23rd February 2016
When you think of the Indian sub continent you think of the Taj Mahal reflecting the sun in Agra, the sport of Cricket, Mother Teresa working with children in the slums of Kolkata and the effects of Delhi Belly after indulging in a little too much spicy food. I recently was invited to visit “God’s Own Country”, Kerala in southern India and it’s 35 million inhabitants, to see what delights it could offer.
Here’s why you should NEVER EVER consider thinking of adding Kerala to your ‘MUST VISIT’ list.
1. The Weather
It’s just so hot all the time, peaking at 34 degrees celsius it’s uncomfortably hot, sticky and sweat inducing. Having to lather yourself in factor 50+ sun cream even just to walk outside the door, sit on one of the many long sandy beaches or go trekking in the Western Ghats, the mountain range that separates Kerala from Tamil Nadu to the east.
Another particularly annoying aspect of this is not being recognised by your friends when you get home as your skin has turned a fantastic shade of golden brown.
2. The Ever Changing Landscape
Just when you get used to the landscape you turn around and frustratingly it’s completely changed. From the canals and paddy fields of the backwaters, the hustle and bustle of Trivandrum and Kochin, tea and spice plantations, the animal laden forests which cover 30% of the land area of the state to the cliffs and peaks of the Western Ghats including with the vertigo inducing drops, inches from the side of the barely there, single lane, dirt road.
3. The Indian People
The permanent smile plastered onto every Indian’s face as they go about their daily business can become a headache as you find the contagious effect of their happiness and are unable to remove the smile from your own face after just a small exposure to this epidemic.
You are mostly at risk from children with beaming teeth and frantically waving hands, just so excited to see foreigners in their own backyards and secondly from the excellent reaction of staff in shops, hotels and restaurants when you attempt to use the local language, Malayalam.
The vibrant colours worn in the daily dress by Kerala women is both eye catching and beautiful but can be troublesome for the colourblind.
4. The Lack Of Privacy
While staying on the houseboats on the extensive inland waterways of the Kerala Backwaters, Lakes and Lagoons, the houseboat rental company, insisted on putting three local men stay with our group. These three complete strangers then proceeded to drive the boat, cook three meals and wait on us hand and foot in what was certainly one of the best accommodation experiences I’ve ever had anywhere.
5. Virtually Non-Existant Internet Access
The almost blanket absence of phone coverage and internet access once you travel outside the urban centres means you have to actually engage in conversation with your friends, have time to think, maybe read a book or just soak up the silence in the mountains or the waterways.
6. The Hot & Spicy Food
I’m not a foodie, particularly when it comes to spicy foods or sauces. So this is probably the only actual negative in my experience. In reality this is entirely down to my limited food palate and not the responsibility of the local chefs. The selection of vegetarian and non vegetarian dishes have the remainder of the group fighting over themselves to sample the curries, seafood dishes, rice and amazing desserts.
7. Developing World Accommodation Options
If you’d been looking forward to staying in India after watching Slumdog Millionaire you’ll be bitterly disappointed to find the reality is a million miles away. Kerala’s high end resorts are amazing with lakeside cabins, swimming pools, private beaches, waterside cocktail bars, hammocks and beautiful sunset views the order of the day.
Our entire group even had to resort to sleeping in tents in a camp high in the mountains and on a fully serviced and staffed houseboat due to the limited options available in the state.
8. The Language Barrier
36% of Indian’s are classified as illiterate, never mind being able to speak or any other major international language. Luckily Kerala bucks the trend here, a 94% literacy rate throughout the state means most of the natives are well educated and able to sustain a conversation in English, some of our Indian tour guides even managed to jump through a number of international languages with relative ease.
9. Having To Pick Your Own Food
A visit to Deepa Spice World for a Ayurveda Garden Tour where our tour guide entertained and engaged with the large multi cultural group in a selection of international languages. Displaying the various plants, herbs and spices growing in the plantation with a mix of comedy and insightful information was a particular highlight.
10. Lack Of Transport Options
As a developing country India has not fully mastered how to move people from one point to another, Kerala is no different in this regard.
Seeking to get to a viewpoint at the top of a nearby hill, the entire group I’m travelling with on the Kerala Blog Express were forced to trek through the nearby fields, forest paths and light jungle before the amazing vista of the Silent Valley came into full view.
On another day we wanted to have a picnic on an island in the middle of a lake but obviously didn’t want our food to get wet, the good people at Kalypso Adventureswere kind enough to help us out with the loan of kayaks and even a guide to show us the best way.
11. The Native Animals
There are sections of the state which are closed off to visitors in order to create a home for rare and endangered species of animals. The Periyar Tiger Reserve is an animal centred 925 sq km park in Thekkady which houses a number of fantastic beasts. The pride and joy of the park stayed out of the way during my visit, but the Elephants, Bison and Otters were out in force to say hello and welcome me into their home.
12. Road Safety
Not only do you have to deal with the randomness of the crazy behaviour of Indian drivers some of the roads, particularly in the highlands to the east of the state, are barely inches from the cliff edge, dropping hundreds or even thousands of feet, into the breathtaking valleys below.
At first watching the cars, trucks, buses and motorcycles weaving around each other in what seems like total chaos results in plenty of head in hands moments until you realise that the lack of technology and other distractions mean a much better focus on the task at hand from the state’s drivers and very few road accidents.
About Kerala Blog Express
The first of a series of posts as part of the Kerala Blog Express 3. You can follow me on social media for up to the minute updates. All the relevant links are at the bottom of the page.