Some of what I experienced traveling through Southern India was eagerly anticipated. Amazing food. A rainbow of colorful Sarees and lots and lots of people. While other things were completely unexpected. Like meeting so many people extremely curious about us. Or realizing India only has one time zone twelve and a half hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time. Then there is Kerala. The paradise of India.
Why Kerala is Called ‘God’s Own Country’
In a moment of pure marketing genius ‘God’s Own Country’ was adopted as Kerala’s state slogan in the ’80s, forever ensuring it would be known as the paradise of India. Of course like all things beautiful in India, Hindu mythology has a more poetic explanation.
As the myth goes Lord Parasurama, a Vishnu incarnation, threw his axe from the ocean… or across the sea depending on who is telling the story. Either way, mountains pushed up from the ocean where the axe landed. Giving Lord Parasurama devotees a place to live in peace and beauty. A place called Kerala. Hence ‘God’s Own Country.’
Pictures of Kerala’s Top Tourist Spots Explain it All
After seeing Kerala, I get it. Kerala is a different side of India. Fertile soil rich in minerals supports bountiful, lush crops. Pepper, cardamom, coconut, coffee, tea, turmeric and oddly natural rubber from Kerala are important national outputs for all of India. Rising in elevation rubber trees farms give way to fragrant spice villages, which give way to elegant tea plantations thriving in higher altitude rains.
I wanted to write this post in part for the beauty of the region, but also in part because I’ve been taking things I love for granted. Take for example fruit and spices. Did you know Jackfruit, that giant green bumpy fruit comes from the same family as a tiny ole fig? Or that coconuts like bananas are a fruit? Or that banana trees have edible flowers? I didn’t!
Show of hands. Who knew mace and nutmeg come from the same plant? I didn’t! Mace is made from a red seed covering called aril that’s webbed around the nutmeg seed. I love cardamom, yet while peeling open a freshly picked cardamom seed, I still had no idea what I was looking at. Least of all that cardamom is from the ginger family! No wonder I love it so much, and turmeric! I walked right over it without knowing.
How about black pepper. Ever think much about it? An everyday spice I was ashamed when I saw it hanging on a vine at a spice village, I had no idea what it was! Or that peppercorns are actually a fruit! Was it just me that didn’t know white, green and black peppercorns are the same plant, just harvested and processed differently just like tea? More on that next but first. For my fellow spice girls and guys out there, here are a few photos of Paolo’s from our tour at a spice farm in Kerala, India.
Speaking of Paolo, he doesn’t like handing over his camera for photos. Ever. When he does, I know he just fell in love with whatever we’re seeing. Only then does he let me take his photo, with his camera. That alone says a lot for visiting a tea plantation in Munnar, a small hilltop town in Kerala, India.
Over the last two years my husband has developed a serious tea habit. Every day, twice a day he brews a large pot of tea. Being a bit of a snob about the types of teas he brews and where they come from, Paolo loved our stop in Munnar.
Munnar India’s Paradise for Tea Lovers
Munnar gave us the chance to learn more about something else we love. Tea! Until visiting a tea plantation, I had no idea white, green and black tea all come from the leaves of the same plant. As does Jasmin from the flower. The difference being when harvesting happens and how the tea is processed.
Munnar also happens to be a popular honeymoon destination and again, I can see why. Given an elevation of nearly 6,000 feet Munnar is much cooler than other parts of Southern India. Views of meticulously cultivated tea plantations stretch for 72 square miles in every direction. Visiting Munnar feels a bit like being transported into a posh spa for tea lovers. Surely the perfect cup of tea and a relaxing view are always at hand.
For Paolo’s fellow tea lovers, this slideshows for you!
The idea of leaving cooler temperatures in the mountains of Kerala had me a bit bummed. That is until we boarded a boat through the backwaters of Kerala.
Top Kerala Backwaters Destination, Alleppey
Alleppey along with Srinagar and Udaipur are the three cities collectively know as ‘Venice of the East‘. A series of lakes and rivers connect to make up waterways that indeed are reminiscent of Venice. Only a bit more exotic. Houseboats cruises along the rural backwaters through a network of calm water canals and lagoons. Which brings us to yet another reason Kerala lives up to the reputation of the paradise of India. Kerala Backwaters are a vibrant example of life and culture in Southern India. They also just so happen to be resplendent at sunset as golden hues reflect off glimmering waters.
Compared to the other parts of Southern India we toured, Kerala is shockingly clean and almost entirely free from litter and panhandling. These differences combined with the natural beauty of the state help explain why Southern India is a tourist destination despite the heat. Westerners most likely find it less jarring than other parts of India and to me that’s exactly what makes this next bit ironic.
Kerala is a Communist State in India
With all the fear of socialism Americans have, one of the most stunning things about Kerala to me, is that it’s a communist state. When I asked why I didn’t see any panhandling in Kerala I was told it was illegal. When I noticed there are few homeless, I was told the land was divided among citizens to ensure equitable housing.
So while Kerla is only the twenty-third largest state in India area wise it has the 10th-largest economy with $110 billion in gross state domestic product (GSDP). The reason The Communist Party of India (CPI) is unique is that it was voted into power in a democratic election. Now it functions under the condition of a liberal democracy. So even though Kerala is a communist state, multi-party elections are held. The CPI maintains a perception of benevolent power by avoiding the use of military force to stay in power. In the end Kerala functions more like a moderate socialist society that a communist dictatorship. Pretty fascinating stuff if you ask me.
From the backwaters of Kerala to hilltop tea plantations and all the spices in-between Kerala certainly does India proud as its paradise. I hope you enjoy the pictures of some of Kerala’s top tourist spots as much as I enjoyed pulling the slideshows together.
Next up I’ll bring out my favorite photos of the rainbow of Sarees seen through Southern India and then share a bit about why I enjoy getting to travel through parts of the world with my in-laws.