Experience the Kerala

What a traveler seeks most while embarking on a journey to a new land is to gain an experience hitherto unknown. Even those who return to the favorite destination look not for a repeat of what he already has experienced -however unforgettable it may be- but a better or value added version. Kerala, tagged the God's Own Country, is a perfect choice to beat the dejavu. For Kerala has something new to offer at each visit. From the conventional to the offbeat, it has almost everything a discerning traveler would look for. But each is distinct with the remarkable Kerala touch. As the title of state tourism department's latest.

Ad film suggests, 'Your moment is waiting' here, for the rendezvous to happen. With tourism becoming Kerala's boom business, service providers vie with one another to catch the attention of the traveler with unique and value- added products. The traveler has also become more demanding and selective mood looks for newer and specific experiences each time, which has prompted the travel service providers to offer more 'exclusive' ideas. The developments in technology and transport facilities have made mass tourism in the form of cruise tourism' and 'charter tourism' fashionable, but it is the free and independent (FIT) travelers who set the trend. Their demands - odd at times give more 'ideas' to the travel industry and they develop packages accordingly. There is also a tendency to develop packages and products focusing on specific areas, experience and the requirements put forward by travelers. With niche tourism becoming the buzz word, conventional travel and tourism activity is becoming obsolete. But, just like a good 'test player' who can do well in the other two forms - 'limited-over' and '20:20' - of cricket, a 'good destination' can cope with these new developments. Kerala is one such destination.

Long before Walter Mendez, a copywriter with the ad agency Mudra, exclaimed "God's Country" while watching a sunset over the Kochi backwaters (which later became the catch line God's Own Country) and much before tourism became a money spinner, Kerala had made its mark on the world tourism map through a quaint beach called Kovalam. For a long time in the international tourism circuit, Kovalam stood for Kerala as it was the state's magnificent product, but its only one. However the situation has changed now. Kerala is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world with the National Geographic Traveler naming it as one of the ten paradises on planet Earth. Today, Kerala Tourism is a global 'Super brand' and regarded as one of the destinations with the highest brand recall.

From beaches and hill stations to festivals and wildlife the state has a lot, almost everything, a traveler would look for during a travel. Monsoon - Landscapes in watercolor: The rains in Kerala have something surrealistically magical about them. And it has many admirers - from far and near. There are numerous paintings and musical compositions that celebrate the myriad moods of monsoon. From Kalidasa's Rithusamhara (The Seasons) to Alexander Frater's modern day bestseller, 'Chasing the Monsoon', pay tribute to the subcontinent's magnificent monsoons for which Kerala is the gateway.

Kerala is blessed with two monsoons, the South West monsoon or Edavappathi - which lasts from June to August, and the North East monsoon or the retreating monsoon which occurs during October-November. Locally called Thulavarsham (so named because it is the varsham (rain) that falls in the month of Thulam) this second spate of rain lasts for one month.

The tourism industry in Kerala has been quick in realizing the potential of the monsoon season's popularity and launch campaigns and packages to promote it in the international tourism market, as a product that is pleasantly different from the mundane. Visitors find the magic of monsoon mesmerizing. Features appeared in magazines like National Geographic and TV documentaries broadcast in various international channels have played a major part in making 'the Monsoon Magic of God's Own Country' known to the world.

According to Ayurveda, Monsoon is the best season to undergo rejuvenation and revitalization therapies as well as to take up treatment for various diseases. It is the time when the body is most receptive to powers of the herbs and concoctions used in Ayurveda. Most resorts in Kerala offer Ayurveda packages specially designed for the monsoon season. Monsoon is also the right time to unwind and relax. Sipping hot tea and listening to the varying rhythm of the falling raindrops is one way of achieving that objective. Or just walk out and get drenched in the rain, take a tour to the countryside, wade through knee-deep water, feel the freshness of the glittering green foliage and watch the rain clouds gather and melt down. Rain transforms the land magically and provides the onlooker with unforgettable experiences.

Hill Stations - Where Mist Hangs Curtains: Like holidaying on and around beaches, hill station vacations were also introduced here by the British, the erstwhile rulers of the country. When the summer of the plains became unbearable they retreated to the hills. The Dutch and English colonial rulers of Kerala introduced cash crops plantations such as rubber and tea in the 18th and 19th centuries in the hills - or the 'high ranges'. Many of those plantations have now become tourism attractions. Western Ghats and the Blue Mountains which border the Western side of Kerala have a number of hill stations. From the cool plantations of tea, rubber and spices to the dense wilderness, the hill stations of Munnar, Waynaad, Ponmudi, Agastyarkoodam Peak have an ambience about them which is mesmerizing. With its sprawling plantations, photo-album towns, winding lanes most of them still maintain an old world charm. For further details about Munnar, Waynaad, Ponmudi, Agastyarkoodam Peak, please refer to section 2, Odyssey Kerala.

Eco Tourism -Leave only Footprints: It is with the emergence of the 'environment conscious traveller'; ecotourism started gaining popularity all over the world. Kerala, which is a unique ecotourism hot spot, is a destination that focuses on sustainable and eco-friendly development of tourism. There are a number of eco-tourism related tourism activities available in the state. Peppara Wildlife Sanctuary (which lies 50 km northeast of Thiruvananthapuram city) is a haven for birdwatchers and butterfly lovers. The Sanctuary supports an assortment of wildlife. One or two-day treks are also possible here. Tucked away in the valley between the Anamalai ranges of Tamil Nadu and the Nelliampathy ranges on the majestic Western Ghats is Parambikulam Wildlife Sanctuary which is home to the first ever scientifically managed teak plantation and the world's tallest and oldest teak tree. The Eravikulam National Park is situated in Devikulam Taluk ofIdukki District. Aralam Wildlife Sanctuary, 45 km east of Kannur, is home to a variety of birds and animals. An overnight stay in the forest watchtower provides ample opportunity for spotting the wildlife. Crocodile watching, boating and trekking are some of the main activities possible here. The ecotourism packages here include short treks, bird/wildlife watching, visit to the nearby tribal settlement, outdoor camping in jungle camps etc. Shenduruney Wildlife Sanctuary, a part of the Agasthyamalai Biosphere Reserve, is acclaimed for its rich biodiversity. The Dharbhakulam trail, Kallar trail and Kuttilappara-Choodal bird watching trail are the three ecotourism packages offered here.

Gavi, which lies 40 km Kumily, in the middle of tea plantations, is one one eco- tourism destination which became popular recently. Chimmini Wildlife Sanctuary in Mukundapuram Taluk of Thrissur; is popular among bird and butterfly watchers. Mankayam situated at Idinjar Falls in Palode in Nedumangad Taluk ofThiruvananthapuram District another trekking zone. Palaruvi, situated 75 km from Kollam on Kollam- Shencottai road was once a retreat for the Maharajas of Travancore. The remnants of yesteryear grandeur are still there to be seen. Trekking is the main activity here.

Culture and Heritage - Different hues: For a traveler who is interested in the cultural and heritage aspects, Kerala has a lot to offer. The rich and colorful cultural landscape of the state plays a significant role in attracting visitors to the state. The historical and cultural past makes it a unique place to visit. The rich heritage of the land is reflected in the various temples, palaces and forts. Though not branded and marketed as cultural tourism, from Thrissur Pooram to Nehru Trophy Boat Race and Kathakali to Kalarippyat attracts visitors from different parts of the world to Kerala.

Festivals - especially poorams - are a main attraction as far as overseas visitors are concerned. The presence of caparisoned elephants and thousands of people make poorams a 'nowhere else' experience for the visitors. Thrissur Pooram is the most popular among them. The annual Attukal Temple festival, where a world-record number of women gather every year to pay offerings to the deity is another festival which draws devotees as well as tourists. Many temple festivals in northern Kerala attract travelers who are interested in the cultural aspects.

Kathakali, the classical dance drama and Kalarippayat, the traditional martial arts (which many people consider to be the most ancient and 'mother of all martial art forms") are two other 'cultural tourism products' which are popular among visitors

Kerala Kalamandalam is the premiere public institution in India imparting training in and conducting performances of the classical arts of Kerala viz. Kathakali, Koodiyattam, Mohiniyaattam, Thullal and Panchavaadyam. Founded in 1930 by renowned Malayalam poet Vallathol Narayana Menon, Kalamandalam along the banks of the river Nila in Cheruthuruthy, Thrissur District, Kalamandalam imparts training in classical art forms in Kerala adhering to the ancient Gurukula sambradaaya which is the traditional 'residential' mode of education. Here arrangements have been made for the visitors to spend a few hours at the Kalamandalam campus most beneficially through direct exposure to masters in various art-disciplines. The project, A Day with the Masters, run in collaboration with the state tourism department is an attempt to give national and international tourists an idea about the aesthetics of traditional classical art forms of the state.

Nehru Trophy Boat Race, which is the biggest team event in the world in terms of number of participants per team, is another event that is also a tourist attraction.

The Pattanam excavations carried out in to search of archaeological evidence that would help to locate an early historic urban settlement and the ancient Indo-Roman port of Muziris is an attraction that might soon draw visitors from all over the world. The Muziris Heritage Site (MHS) stretches across from North Paravur in Ernakulam district to that of Kodungalloor in Thrissurdistrict.

Fort Kochi where one can find remnants of Portuguese, Dutch and Chinese cultures. For more details on Fort Cochin, Mattancherry and Jew town turn to page 64.

The teak plantation and Teak Museum in Nilambur, Edakkal Caves (the cave site where pictorial writings from Neolithic period can be seen) the beautiful wooden palace at Padmanabhapuram and Aranmula Mirror (a special type of mirror composed of a special metal alloy, instead of glass) are some other 'culture-heritage' tourism amusements.

Kerala is also a treasure trove of the finest crafts, especially carvings of elephants, curios, figurines, mats, bags, handloom products, jewellery boxes and a lot of other items including wooden furniture, used for decoration and utility.

Backwaters and House Boats: Backwaters and Houseboats are two tourism attractions unique to Kerala. Houseboats, which were the major mode of cargo transportation in the backwaters of Kerala, are huge, slow moving, exotic barges. But they have been redesigned to suit the needs of the tourists. Alappuzha and Kuttanad are two places which are famous for the backwaters and can be explored best in a houseboat. Houseboat and backwaters are not just about cruising along. It is an opportunity to watch the life in these places from close quarters.

Adventure Tourism: If you think that Kerala is all about beaches and hill stations and culture and festivals and nothing for those who have adventure in mind, and then you are wrong. Kerala has a lot for those are adventurously inclined - both 'soft' and 'hard' varieties. From trekking and camping to paragliding and motor cycle tours and mountain biking - everything which has a Kerala touch to it.

Kerala is home to some of the most well known wildlife sanctuaries of the country. One can watch animals and birds in the natural settings in these places. There are a wide variety of options ranging from the highest possible trek in South India to few hours trek in Periyar Tiger Reserve besides high altitude treks, wilderness walks and night treks. Konni Elephant Training Centre near Pathanamthitta where one can see wild elephant cubs getting 'training' attracts a lot of people. Silent Valley National Park which is one of the last rainforests left in India is also home to the largest population of lion-tailed Macaque, which is among the world's rarestand most threatened primates. The rivers, lagoons, lakes, canals and sea water in Kerala also allow water adventures like canoeing, catamaran sailing, kayaking, para sailing, scuba diving, snorkeling and wind surfing. Not just sun, sand and surf: Beaches are a favourite destination for holidaymakers everywhere. Kerala beaches are unique in many ways, with each one of them having their own charm. They are not just about sun, sand and surf - but much more, though most of the beaches provide the visitors with the option tosun bathe and swim in the sea.

Located in the Kannur district, the Moppila Bay is a fishing harbour. For a bit of sightseeing, there is ruins fan old fort (St Angelo’s) and a temple. Lying in the Vembanad Lake, the Pathiramanal Island is home to numerous varieties of migratory and endangered birds. Situated close to the Kannur town, the Payyambalam beach is counted amongst the best beaches of Kerala because of its serene beauty. Opportunities to relax and sunbathe are plenty. Close to the Thiruvananthapuram Airport and Veli Tourist Village Shankhumugham Beach provides easy access for visitors, where one can spend an evening watching the sun disappearing in the horizon. Thangassery Beach in Kollam and the little village which houses it have a historical significance to make them popular. The lighthouse there is a popular attraction besides the remnants of an Old Portuguese fort. Thirumullavaram beach also in Kollam is perfect to enjoy a walk early in the morning.

Home stays-Home Away From Home: Home stays are a new trend that has become popular with the travelers as well as the industry. Unlike a hotel or resort they allow a visitor to freely mingle with the local people and get closer understanding of the ethos and traditions of the society thus getting an overview of life in this part of the world. The visitor also gets special care and personal attention to all their needs. Here a traveler gets the chance to roam around at will and get opportunities to experience many things first hand including ethnic food, festivals and social events. Home stay facilities are available in different parts of Kerala, and they provide different experiences.

A lot of people come to Kerala for Ayurveda treatments. Kerala is known to be practicing Ayurveda at its most original and unadulterated form. Kerala is popular among travelers who seek cheaper but quality medical care, especially for their teeth. Travel agents and tour operators have come up with 'Wellness Tourism' packages to tap this market.

Besides these main categories there are a lot of segments like Pilgrimage Tourism (Sabarimala, Guruvayur and Bharananganam are three prominent centers in this category), Literary Tourism (Kovalam Literary Festival which has entered its third year has already found a place in the 'literary tourism' map) and which are marketed by different agencies and attract visitors to the state. The Hay Festival of Literature and Arts - one of the world's largest literary festivals- also has its first Indian edition at Kerala from 2010.