I’ve noticed that travel, for me, is defined more by human experiences and connections, rather than the place itself. A personal story that unfurls within a destination goes on to become a beautiful memory, invoking the same emotions every time I think back to my trip. Maybe that’s what made my rendezvous with Kerala so special. It’s a magnificent state with so much to offer, but inherently, it’s human by nature.
Last year, I decided to spend two weeks exploring God’s own country – Kerala.
Some of my closest friends are Malayalis, and I have always been exposed to their culture and hospitality in their homes. The outpouring of love I have received cultivated a love for the culture, and I found myself wanting to experience it in its own home. So when I decided to visit the south, Kerala was an undeniable choice for me. All the stories I’d heard from there, the food my friends’ moms had fed me, the festivals we celebrated together had given me enough and more reasons.
I’m going to tell you three short stories about why Kerala is defined by more than its sights and sounds. It’s defined by its people.
Kinship in Kannur
A highlight from my trip was getting to experience the Theyyam festival in Kannur. Theyyam is a ritual form of worship, set with ancient customs and traditions. Everything about it is a source of fascination for me – the setting in which it is performed, the dancers, their intense costume and makeup, and the stories that come with. Every Theyyam performance has a story associated, usually related to myths and legends of their Gods.
This 800-year-old dance form is wholly preserved by the people of every village. The art form is alive because the residents of Kannur band together every year as a community and organise this intense ritual in their village shrines (grama devata temple).
One has to be there to witness the energy of everyone coming together as a single unit, treating guests like their own family as they partake in this divine ritual. It’s a sight to behold, and when I left, I felt like I was leaving my own people behind. That’s how warm they are. That’s how at home I was made to feel.
Late-night stories in Munnar
The rolling tea plantations of Munnar are quite the sight and cannot be missed when in Kerala. I opted to spend a night in Suryanelli and hike up to Kolukkumalai for the sunrise, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever taken.
I stayed overnight at a campsite, and it was just me, a fellow traveller I had met maybe an hour back, and the folks running the campsite. We reached just in time to see the sun setting over the tea plantations, and we cradled our cups of tea and watched the spectacle. That night, we gazed at the stars and shared stories. Aside from being our hosts, the guys at the campsite were also true-blue Malayalis who had grown up here. They were showing us around their home, where nature is a seamless part of their lives. And when they talk to us, their palpable love for it is visible.
We hiked up the next morning, and the sunrise was magnificent. The early light brought to fore the stunning beauty of the valleys and tea plantations around it. Surreal.
Kindness in the sandy beaches of Varkala
I ended my trip in Kerala on the serene beaches of Varkala, but my journey there didn’t start very easily. Only after reaching my hotel in Varkala did I realise that I had exhausted my cash. I was walking along the famous Promenade wondering what I should do, and I spotted a travel agent’s office. I entered and asked the guy inside where I could find an ATM, and he said the closest one was in Sivagiri, 7 km away, from where I had just arrived. No one accepts card in Varkala and I was starting to get worried because I didn’t have ANY cash on me.
On a whim, I asked him if I could swipe my card in his office and if he could give me cash in its stead, and honestly, I didn’t think there was much of a chance, but he looked at me for a moment and instantly agreed. We got talking. I told him I was planning to go around the town the next day when he said ‘It’s low season. I could take you around. Are you okay with a bike?’
I was speechless.
Here I was, wondering how on earth I’d manage without cash, and not only had this guy helped me out in the nicest way possible, but he was also offering to take me around!
I agreed, and the next day, he turned up in his car (it was too hot for a bike), took me to some of the nicest beaches of Varkala, an excellent restaurant where I ate some DELICIOUS local food, and then introduced me to some of the folks he worked with as an agent. They invited me into their home for a meal (which I had to refuse on account of the massive Kerala thali I had scarfed down not an hour earlier) and regaled me with stories from the place, about their own lives and the laid-back, slow pace they loved. It was such a beautiful experience. To be welcomed like an old friend and treated with warmth and love… Isn’t that what being human is all about?
It’s obvious why Kerala is a top travel destination.
With its natural magnificence, immense culture and wonderful people, how can it not be?
Take a look at this video Kerala Tourism Board has created. It’s got everything I spoke about and more.
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This post has been written in collaboration with Kerala Tourism. All views and experiences are mine.