It only took a few seconds for Kerala to obliterate my expectations. Kerala is one of 30 states in India, but to lump it in as “just another state in India” is to do a disservice to this state and its 33 million residents.

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If you had asked me where Kerala was last September, I couldn’t have given you an answer. And before arriving, I must admit that I had no idea that “tropical paradise” could be used to describe any part of India. And yet, after being greeted at the airport with flowers and welcome signs, receiving a shell necklace upon check-in at the Turtle on the Beach Resort, and waking up to crashing waves and palm trees outside my window… I’m beginning to question all of my preconceived notions about this place.

I’m three days into the Kerala Blog Express, a 15-day journey across Kerala with 30 bloggers from 25 different countries. Over the course of the trip, we’ll travel over 1,400 miles in this amazing bus (photo courtesy of KBE) as we take in the beauty and culture of Kerala while participating in some once-in-a-lifetime activities.

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The back of the t-shirts we received upon arrival say “Trip of a Lifetime” and that’s not an exaggeration at all!

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So far, we’ve been welcomed by some of the most friendly and hospitable people I’ve ever met with the most over-the-top welcome ceremonies. Just one example: at theWelcomHotel Raviz Ashtamudi in Kollam, we stepped off the bus to the sounds of the chenda drum and two Kathakali (Indian dance-drama) performers..

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As we walked into the hotel, we were greeted with cold towels, strings of fresh jasmine draped around our necks, and sandalwood paste on our foreheads as a sign of welcome before receiving a fresh coconut… all while flower petals rained down on us from above. Is this real life?!

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We’ve spent the night sleeping in the most magnificent hotels and stayed on a houseboat as we cruised the backwaters.

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We waved as school boats, public transportation boats and a floating market passed by, noticing that life in the backwaters is a community all to itself.

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We learned that Rainbow Cruises only hires locals so we saw the area through the eyes of a team who had spent their lives on the waters we were cruising.

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We’ve seen the sun rise over rice fields filled with lotuses and watched it set among the palm trees.

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And we’ve found that it’s impossible to be ‘not hungry’ in Kerala… because the food is so good and everyone you meet is insistent that you taste it. It’s also the first actually spicy food I’ve had in 6 months of traveling… and I LOVE it!

Kerala is unlike anything I imagined and incomparable to any place I’ve been so far. I’m so glad we still have 12 days to go!