Explore Kerala, the jewel of South India, on this virtual tour

explore-kerala,-the-jewel-of-south-india,-on-this-virtual-tour

Backwaters of KeralaPhoto courtesy of Biju Sukumaran

Welcome to Kerala

The multicultural state of Kerala along India’s southwestern coast is a land of sandy beaches, sleepy backwaters, rolling tea plantations, pristine wildlife preserves and a calendar packed with colorful festivals. Take in the sights from afar as we explore this South Indian gem.

Chinese fishing netsPhoto courtesy of iStock / saiko3p

Chinese fishing nets of Kochi

The giant cantilevered fishing nets you’ll see along the coast near Fort Kochi were likely brought to Kerala by Chinese explorer Zheng He during the 14th and 15th centuries. These nets, silhouetted against the sunset, have become one of the most recognizable images of Kochi.

Kerala priestPhoto courtesy of Biju Sukumaran

A melting pot of religions

Hinduism ranks as the largest religion in Kerala, practiced by some 54 percent of the population. The state is one of only a few places where all major religions have coexisted peacefully for centuries. You’ll find Hindu temples, as well as churches, mosques, Jain temples, Buddhist monasteries and synagogues.

Aanayoottu at Vadakumnathan TemplePhoto courtesy of Kerala Tourism

Aanayoottu, the feeding of the elephants

During July and August each hear, devotees crowd the grounds of Vadakkumnathan Temple for the Aanayoottu festival. It is believed that by feeding elephants an Ayurvedic meal of sugarcane, rice, coconut, ghee, jaggery and medicines, worshippers will please Lord Ganesha, the elephant-faced Hindu God known to remove obstacles.

Aranmula KannadiPhoto courtesy of Kerala Tourism

Aranmula, village of metal mirrors

The village of Aranmula is known for its fine metallurgy. The Aranmula Kannadi, a metal mirror handmade in the village, is believed to bring prosperity into the home. It’s one of eight auspicious items typically displayed at important functions, like weddings.

Bekal FortPhoto courtesy of Kerala Tourism

Forts and palaces of Kerala

Kerala’s long line of rulers have led to the construction of numerous forts and palaces over the centuries. Bekal Fort, among the biggest in the states, rises 130 feet above the sea. The fort was built between 1645 and 1660 from laterite bricks.

Cashew nut factoryPhoto courtesy of Kerala Tourism

Kerala cashews

Cashews have been a commercial export from Kerala for centuries. Cashew nut trees, likely brought to Kerala by Portuguese traders, thrive in Kerala’s tropical climate. You’ll find the heaviest concentration of cashew processing facilities in the Kollam district. Here, the nuts are roasted, shelled, peeled and packed to ship around India and the world.

Varkala BeachPhoto courtesy of Kerala Tourism

The beaches of Kerala

Beaches line the Kerala coast from top to bottom, each offering a place to go for a swim or soak up the sun. The waters of Varkala Beach are believed to purge the body and soul of impurities. This is one of the only beaches in Kerala with cliffs towering over it.

Beach vendorPhoto courtesy of Biju Sukumaran

Kozhikode Beach

Walk along Kozhikode Beach, and you’ll likely find vendors selling tea, snacks, ice cream, fresh fruits and seafood. The beach gets busy in the evening hours, when Keralites come to watch the sunset from the sand.

Chendamangalam SynagoguePhoto courtesy of Kerala Tourism

Judaism in Kerala

Kerala has been home to a Jewish community for as long as 2,000 years. The first Jewish traders likely came to the region during the time of King Solomon. Chendamangalam Synagogue was built by Kerala’s Malabari Jews; some of the oldest surviving tombstones in the synagogue cemetery date back to 1269.

Gavi WaterfallPhoto courtesy of Kerala Tourism

A land of waterfalls

Kerala’s hilly landscape and abundant rainfall give it some of the most stunning waterfalls in India, 27 of them in total. Many of them, like this waterfall in Gavi, make an ideal setting for a picnic lunch.

Houseboats in KottayamPhoto courtesy of Kerala Tourism

Experience Kerala’s backwaters

Visitors from around India and the globe come to Kerala to explore its serene backwaters. Board a traditional houseboat – a thatch-roofed, wooden-hulled barge once used to carry rice and spices. Some 500 of these houseboats ply the backwaters of Alappuzha alone.

Kovalam LighthousePhoto courtesy of Kerala Tourism

Lighthouse Beach

A candy-striped lighthouse stands 118 feet above the rocky beach in Kovalam. The Vizhinjam Lighthouse, built in 1972, ranks among the area’s most popular attractions. Visitors can climb the spiral staircase or ride an elevator to the top for sweeping coastal views.

KathakaliPhoto courtesy of Kerala Tourism

The art of Kathakali

As Kerala has gained international prominence in recent decades, the performance art known as Kathakali has become a symbol of the state. This 300-year-old tradition combines drama, dance, music and costumes to retell stories from Indian epics. The makeup is just as important as the costume.

MunnarPhoto courtesy of Kerala Tourism

The hill station of Munnar

The hills of Munnar, set 5,200 feet above sea level, have served as a cooling summer resort dating back before the British Raj. The hill station is known for its tea plantations and variety of resorts favored by honeymooners.

Neelakurinji flowersPhoto courtesy of Kerala Tourism

A riot of color

Once every 12 years, the misty hills of the Western Ghats explode into color as the famous Neelakurinji flowers begin to bloom. The Nilgiri Hills (‘Blue Mountains’ in Malayalam) get their name from these purplish-blue flowers.

Nilgiri tahr at MunnarPhoto courtesy of Kerala Tourism

Nilgiri tahr, Kerala’s endangered mountain goat

The Western Ghats of South India are also home to the endangered Nilgiri tahr, a mountain goat endemic to this region. These animals thrive in the cold, wet grasslands and steep rocky cliffs of Eravikulam National Park, home to the largest surviving population.

Sri Subrahmanya TemplePhoto courtesy of Kerala Tourism

The Snake Temple of Peralassery

At the Sri Subrahmanya Temple in Peralassery, a famous pilgrimage location in Kerala, worshippers come to honor the serpent form of Lord Subrahmanya, the son of Shiva, with an offering of eggs. The temple is is open to people of all faiths and is known for its serpent iconography and stairwell temple pond.

Santa Cruz Cathedral BasilicaPhoto courtesy of Kerala Tourism

Christianity in Kerala

Christianity is the third-most practiced religion in Kerala (after Hinduism and Islam), with Christians making up about 18 percent of the population. Some of this Christian population traces their origins to the evangelism of Thomas the Apostle during the first century. The Santa Cruz Basilica is one of nine basilicas in Kerala.

Watchtower at PalakkadPhoto courtesy of Kerala Tourism

The Granary of Kerala

The fertile plains, river valleys and forested hills of Palakkad (the Granary of Kerala) make it a popular hiking and picnicking destination. From the top of the watchtower overlooking the Siruvani Reservoir, you can see all the way to Tamil Nadu.

Tea gardenPhoto courtesy of Kerala Tourism

Tea gardens of Idukki

The Idukki district of Kerala is famous for its hilly tea plantations, many established by British planters during the Raj. Visitors can stay at small hotels amid the tea, coffee and cardamom plantations to take advantage of the cool climate.

TheyyamPhoto courtesy of Kerala Tourism

Theyyam, a sacred ritual art form

The ritual art form of Theyyam originated in North Kerala and comprises dance, mime and music. There are more than 400 separate Theyyams, each with its own distinct music and choreography. Each performer dons elaborate costumes and colorful makeup to portray a hero from Kerala’s history and folklore.

Tents at Top StationPhoto courtesy of Kerala Tourism

Top Station

Top Station sits 5,577 feet above sea level and ranks among the most beautiful spots in Kerala. The area is a popular destination for hiking and camping, and the views on a clear day extend to the nearby state of Tamil Nadu.

VizhinjamPhoto courtesy of Kerala Tourism

Vizhinjam Harbor

The fishing village of Vizhinjam is set to become one of the largest ports in Kerala. Today, the town is better known for its harbor full of fishing boats and aquarium onshore.

Onam feastPhoto courtesy of iStock / vm2002

The Festival of Onam

Onam is perhaps the most significant festival in the state of Kerala. According to the legend, King Mahabali became so prosperous that he drew the envy of the devas (gods of the heavens). Lord Vishnu came to the king in the guise of a dwarf asking for an offering. The generous king offered him three feet of land.

The god then grew to so large that his two feet covered all the land, leaving nowhere to place his third foot. The benevolent king offered his head, which pleased the god. Vishnu blessed Mahabali and sent him to the nether world, giving him permission to visit his subjects once per year during the festival of Onam.

Pulikali at Swaraj GroundPhoto courtesy of Kerala Tourism

The Tiger Dance

Kerala has a rich cultural landscape with several famous folk art forms. Among the most famous is Pulikali (Tiger Dance). During the South Indian Onam festival, artists paint their bodies like tigers and take to the streets of Thrissur, dancing to the rhythm of thakil, udukku and chenda drums.

Kalaripayattu or KalariPhoto courtesy of Kerala Tourism

Kalaripayattu, Kerala’s martial art

The state of Kerala is home to one of the oldest martial art forms on the planet, Kalaripayattu. Practitioners practice jumping, running and tumbling while sparring with swords, spears, daggers, and bows and arrows.

Boat race on backwatersPhoto courtesy of Kerala Tourism

Boat races in Kerala

Boat races rank among Kerala’s most popular pastimes. The snake-shaped boats, known as chundan vallam, measure more than 100 feet in length. Athletes race these boats through the backwaters to the sounds of the Boatman’s Song (Vanchi Pattu).

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