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 and drama all have distinctive styles. Dance and music performances often attract large crowds.
A good way to experience the entire spectrum of arts and culture of Kerala in one place is at the Annual Kerala State School Art Festival, normally held in December or January. The location changes between various district headquarters on a rotational basis. This was constituted by the government as a competition amongst school children to promote Kerala arts and culture. This is Asia's largest festival according to the Guinness Book of records, with more than 82 art forms show-cased during its ten-day duration.
Kerala has numerous indigenous dance forms.
- Chavittu Nadakam (Malayalam: ചവിട്ടുനാടകം). This is a highly colorful Christian classical art form that originated in Gothuruth village, North Paravur. It is noted for its attractive make-up of characters, their elaborate costumes, detailed gestures and well-defined body movements presented in tune with the rhythmic playback music and complementary percussion. This art form highly resembles European opera. Chavittu Nadakam is believed to have originated during the 16th century AD. This form of play is prevalent among the Christian community in the districts of Alappuzha, Ernakulam and Thrissur.
- Kathakali. Kerala's celebrated classical ballad with use of large costumes and elaborate make-up. It is a dance drama, noted for wide range of characters. Each character has a special kind of costume and make-up, special movements, particularly extensive expressions, refined gestures, and innovative themes. The dance is accompanied with anchor music and precise drumming. The Kathakali Music is unique as it varies in accordance to expressions and reactions. Whilst traditional Indian epics, mainly the Ramayan and Gita Puran, constitute the main story-boards for the dance drama, many international versions like Shakespearian-Homer-Biblical works are now taken as themes. A glimpse of Kathakali can be seen in shows organised by various cultural centres across Kerala (including the ones at Thekkady), which showcase the art and educate people about it.
- Koodiyattom. An ancient form of theatre with a legacy of more than 2,000 years. This is very stylised Sanskrit theatre and recognised by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Most of the characters are noted for Sanskrit recitations and highly stylised movement, particularly eye expressions. Some parts of the stories are expressed only using the eyes.
- Margam Kali (Malayalam: മാര്ഗ്ഗംകളി). One of the ancient group dances of Kerala practiced by Saint Thomas Christians. The Margamkali is a ritual folk dance in which twelve people dance around a traditional oil lamp (Nilavilakku). They represent the twelve apostles and Christ himself is represented by the lamp. They perform the dance wearing the traditional white dhoti and a peacock feather on the turban. Margamkali is essentially famous among the Syrian Christ of Kottayam and Thrissur districts.
- Mohiniyattom. This classical artform of Kerala is a subtle and graceful dance performed by women in traditional costume. Most of the themes are poems, unlike other classical dances which have an emphasis on Hindu mythology.
- Theyyam. This is a ritualistic rite performed in the temples of Malabar. It is an ancient tradition, whereby worship takes the form of performance, rather than formal worship. While dressed in Theyyam costume, performers are considered Gods and Goddesses. There are nearly 41 various types of Theyyam, each noted for its different legend and stories. A visit to any Malabar temples during Theyyam season (Dec-Mar) is advised.
Kerala has its own indigenous music and orchestration.
- Melam. This is a percussion ensemble, with several variants differing in the number of percussive instruments used, as well as the style of playing them. Melam is extremely popular and is mostly used during temple festivals, when more than six hours of continuous playing is the norm. Melam attracts large crowds and creates wonderful notes. The Thrissur Pooram has the largest Melam, with more than 300 musicians in the ensemble.
- Sopanam. Kerala's unique classical music has slow, graceful rhythms. Most of the original versions are poems, and the music is coupled with poetic expression and style. Sopanam is now limited to regular performances at temple events.
- Mappila Songs. This music is associated with the local Muslim community. Traditionally, the songs were performed in Mappila Malayalam - a mixture of Arabic and Malayalam - and most tell stories of social systems and customs. Today, Mappila songs are popular amongst youngsters, using Malayalam lyrics. Mappila songs have a charm of their own as their tunes sound a mix of the ethos and culture of Kerala as well as West Asia.
- Poems play a pivotal role in Malayalee music culture. Kerala is extremely well known for its various famous poetic traditions, and a large number of poems of high literary value. Aksharaslokam (Poem recitations) is a common sight in many village temple platforms and during festival times, where poets recites poems and challenge other poets to start their recitation with the phrase, the former has ended his recitation
- Film Music. As elsewhere in India, film music is extremely popular, and Malayalam songs can be heard everywhere.
Kalarippayattu (Kalari) is believed to be one of the oldest martial arts in world. 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 could 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, one of them being the Kalari Centre at Thekkady, 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. It's a special white/cream-coloured dhoti worn across the waist. The dhothi has a golden thread work as a strip running down from the waist to the 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 is one of the most preferred colour for clothing in the state. Today, different versions of Mundu and Neriyathu with different colours and motifs are available.
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 is similar to the Chinese way in that it focuses on a market economy and reforms, although officially they are against capitalism. Kerala has a tradition of two major alliances: one led by the Communist Party called LDF (Left Democrats) and another led by the Indian National Congress called UDF (United Democrats). These tend to alternate in power every five years. The current government is led by the UDF under the leadership of Oommen Chandy, who is the State Chief Minister.
Kerala has been through a period of strong growth with one of the highest per capita incomes in the country, 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 approximately 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 well-educated people are also able to speak Tamil, Hindi and English. Though Kerala is often regarded as a highly literate state this doesn't mean that everyone can communicate in English. Most of Kerala's urban population is able to communicate in English and in 'broken' Hindi. As Tamil and Malayalam are closely related, 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 also in English. Most city bus destinations are prominently written in Malayalam, some having English signage represented in small fonts which are often difficult to read, though all of the bus conductors and ticket checkers understand basic English. Most Kerala Government offices use only Malayalam signage and most Kerala government documents such as receipts and bills are in Malayalam, though there will usually be English-speaking staff on duty.
There are three airports in Kerala, with flights to domestic and international destinations: Kochi (Cochin), Kozhikode (Calicut), and Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum). The airports have several carriers operating international flights around the world.
- Cochin International Airport (IATA: COK) is the largest airport in the state, with regular flight connections to most of the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Sri Lanka and Maldives. Europe- and US-bound passengers need to transit in the Middle East or Mumbai. There are regular flights to most parts of India.
- Thiruvananthapuram International Airport (IATA: TRV) has regular connections to major cities of India, as well as to the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Sri Lanka and Maldives. Charter flights for tourism from London, New York and Moscow operate to Thiruvananthapuram.
- Kozhikode International Airport (IATA: 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, offer international connections from the 3 airports. Domestic destinations accessible by direct flights from these airports include Chennai, Bangalore, Mumbai, Agatti, Hyderabad,Mangalore,Goa and Delhi. There are daily, and some bi-daily flights, to most Indian cities from airports in Kochi and Trivandrum. Many of the major Indian low cost carriers (LCC) such as Spicejet, Indigo and Jetlite offer daily flights from major Indian cities.
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 need to pay more depending on the class of accommodation, but have a chance of getting a seat. Tatkal is an emergency service, hence its booking is open just 24 hours before departure. As per the recent update, the Tatkal booking starts at 10AM IST on the previous day of travel for AC classes, and 11AM IST on the previous day of travel for non AC sleeper class. Make sure that you have an Indian railway website login and valid identification card with you during booking. Some travel agents have authorised booking quotas for certain trains.
Recently, the luxury tourist train The Golden Chariot has introduced a South Indian Rail Tour, which includes many parts of Kerala. This is a good option for those who want to visit the South Indian states on as tight schedule. The train starts from Bangalore and covers Chennai, Pondicherry, Trichy, Madurai, Trivandrum, Alapuzha, Kochi and back to Bangalore. The 7 night/8 day package tour, costs US$3,000-7,000 depending upon the class taken.
Inter-state private and government buses operates between neighboring states. Usually the journey is performed in the night so that you can escape the heat of the day. The most common inter-state bus is Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC-Karnataka) with daily bus from most of Major cities of Kerala to Bangalore, Mysore and Mangalore. Tamil Nadu State Bus like SETC also operates regularly from Kerala. Kerala's State bus- KRSTC-Kerala do have regular Ordinary bus to most of nearby places in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. KRSTC-Kerala also operates a few Volvo AC bus to Bangalore and Coimbatore.
However Private bus players to operate more buses than Govt options. Most of them are well maintained. Kallada, Shama, KPN are the major bus players, though recently Raj National and few others have entered with Pan India operations. Kallada, KPN, Shama etc. have regular buses to Bangalore, Chennai and many other places in Tamil Nadu as well as Karnataka on various times
It is recommended that you consider booking long distance bus tickets on "air conditioned Volvo buses" operated by all operators as the quality of the other buses vary significantly.
Kerala is well connected by National Highways:
- NH 17 (Connecting Mumbai to Cochin via Western coastal side of Goa, Karnataka and almost all towns of Malabar like Kannur, Kozhikode etc.),
- NH 47 (Connecting Salem with Kanyakumari via Coimbatore, Palakkad, Thrissur,Kochi, Alapuzha, Kollam, Trivandrum
- NH 212 (Connecting Kozhikode to Mysore via Wayanad),
- NH 49 (Connecting Kochi to Ramaeswaram via Munnar, Madurai),
- NH 220 (Connecting Kollam to Theni in Tamil Nadu via Kottayam, Kanjirapally, Kumily and enters into Tamil Nadu at Kumily),
- NH 208 (Connecting Kollam with Madurai via Punalur, Shenkottai, Tenkasi) and
- NH 213 (Connecting Palakkad with Kozhikode)
- NH 212 is a National Highway in Southern India. NH 212 connects Kozhikode in Kerala with Kollegal in Karnataka via Mysore
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. As Kerala receives large rainfall throughout the year, roads condition aren't the same always. So expect a delay in your schedule especially in monsoon season and afterwards (June–October) even on the National Highways.
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. 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 many 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 Trivandrum, Kochi, Palakkad, Alapuzha, Kollam, Kottayam, Kozhikode, Kannur and Thrissur.
Different types of trains
Basically there are five types of trains:
- Passenger Trains are slow trains that stop in all stations including very small stations.
- Fast Passenger Trains are passenger trains that skip smaller stations and offer the same fare structure.
- Express Trains stop only at major railway stations and charge higher than Passenger trains.
- Superfast Trains skip some of the major stations and charge even higher than Express Trains.
- Rajadhani and Shadabdhi Trains are elite trains that offer only air conditioned coaches. They stop only at selected stations.
The average fare for a 200 km distance for different classes is given below :
- First Class AC: ₹1,200
- Two Tier AC: ₹617
- Three Tier AC: ₹430
- AC Chair Car: ₹203
- Sleeper Class: ₹120
- Second class seat in Express train: ₹70
- Second class seat in Passenger train: ₹30
Roads remain the primary, popular mode of transport. Nearly every nook and corner of the state is well connected by road. The primary roads are NH 47, NH 49, NH 17 and NH 212 and are all National Highways. The NH 47 is one of the busiest as it connects Kochi and Trivandrum. The traditional primary road is MC Road, which covers one the most scenic places in south Kerala. However travel on the NH 47 cuts the time by at least by 1 hour when travelling 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, it's common to see potholes in most roads. Some of the wettest areas, like Alleppey, Kottayam, and Iddukki, have very damaged roads.
Kerala has a good network of private and KSRTC buses. Bus fare is usually ₹7 for 3 km with the Fast Passenger and Super-fast services of KSRTC charging a marginally higher price. The air-conditioned Volvo service operated by KSRTC charges around 250% the cost of ordinary fares. In every city of Kerala, there are separate private and KSRTC bus stations. In some cities, KSRTC buses service private bus stations, but never vice versa. Mini buses are more popular because they move very slowly and the crew are very courteous.
For distances exceeding 100 km., night services are better because daytime traffic is hopeless and you can save a lot of time travelling in the night.
Taxis are a good but expensive way to cover short distances. Negotiate the price before you get into the taxi. Ambassador and Indica Taxis are the most common services. 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 as minimum rate for 2km and ₹20 per Km later. A/C cabs charge normally 10 to 15% more. In Cochin, Trivandrum, day cabs are available that charge ₹ 450 for 4 hour trip anywhere within city limits or ₹850 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 unnecessary 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. Autorikshaws are cheaper in Malabar than southern Kerala because the drivers there do not charge more than what the meter shows. Auto drivers of Malabar also have a reputation for their courteous behavior towards the customers.
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 the Alapuzha-Kuttanad area are interconnected with regular ferry services.
The main waterways route, served by Kerala Water Transport Department boats, are as follows
- (1) Vembanattu lake - 52 sq kms, connecting between districts of Alapuzha and Kottayam and numerous of canals in Kuttanad
- (2) Ashtamudy lake - 200 sq kms, connecting various points in Kollam district.
- (3) Ernakulam - Vypeen - Fort Cochin ferry (Cochin port & Harbour)
- (4) Muhamma - Kumarakom, connecting islands within Kottayam district
- (5) Vaikom - Thavanakkadavu, connecting Kottayam with Ernakulam districts.
- (6) Payyannur - Parassinikkadavu, connecting various parts of Kannur district.
In addition, the National Waterway- NW 3 has formally opened, which runs from Kollam in south Kerala to Kottapuram in Thrissur district, which will be served by large boats. The final touches to this waterway are underway and scheduled to open during the middle of the year.
Helicopter and Air-taxi services are available between Kochi and Trivandrum. These services connect the two major metros with District Headquarters. It's a very expensive way to travel.
There are no Intra-City Train/Metro services in any Kerala city. Kochi will have a Metro Service soon. A dedicated Inter-city Rail called MEMU is under construction between Kochi and Kollam.
Due to its unique geography, Kerala gets rain for at least 7-8 months of the year and the forests are classified as rainforests. There are many opportunities to trek, camp and see wildlife.
The Backwaters of Kerala are a maze of lagoons criss-crossed with rivers, shallow pools and canals, all separated from the sea by a narrow strip of sand banks. Backwaters are present throughout the state but Alappuzha and Kottayam are most notable in this regard.
The Blue Mountains of the Western Ghats, popularly known as Nilgiris, are close to Trivandrum and there are numerous hill stations in this area. The most popular is Munnar, the honeymoon capital of the state. The highest peak of the Western Ghats is located at Anamudi (2,695 metres) and is good for trekking. The area is also home to several sanctuaries and forest reserve areas. There are more than two dozen waterfalls, both large and small, with numerous rapids and springs. The largest fallwaters are at Athirampally, where three milky waterfalls fall at great speed.
Kerala has 650 km of coastline and numerous beaches. Popular recreational beaches include Alapuzha Beach, Kollam Beach, Cherai Beach, Muzhappilangadu beach and Varkala Beach. Some of these beaches also have historical significance such as Kozhikode alt-Kozhikode Beach where Vasco da Gama first landed in India and Kovalam Beach near Trivandrum, a centre of Hippy counter-culture in the sixties.
Kerala is home to numerous historical monuments that can be found in many cities. It hosts the Cherman Perumal Mosque in Kodungallor which is the world's second oldest intact mosque and is home to many rare artifacts. There are forts in Bekal, Palakkad and Thalassery from the pre-British Raj era that are worth exploring. Also of interest are several palaces in the state. Most notable are the Hill Palace in Kochi and the Palaces at Sree Padmanabhapuram, located 30 km from Trivandrum.
Kerala was the first state to formally embrace the eco-tourism concept in South Asia, and has made considerable strides in this respect. The Akkalum Tourist Village in Trivandrum has a floating bridge and beautiful landscaped gardens and many famous statues and sculptures dot the area. Kumbalangi Model Village for Sustainable Tourism near Kochi was a once sleepy fishing village, and now popular visitor attraction with a planned focus on sustainability. Thenmala Eco-Tourist Village in Kollam is the first such place in India, with an intense focus on the natural environment. It offers numerous exhibits include 27 rare trees, many sculptures, and a large musical fountain.
Kerala is famous for its pilgrimage options. Most of the religious sites are deep-rooted with shades of strong myths, legends, and many have long historical tales of more than 1,000 years to tell. Finding a temple, church or mosque is not difficult, as houses of worship are present in almost every nook and corner. Kerala is famous for its religious harmony. Keralites are very religious people and religious functions dominate all walks of life. This does not mean that those in Kerala are a closed minded people; it's an very open society that accepts respectful debate and discussions about religion.
Many times one can find Hindu temples, Christian churches, Muslim mosques, and even Jain temples in the same city. While in Kerala, take note of the interesting architecture of many Muslim mosques. Unlike other parts of India, Islamic Architecture in Kerala is similar to Kerala Temple architecture without much Persian influence. However, many new mosques are built in Arab Style due to growing Arab influence in Kerala society.
Normally in Kerala, Mosques and Churches are referred as palli, not masjids as the are called in other parts of India.
There are two types of Ayurvedic establishments: Ayurvedic Hospitals and Ayurveda Spas
The Ayurveda Spas are more suited to rejuvenation. Check for the government rating, displayed at the reception. This is similar to a star rating for hotels and they are called Green Leaf ratings. The more green leaves, the better (and the higher the price). Unauthorised massage centres are mainly sex shops in disguise.
No large scale hospitals are given a Green Leaf, as they are classified as medical centres. Most 3 star and above hotels have inhouse Ayurvedic spas.
Kerala is world famous for its Ayurvedic treatment (one of the world's oldest holistic treatments). Due to a tourist boom, Ayurvedic Spas have became popular for light massages and pleasure treatments. However if you have a serious aliment, it is recommended to go to any one of the famous Ayurvedic hospitals.
A cruise on the Backwaters of Kerala is a popular visitor pastime. Try renting a houseboat from either Kumarakom or Alleppy. An individual houseboat can be rented in 24 hour and 12 hour blocks. Rates differ according to the season and duration.
Many tourist villages offer boating opportunities which are an excellent way to sight-see. In general, most villages on or near water will offer a means of transport on their respective body of water. This can be a delightful addition to your trip.
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 Christmas 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 city 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.
The large presence of waterways in Kerala allows for a variety of adventure sports. Keep alert for opportunities to try catamaran sailing (a small often wooden vessel with twin hulls joined together), canoeing, kayaking, scuba diving, snorkeling, wind-surfing, and para-sailing.
For less wet sports, Kerala offers a wide selection. There is mountain biking, mountain hiking, rock and tree climbing, and paragliding, in the hill and mountain regions.
If you are looking for something a little different, try Oxen Racing. A racer drives two oxens tied to wooden boards and makes 5 circles around the paddy field. This is a popular village sport, done before sowing season, to make soil easier to plough, while providing entertainment. Traditionally tourists are not encouraged to take part in this sport, as it requires high level of skill and expertise, though recently many tour companies are catering this option to their adventurous guests.
Like elsewhere in India, many sport options exist in Kerala. Popular sports include football, cricket, volleyball, and athletics. Malayalees are well known for their passion for volleyball and athletics. The majority of great Indian volleyball players and famous athletes, of which many are Olympians, are from Kerala. If you intend to participate in a volleyball game, "bring your A game" as the locals are very good!
Golfing is good, though some-what limited. Traditionally golf was considered a game for the rich in Kerala, hence one can find good golf-courses only in Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi. The Trivandrum Golf Course is the oldest golf-course in the commonwealth and a very good place to play. The Bolgatty Palace Hotel in Cochin has a private golf-course for its guests, which was the traditional golf-course once used by British residents and nobles of Royal English residency of Cochin. Recently, Cochin Airport has opened a state-of-the-art 18 hole golf course and it is good place to play, as well as learn, golf. Munnar has a golf course called High-Range Golf Club which is a scenic place to play. There are few small golf clubs in Iddukki and Kottayam districts, which are mainly limited to its members, though tourists may be allowed to play at slightly higher fees.
Cricket is the hottest craze among young citizens. You can find most of them playing in very large, open spaces and fields. Regular cricket tournaments are held in Kerala.
Indoor stadiums are common in most of the large metros and district headquarters. Many indoor games are played at clubs and tourist recreation centres. Some popular indoor games are table tennis, badminton and cards. Most of the hotels have large swimming pools. There is also the Kerala Water sports complex in Trivandrum and the Indoor Sports Centre in Kochi, that provide Olympic-sized pools for various water games.
If you are in Kerala, elephants safaris can be a fantastic and memorable experience. Elephant safaris are common in many tourist places like Thenmala Eco-tourist Village and at Kodanadu Elephant Training centre near Kochi, as well as in Periyar Tiger reserve area.
Jungle Safari. Kerala has many natural rain forests, with lots of unique flora and fauna. A trek in the forests of Kerala can offer a unique experience. Many forests are protected and to enter in any forest area, you require permission from Forest Office. Guards from the Forest Office may be required to accompany you due to presence of wild animals and to liaise with local tribespeople in some forests such as the Periyar Tiger Reserve, Malayatoor Forest Division, Silent Valley Rain forest in the Nilgiri Hills of Palakkad district, Wayanad forest division and Nilambur Teak forests.
You need a forest permit to enter any forest region and must assure that you do not offer anything to local tribespeople or disturb them in any way. Entering forests, that require permission, without permission is an offence and punishable with charges of trespassing. Hunting and environmental disturbances are also an offence. Kerala tourism, in association with the Forest Office have organised some deep jungle safaris. Jungle lodges are available in outer areas of some of the forests. Check with KTDC or DTPC for more details.
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. There is a cash limit that can be drawn per day, limiting to ₹ 10,000 (~US$ 200) when drawn thro' ATMs. A surcharge of ₹50 (~US$ 1) is charged for transactions beyond first ten transactions in a month. Foreign currency can be converted into Indian Rupees (₹) at any authorised money changers or nationalised banks up to ₹ 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 and authorised money exchange centers (available at all cities across kerala).
The largest Kerala bank is Federal Bank with its headquarters in Aluva, Kochi, with wide range of branches across the state. Major Kerala banks include, State Bank of Travancore, South Indian Bank, Catholic Syrian Bank, and Dhanalakshmi bank, apart from almost all 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 ₹ 10 to ₹ 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.
Kerala is generally an expensive destination when compared to elsewhere in India.
Budget tourists normally require ₹1,000 (~US$20) per day for a decent stay including food. A day may include patronage of ordinary restaurants or road-side hawkers (called Thattukadas) for their food which costs less than ₹40 (less US$1). Middle class tourists can expect daily expenses to keep around ₹1,400-₹2,000 (~US$24-US$40) per day with a stay in pretty good hotel and for food in standard restaurants. For those willing to spare no expense, Kerala is a destination that costs normally beyond ₹4,000 (~US$80).
Shopping is a national hobby in Kerala, with vast options in all metropolitan areas. The best time to shop is during the Onam or Christmas seasons. One can find amazing discounts, that might make you "mad" with capitalistic zeal. The best shopping during Onam are white goods and electronics, whereas apparel and jewelery are discounted more during Christmas. It is possible to get discounts on many items in these seasons.
Most of the leading foreign brands and products are available (from apparel to automobiles) across Kerala. Apart from regular shopping, consider the following for made in Kerala items.
- A wide range of coconut shell products can be found in Alleppey, most of them hand-made.
- While visiting Aranmula, a small town in Pathanamthitta, you will find for sale the famous Aranmula Mirror - a mirror made out of metal instead of glass, using a metallurgic formula which is a closely guarded secret. It is an expensive option, but a truly unique souvenir.
- A visit to any emporium will reveal a lot of handicrafts. Kerala is famous for its wooden crafts, brass models of cultural icons like vallam (snake boats), urus (sailboats), elephants in temple festival style, and traditional jewelry boxes.
- Showcase pieces like Nettipattam (the Caparison used for elephants), molded of plastic and adorned with decorations like peacock quill, are popular with visitors. The God's Own Craft, an organization based in Kochi, has popularised the sale of these plastic pieces, helping visitors bring them home, while retaining the traditional look and charm.
- Coir wall hangings with beautiful pictures and fans made out of Lemongrass that makes natural scent while fanning.
- Kerala's traditional Handloom cloth, Mundu and Neriyathu, can be purchased directly from weavers mainly in Chendamangalam near Kochi and Balaramapuram near Trivandrum.
- Large stores in Kochi, Trivandrum and many other cities have good collection of worked sarees, Churidars, dress materials, salwar-suits, Indian men's wear like Kurtha-Pyjama.
Oils and spices
- Kerala, is well known for spices. Cardamom, pepper, cloves, turmeric, saffron and many others can be found when shopping in Kerala's bazaars. Some of the recommended spice markets are Broadway in Kochi and Chalai in Trivandrum. At Wayanad, Idukki, Pathanamtitta, Kottayam and Kozhikode you can find first quality premium spices from many authorised spice centres. These places are famous for value-added spice products like curry masala powders, ready-to-use spice powders, spice essences, extracts, spiced teas and coffee. Rare spice oils and concentrates used as bases for perfume and scents can also be found.
- Many outlets sell unique natural cosmetic powders like mango, orange and papaya peel powder, turmeric powder. These and other spices, herbal powders and natural extracts are good for making face and body cleansing powders and soaps. Its worth to look around and investigate what is on offer.
- Try buying some lemongrass oil, famous for its rare scent. It can also be used on the skin to discourage mosquitoes. There are more than a dozen oils in Kerala, famous for maintaining a healthy skin glow and reducing blemishes and acne.
- Coconut oil is good to keep hairfall under control and nurture hair growth as well as for promoting a healthy glowing skin. Keralites put coconut into a multitude of varying uses. It is used as a high temperature cooking oil and scrapped powder and coconut milk is used in many local cooking styles. Roasted oil & virgin coconut oil are known to reduce cholesterol and are popular for good health. It is also used by expecting mothers for keeping their baby healthy.
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. Seafood gets a lion's share in typical Kerala's cuisine and lavish use of coconut (in form of coconut oil, coconut milk, powder or paste) gives a distinct taste. Food in Kerala tends to include a variety of spices and most of them are extremely fiery. Kerala also has its own fair share of famous vegetarian cuisines and normally only vegetarian foods are taken during festival days, particularly Onam
Kerala's cuisine is divided into four basic regional styles, according to ingredient availability and historical influence: Malabar, Central Travancore, Southern Travancore, and Central Kerala. Although all four styles can be found throughout the state, the food will be most authentic within each given region.
One of the favourite for any connoisseur of food would be Kerala's traditional buffet, the sadhya. It is served especially during festive occasion and normally presented upon a plaintain leaf. It generally has up to 24 items and is accompanied by various desserts and savories.
A typical sadhya consists of piping hot parboiled rice with popular Kerala vegetarian dishes like olan (a dish of pumpkin), avial (an assorted mix of all vegetables), injipulee (a ginger & tamarind flavouring), kaalan (made of yam and yogurt), thoran (pan-fried vegetables sprinkled with grated coconut), kichiadi (roasted cucumber in yogurt), pachadi (a sweet dish made out pineapple or grapes mixed with sour yogurt), kottukari (a mixture of few vegetables like raw bananas or pumpkin or potatoes, pan fried mixed with a spicy tomato puree curry base) etc. In some sadhyas, options like potato stew, masala curry are served. The sambar (a watery all-Vegetable curry) and parippu (lentils, either mashed or curry form) along with ghee are served as the main entrée'. Normally 2 to 3 spicy pickles called as achar are served.
Other assortments include pappadam (fried Lentil-flour paper-thin bread), along with banana chips and jaggery sweet, served as main appetisers. Towards the end of sadhya, rasam (similar to mulligatawny soup made out of pepper and tomato water is served, which is good for digestion) as well as mooru or sambharam (spiced buttermilk) are served. Bananas are also taken as a final note to end the elobrate sadhya's main course. The desserts includes payasam (a sweet porridge-like, made of jaggery or sugar along with rice, cereals, fruits depending on what type of payasam) as well as boli, a sweet flour bread, which looks similar to an omelet, along with a banana and sometimes unniappam (sweet fried rice flour dumpling).
Normally sadyas are served on lunch time and normally will be pure vegetarian. Onasadhya (served on the Onam day) is the most famous, due to having more than 30 curries and an elobrate range of special payasams. Many leading hotels and restaurants now serve smaller versions of sadhya as part of a regular lunch offering. In Malabar, sometimes, fried-fish or chicken curry constitute part of the sadhya, as the Malabar sadhya does not have a vegetarian tradition.
Thalis/fixed price meals
Most of the hotels offer smaller version of sadhya called as thali (fixed or unlimited serving) as part of regular lunch. A thali normally has around 8-10 curries along with 2 pickles and pappadams and a payasam. The small hotels and regular lunch homes offer a very small and popular option called meals as a regular lunch option. A normal lunch Meal shall consist of 3 to 4 curries and 1 pickle and pappadam. Fish curry or fried fish are part of fish-meals.
Seafood is available all over Kerala and is part of regular Kerala cuisine. In regions bordering the backwaters and lakes traditional cuisine includes fresh-water fish such as karimeen (black pearlspot), prawns, shrimps, kanava (squid) and many other delicacies. 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 flavoured with turmeric served along with spicy fish curry or mashed chilly gravy is a 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, partly due to its high nutritional value and low oil content . Unlike other parts of India, few non-vegetarian items are available on Kerala breakfast menus. Some of the popular breakfast items are;
- Dosas, (crispy fried ricebread) having flavourings of butter, ghee, masala or plain.
- Idiyappam, (string hoppers - also known as noolputtu and nool-appam), taken with spicy egg curry or tomato curry.
- Idli, (steamed rice pancake), a soft fluffy cake taken alone with chutney (spicy chilly/coconut paste) and sambar.
- Kadala, (a curry made of black garbanzo beans chana) and bananas.
- Paal-Appam, (a circular, fluffy, crisp-edged pancake made of rice flour fermented with toddy or wine), taken with chicken stew (mild spiced coconut milk based gravy), or vegetable kurma (a mixed vegetable curry in coconut milk gravy).
- Pidiyan, (dumplings made of rice and jaggery).
- Puttu, (made of rice powder and grated coconut, steamed in a metal or bamboo holder), taken along with kadala
Dinner is traditionally similar to Lunch in Kerala, though instead of rice, congee or kanzhi (rice porridge) is served along with spicy raw chillies and roasted pappadams. Today, dinner is more like North Indian style dinner, with chappathis and parathas dominating the main course along with vegetable or non vegetable curries.
Breads & rice
Kerala doesn't have any indigenous wheat breads in its traditional recipes, though today most of the North Indian breads like naans and parathas are popular options. There are many more unique rice-flour made breads which are not often seen outside Kerala.
- Rice breads - palappams (milk mixed in normal appam batter) and kallappams (palm toddy mixed in normal appam batter).
- Rice flour breads - pathiris (a fried rice flour bread), ghee pathiri (pathiri baked in ghee), poricha pathiri (fried pathiri rather than baked) and stuffed pathiris (anything like vegetables, fish or chicken).
- Malabar paratha (porotta) - a famous milled wheat weaved fried (or toasted) bread originated from Malabar, popular throughout Kerala
- Rice - Kerala's most favourite rice is called matta (a nutritious indigenous variety of rice grown in Palakkad district of Kerala). Normal boiled rice, served piping hot is a regular staple for lunch as well as dinner. Other popular options are ghee rice, fried rice, saffron rice, turmeric rice and biryani rice.
Due to the lesser influence of Arab & Central Asian food on Kerala, the use of sweets is not as widespread as in North India. Kerala does not have any indigenous cold desserts, but hot/warm desserts are popular. The most popular example is undoubtedly the payasam: a preparation of milk, coconut extract, sugar, cashews and dry grapes. There are more than 18 varieties of payasam all having same base constituents and differs from others due to main ingredient. Some of the popular variants are paal payasam (made with rice grains), Ada payasam (with beaten rice flakes), Paripu payasam (made from lentils), pazham pradhamam (made from banana), gothambu payasam (made from wheat grain) or semiya (made with vermicelli).
Other popular indigenous sweets are:
- Unniappam, (a fluffy deep-fried rice-bread mixed with ripe bananas similar to the Danish Æbleskiver).
- Pazham-pori, (plantain slices covered with a fried crust made of sweetened flour).
- Kozhukkatta, (rice dumplings stuffed with a sweet mixture of molasses, coconut).
- Kozhikode halwa, a famous sweet confection.
Savories are extremely popular in Kerala, with fried banana chips as most preferred. Jack-fruit chips, chips made out of rice flour in various forms like achappam, kozhalappam, paka-vada, and hard balls made out of rice flour with jaggery like avilose unda are popular options.
Travelers will come across several restaurants with signboards Nadan Hotel which is the Malayalam way of describing traditional food. This means a return to the 50 year old style of eating on plantain leaves. Sometimes the spices are ground in the old way instead of using the packed material available in the supermarkets. On the whole, the main difference is the presence of a village cook in place of a mechanical urban chef.
- Water. Tap water is usually not safe to drink. Mineral water is available at almost all shops and is the safest option.
- Tender coconut water, (karikku), is available in even the smallest towns. Tender coconut water is extremely popular. This sweet, creamy treat contains an ice-cream like cream which can be drank, housed in a delicious pulp that can be eaten. It's good for you, too.
- Coffee, (kapi) and tea (chaya), unlike other parts of South India, in Kerala tea is more popular than coffee. It's virtually impossible not to find a stall selling tea. The famous tea of Kerala is the Kannan Devan brand. In Kerala one can find Milma (a milk brand) booths selling tea with milk and snack eateries. Coffee is more popular in urban areas, particularly in Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram. Popular national brands like Cafe Coffee Day and many local cafes offer various flavours of coffees with western/oriental snacks. Kerala's own traditional cafe is Indian Coffee House, which are old-fashioned pre-1970s styled coffee shops that offer Kerala coffee along with regular Kerala foods. From the new generation of cafe, comes Kerala's Coffee Beanz which is now open in many parts of Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram. They offer various innovative coffee flavours and traditional Kerala snacks along with lite burgers.
- Juices and shakes, Kerala, being a tropical state, offers many delicious tropical juices and juice cocktails. Almost everywhere one can find small juice stalls selling mango, orange, pineapple, lemon, water melon and other juices. Milk shakes mixed with ice-cream is very popular and the best way to beat the Kerala summer heat. Sharja shake and chikoos are popular milk shakes mixed with various fruits and fruit flavour ice-creams.
- 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' (Kerala traditional palm toddy) to Scotch whisky. Alcohol consumption in public is frowned upon, and the bars in everything except the most expensive hotels tend to be seedy. Bars in urban areas nowadays are bit more upscale and hence bit more expensive or carry additional service charges. For budget travellers who wish to have liquors in private, you can buy most of the liquor brands along with beer from Government-run Kerala State Beverage Corporations Limited (popularly known as Beverage Shop or Bevco) stores and drink in private. However, there is usually a very large queue in front of these stores and the wait is often long. Additionally, they are closed on the 1st of every month. Kochi and Trivandrum have many posh bars and pubs in which to drink. Several restaurants in cities like Kochi, Trivandrum, Kottayam and Kollam serve alcohol along with regular menu food. Cocktails are extremely popular.
- Locally made palm toddy, called kallu, is tempting to try but be aware that some people become sick due to bad brews. If you do try it, make sure you stick to the license-made brew, and not local moonshine. However on Alapuzha-Changaserry route, you can find a number of good toddy shops which offer authorised toddy in addition to very tasty, unique Kerala specialties. Even if you don't try toddy, having food from these toddy shops is an excellent was to experience of the best, distinctive food.
With tourism being one of the most important source for the state's coffers, a wide array of accommodation is available for tourists suiting individual tastes, cultural preferences, and prices that will fit the slimmest of wallets. 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 to budget tourists.
For a smoother, more peaceful visit, it is advised to lodge on or near beach properties as all other areas of Kerala suffer from traffic issues. Traffic jams are a daily phenomenon in almost all parts of Kerala. Since the railway line isolates the beach side from the rest of the downtown areas, there is a marked peace in the beach areas. This is applicable to all districts of Kerala except the hill districts of Palakkad, Wayanad, Idukki and Pathanamthitta where traffic snarls are rare.
Kerala was one of the first states in India to pioneer the concept of homestays and make it a successful industry. Under the homestay concept, you get to stay with a family who can show you around and help you experience the best of Kerala. Your accommodation and food is taken care of at a nominal cost. You will probably stay with a family whose members are well versed, or at least speak decently, in English. All the people offering homestays are vetted by the Government and will have to register themselves as such.
The majority of the home-stays are concentrated in the Fort Cochin area, where traditional large colonial bungalows and Jew houses have been converted into homestays. Alleppey and Kottayam have many large homestays catering to both rich and budget tourists. Kollam also has its own share of home-stays which are mostly traditional Portuguese bungalows in addition to those owned by the 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 they are generally safe and well-maintained. These homestays range between ₹ 300 (~6 US$) to ₹ 3500 (~70 US$) per night depending upon the property and its profile.
₹ 322.50 (~US$7) and ₹ 700 (~US$15) are magic numbers when you are looking for budget non-AC and AC rooms respectively. You can expect basic amenities: a bed, a TV and an attached bath-room. Most of the budget hotels call themselves tourist lodges, tourist Home and some hotel. They are rarely star-rated. Most of the hotels near railway stations inside cities traditionally target budget-minded guests. Kerala has a good number of Brahmin's tourist homes which provide rooms for families and couples. If available, choose this option as they are quite safe and quiet. If you are expecting a cheap, extended stay with an attached kitchenette, there are not many hotel options available in Kerala.
For a more comfortable stay, expect to pay above ₹ 700 (~US$14) for a non-air-conditioned room or more than ₹ 1,200 (~US$26) for one with air-conditioning. This category includes many 3 star hotels. You can expect more spacious rooms, English proficient concierges, and airport/railway station pick-up and drop-off.
Themed resorts also may also fall in this category. Expect ₹ 3,000 and above. It is possible to rent out an entire cottage, in an idyllic location. These cottages do come with kitchens.
Almost all 3 star and above hotels and resorts fall under this category. Star rated hotels in India are not cheap. If you are willing to stay in these hotels, most of them throw in a complimentary guided or packaged tour. Most five star hotels provide an attached kitchenette. If you think you might grow tired of Indian food, this would be a good option. Most of these hotels offer only air-conditioned rooms. Average costs can be ₹ 5,000 and above for a night. For middle and upper class tourists these are attractive options as they are generally very safe and provide a sound holiday.
If you are plan to stay more than 2 weeks, it's 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 is cheaper even by Indian standards.
Serviced apartments are very common in Kochi, Kottayam, Alapuzha, Thrissur, Kollam, Kozhikode, Trivandrum, among others. There are popular service apartments, which offer hotel-like facilities for an extended stay, in Kochi city. Most of these apartments are well furnished with kitchenette facilities. Keep in mind more amenities usually means higher costs and most of these serviced apartments are suited to middle 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. Cheaper ones may not have TVs or personal landlines in each room. There are also options of Men's and Ladies' hostels, where single travelers can stay on a monthly basis.
- Though Kerala is much safer than other parts of India, it has its share of criminals. Pickpockets are quite common in heavily crowded areas like buses, festival grounds and city shopping areas. Don't trust your hotel cleaning staff with your costly belongings. Also, women are advised not to walk around in tight or revealing clothing. Take care not to roam around late at night, especially if you are alone.
- While in trains or buses, it is absolutely vital not to eat or drink anything which may be offered by a fellow traveller, due to risks of sedation and robbery. A smile and a soft "No, thank you" will suffice to avoid offending the genuine traveller. Be firm, yet polite. This especially holds true for interactions with lone or a couple of fellow-passengers. However, interactions with families are considered to be safer.
The major problem one is likely to face in Kerala are the strikes, protest processions and hartals (officially/legally voluntary closure of activities as protest, but unofficially enforced on everyone by the organisers) which are very common in Kerala, considering its high political awareness and socialist leanings. Tourists may get suddenly caught in hartals or road blockades due to protests which may strand you in airports or railway stations. However, you can plan around them because all political parties announce the date and details of major protests far in advance in leading dailies. Regularly follow leading English dailies while in Kerala, speak to your hotel reception desk staff/restaurant staff (smaller towns sometimes have "hartals" called with a day's notice) and keep buffer days for all travel.
On hartal days, normally all forms of transport keep off from roads from morning till evening. So be prepared to walk to your hotel or wait in airport or railway station till evening. Alternatively, Kerala Police normally operate free buses under police convoy to transport tourists and urgent passengers to important areas in major towns and cities; these can be used as a last resort.
Many people in Kerala complain of Moral Policing or Vigilante groups that attack unmarried couples for making out in public. These groups never target foreigners, but if you look like an Indian, it is advisable to restrict your movements to the cities and tourist centers only. If you remember these thumb rules, Kerala will be fine for you.
- While boating insist on being offered life jackets. Many boat operators ignore government regulation of statutory issuance of life jackets while boating, which could prove risky, as most of the Kerala's water bodies are deep.
- Though Kerala does not have many touts or so-called "guides," a few people from outside the state do encounter this problem at some tourist centres, especially hill stations like Munnar, etc. Do avoid them completely, as many nowadays are small time thieves and crooks who look for prey. A firm "no" would suffice.
Kerala Police Contact
The Kerala Police force is one of the most efficient police units in India and the least corrupt. Most of the police officials are well versed in English and Malayalam. Most of the cities do have a very strong police network and it's not difficult to find a police station. Normal Law and Order police force wear Khaki colour uniforms. Traffic Police wear a uniform of a white shirt with khaki pants.
There is a specialised police section for tourist protection called the Tourist Police. This force is located at prominent tourist places, beaches, monuments, trekking areas and other tourist attractions. They wear a light blue shirt with khaki pants and have an aid post marked as Tourist Police. They can be extremely helpful. The International Tourist Police Station in Mattancherry-Fort, Kochi should be the primary tourist assistance point for any complaints and may also be used for information on any immigration and passport/visa matter.
Kerala's highways are safeguarded by Highway police. In event of any distress on any highway call the police using their toll free number- ☎+91 98 4610 0100
Fire and public rescue
Kerala's Fire and Rescue Services maintains a network of distress rescue services throughout the state. They can be reached at ☎ 101
Medical Emergency Numbers
Kerala Hospitals, first aid centres and select primary health care centres across the state are all equipped for emergency admissions and treatment. Most ambulances have a Red Cross on a white background, but members of the Rapid Medical Action Force (RMAF) have a yellow and green livery ambulance with a Red Cross sign.
- For any urgent medical attention or ambulance services, call ☎ 102. Kerala Healthcare Department has unified with ☎ 1298 and ☎ 108 emergency providers. 108 Emergency is an advanced life-saving ambulance even equipped to carry out minor operations operating mainly in urban areas, while 1298 provides comprehensive services across all parts of Kerala.
- In event of an accident, use only hospitals marked "'Casualty'" outside, as they have a suitable licence to admit a road accident case.
- In event of any accident on a roadway, call ☎ 100 for police or ☎ 108, as many times common citizens do not come to rescue, especially in large cities, fearing involvement in a police case. The police maintain fast and effective accident identification and recovery service; thus, in the event of any accident, even a distress call from your mobile can help them to identify your position and assist in expediting medical attention.
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.
Most toilets do not have toilet paper, so always carry your own.
Malaria, dengue fever, cholera and viral fever are endemic to the region. Moonsoon time is considered as one of the major epidemic seasons, due to the wet atmosphere, providing breeding grounds for various water-borne viruses. You require good mosquito controlling repellents which need to be applied regularly, or use of mosquito coils or mosquito repellent mats in your room and mosquito nets over your bed. Various local spice extracts and oils are effective methods for repelling mosquitoes.
While touring during summer days, always wear a cap or have an umbrella to avoid the harshness of the tropical sun, and wear only cotton. Drinking sharbath, a locally popular road-side stall drink made of carbonated lemon juice mixed with sugar syrup with a little salt, is very helpful in staving off dehydration.
The standard of medical care in Kerala is excellent and this is a popular destination for medical tourism [dead link] and medical research. Many hospitals in Kerala are of international standards. 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.
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 have an appointment to avoid large queues and majority of them have pharmacies nearby.
Large, super-specialty hospitals are available in major metros which are major research centres and famed for complex surgeries and treatments, thought its slightly expensive by Indian standards. Most of the hospitals in large towns and metros do accept foreign medical insurance cards, mainly issued in US, Europe and Middle East countries, apart from almost all national medical insurance covers, which needed to be check at hospital reception.
Kerala has some of the prestigious large Ayurvedic hospitals as well as super-specialty Ayurvedic Research centres, some even equipped to conduct surgeries and cancer treatments. Generally Ayurvedic healthcare centres are more expensive than Allopathic centres.
Visiting places of worship
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 their shrines is necessary to understand the breadth of cultural influences in the state.
Unlike other parts of India, most Hindu temples in Kerala do not admit non-Hindus inside and a sign board to that effect is prominently displayed outside the temple premises. The only exceptions are the Muthappan Temples, which do not have these restrictions. It is best to ask someone at the temple if you are not sure. Photography inside the temple is a strict no-no.
Because tidiness and personal hygiene are important, a bath in the morning is required for those entering a temple.
For male visitors at many places inside a temple, the 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, so cheap footwear is best.
Women should wear a long dress, preferably not shirts and trousers, and are forbidden from entering temples for 7 days after the start of their menstrual period.
There are exceptions to some of these rules, though, so when in doubt, check.
Unlike other parts of India, most mosques in Kerala do not admit non-Muslims inside. Some mosques do not allow women inside. For those that do, women must dress modesty by wearing a dress that covers their entire torso, legs and arms, and cover their head with a shawl or scarf. No photography or any electronic equipment is allowed inside, and all who enter must remove their shoes.
The churches in Kerala admit non-Christians also inside. Men usually 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 and short trousers are not permitted.
Many Jain temples are not functioning today, though the Kochi and Kozhikode temples are still active. When visiting an active Jain temple modest dress is required, including a head covering and something to cover the nose and mouth since Jains believe in utmost non-violence and do not like even to kill a small insect that might be inhaled. Do not take any pictures of Jain monks, as some Jain Monks believe in nudity and taking their pictures is considered offensive.
Though Kerala is a tourist-friendly state, famed for its hospitality, there are some customs and social etiquette which should be understood if you would like to be respectful and respected as a visitor.
- Kerala is traditionally a matriarchal society, with ladies given more preferences and priority. They receive priorities in queue, seating in public transport, priority or separate reservations in public transport waiting lists, etc.
- Ladies are expected to conform to traditional standards of modesty. For example, Ladies smoking and drinking are considered a social taboo (so you might want to be discreet if you partake). Ladies should wear shorts that at least cover the knee. They will fit in better if they wear full-length dresses and skirts.
- Though Kerala ranks highest in alcohol consumption inside India, including wine or beer, public consumption is frowned upon. Women consuming alcohol are especially frowned upon; it would be unwise for a woman visiting the state to enter a bar, with the exception of lounges and bars in premium hotels in cities such as Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram.
- Nudity in any form is frowned upon for both genders, and the rule applies especially to women. It's OK for men to be bare-chested in public, though it's not appreciated much except at the beach or rural areas. In public beaches or rivers, women can wear swim-suits or covering towels around the body, but bikinis are generally frowned upon and only invite trouble. It is safest to confirm with a female hotel receptionist if a private hotel pool will allow bikinis. Though there is no gender segregation at beaches, rivers, ghats or swimming pools, gender segregation is maintained in temple ponds and certain public ghats.
- In any public transport like buses, the front rows are reserved for ladies, and men are not expected to sit there, even if the seats are unoccupied. Likewise, there are some lady coaches in train, where only women, girls, and pre-pubescent male children are admitted.
- If you have Kerala sadya (traditional Kerala buffet) in places other than large hotels, you are expected to throw away any leftovers (called echil) by folding the leaf upon which you ate into two and putting it where others do. You must not leave it at the serving place and leave.
- Sharing food from same plate or packet is considered rude, even within couples.
- You are required to wash hands before and after eating in front of others. Wiping with tissues after eating is not regarded as sufficient.
Kerala is completely covered by mobile network connectivity, though 3G services are still limited to major cities and by limited service providers. Major hotels offer free Wi-Fi and there are internet cafes in leading cities.
- Bangalore — the garden city, once the sleepy home of pensioners now transformed into the city of pubs and technology companies.
- Courtallam - famous for its several small and large water falls and oil therapy, located near to Kollam
- Kanyakumari - A religious place for Hindus, lies on the southern tip of Indian mainland and the Vivekananda rock.
- Kodagu - a popular hill-station, known as Scotland of India. Famous for its exotic coffee plantations, Tibetan settlements, forest safaris and woods party.
- Lakshadweep - the pristine coral reef islands, small archipelagos, white sand beaches famous for scuba diving.
- Madurai — city famous for its Meenakshi Amman Temple, it was among the nominees for the new list of 7 wonders of the world for its architecture.
- Maldives - world famous island country, well connected with easy flights from Trivandrum, famous for its water sports and beach tourism.
- Mysore - The cultural capital of neighboring Karnataka State, famous for its large palaces and festivals.