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Since the time of ancient Greece, Europeans have been seduced by the fecundity, vibrance and cultural sophistication of India’s far southwest – an intensely tropical region known to outsiders as the ‘Malabar’, and to its inhabitants as simply ‘Kerala’ – ‘Land of the Chera Kings’. Black pepper was the reason foreigners originally came here. Now it’s Kerala’s dreamy beaches, serene backwater lagoons, forested mountains and abundant wildlife that are the prime incentives, along with the chance to experience one of the oldest and most traditional cultures in Asia.
For despite being a go-ahead, modern state, with the country’s highest levels of literacy and lowest levels of corruption, it’s also among the most conservative when it comes to cultural matters. Religion is very much in the foreground – whether Hindu, Muslim or Christianity (of which there are numerous denominations, some dating back to the time of St Thomas the Apostle). And clothing tends to be traditional, with knee-length, gold-and-green-edged mundus worn by as many men as Western-style trousers. Festivals, too, play a prominent part in the region’s calendar, particularly during winter months, when ear-splitting drum orchestras and processions of richly decorated elephants are a common sight around temples – all of which adds greatly to the state’s allure for visitors.
Kerala’s other assets as a destination are its stylish heritage and boutique hotels. In the space of just a week, you can cruise the rivers of Kuttanad in a converted rice barge, bed down in a former tea planter’s bungalow high in the hills, and relax over an Ayurvedic massage in an antique wood nallukettu house nestled in the palm grove behind a secluded beach or backwater canal.
Such distinctive attractions – both cultural and natural – explain why National Geographic’s Traveler magazine named the state as one of their ‘Top 50 Must See Destinations of a Lifetime’.
Our tours to Kerala have been carefully devised to incorporate the most inspirational locations and places to stay in the state. Each itinerary has been carefully planned, and road-tested, by our team based in Cochin, who also provide invaluable back-up while you’re on holiday.
The outlandish costume of the Kathakali hero has become emblematic of Kerala, but the form is only one among many elaborate types of ritual theatre still widely performed in the state.