A couple of years ago I headed out to Kerala, for a spa getaway. It was in the heart of the monsoons and I was expecting to be indoors most of the times. My getaway was to a small village in north Kerala called Bekal. Since the time I landed in Mangalore and made my way through the many turns and nooks of Kasaragod I fell in love with the lush greenery that surrounded me. The landscape looked washed clean in the monsoons and I knew I had to see more. Post the leisure getaway, I boarded a train and headed south.
I realized very early in my travel business that off season is sometimes the real season, and I could see that even so clearly when it came to Kerala, a state over run with tourism for the rest for the year. In the monsoons the hotels, hosts, taxi drivers heave a sigh of reluctant relief. But the landscape turns a magical colour of green, and everything seems more beautiful, more calm sans the maddening crowds. Contrary to belief, there are no dearth of activities and sexy things to do in Kerala in the monsoons , here is my compilation for the monsoon traveler.
When off season is the season
Fort Cochin Experience: Of vintage cafes and cosy homestays, Fort Cochin has a charm of its own. Away from the cacophony of Cochin which has all the trappings of a capital city including an airport far away, it is a gem to be explored. Victorian architecture, the coastline fringed with Chinese fishing nets and an efficient water transport system , Fort Cochin is an experience of its own. Go for a walk around the lanes that will lead you to many cafes or old sprawling banyan trees. In the evenings catch a Kathakali show at the Kerala Kathakali centre, and if you reach there a tad early, you also get to witness the dancers while they put on their face paint for the performance.
If you go a little beyond you will stumble upon a quaint Jewish town. Called Mattencherry, it is a hub of Paradesi Jews who originally came here to escape the Inquisition in Spain, Portugal and Netherlands. (Paradesi means foreigner). They were granted their own space under a Hindu maharaja and here they thrived for centuries. Their population is sadly slowly dwindling post 1947 as most of them returned to Israel, and are now reduced to only a handful. An old cemetery, an old synagogue, antique shops selling furniture and beautiful crochet work makes it a favourite haunt with tourists, who are the last fading hope for the community. Jew town is a work of wonder with great heritage and makes for a great walk.
Backwaters on a house boat: Alleppey and Kumarakom boasts of beautiful backwaters. Meandering between villages, rice fields and coconut groves, these backwaters will give you a peek into the real local life there. In the monsoons the number of houseboats on the waters reduce drastically and rates are also far more pocket friendly making it a win win for the monsoon traveler. You can choose to go for a boat ride in the backwaters or stay overnight in the decorated houseboats and soak in the charm of a quintessential Kerala Holiday.
Train rides: Kerala has an efficient train system, making it very easy for a traveler to traverse the coast, if you are not looking to hit the road. I took a train from Bekal to Cochin, then a train from Alleppey to Varkala and I traveled on General second class and an AC chair car, and both were equally comfortable and enjoyable , infact the former was more so, as you had beautiful scenery and rain laden breeze to keep you company.
Homestays: With the boom in tourism in this state, many locals opened up their homes to host tourists. So, expect traditional Kerala homes, to new homes keeping traditional architecture in mind but done up in a modern way. Themes range from Victorian to Malayali to artistic explorations, but each of them are top of their class. Great hospitality, clean beautifully maintained rooms comfort and a homely touch with personalized attention from the owners, what more could a traveler ask for.
Beaches sans the crowds: The beaches of Marari near Alleppey, Varkala in the south are gems for those who like to stay away from the crowds. In the monsoons the scenery gets even more dramatic and if you are looking for some quiet time, then just run here. Hire a bike, go for some self explorations, find hidden nooks and crannies, trace out smaller villagers and stop wayside for a coconut or a puttu. This picture is of a smaller beach a 20min bike ride from Varkala called Kappil. It has the backwaters on one side and the sea on the other.
Spa getaway: Kerala makes for an excellent wellness holiday and especially so in the monsoons. So if you are looking to take it easy, relax into a boutique resort and indulge in some spa therapies then Kerela is your best bet. Try Taj Bekal, and why just limit it there. Most hotels offer Spa packages in the monsoons, so if you were looking to spend some bucks for some great value, this is a great bet!
Learn new skills: The rains do limit your time in the outdoors, so one of the best ways to make peace with that is to pick up new skills. While in Kerala, brush up on your cooking lessons and sign up for a cooking class in traditional Kerala Cuisine in Fort Cochin and impress mom on your return. If you are looking for some more adrenalin driven skill, then why not sign up for a Kalaripayattu class. It is the traditional art from of self defense from Kerala. It has been carried down by generations, and will make you flex all your muscles. You can also take a course in Ayurveda and learn the nuisances of this ancient science which the world has heartily adopted.
So many things that you can do, so much to learn, experience, see and partake in, leaves Kerala ranking very high on every Travelers wishlist even in the monsoons, especially in the monsoons. What is your favourite Kerala experience, write to me and tell me so, in the comments section below.