It may be a small part of the vast Asian continent, but India’s Kerala district offers experiences like no other. These are not your usual travel curiosities either. We’re talking life changing stuff...
Kerala has long since been a hub for adventurers and intrepid travellers looking to explore its abundant and diverse fauna and flora, drink in its views and marvel at local customs. But if you allow yourself to go beyond simply tourism and push past the boundaries of observation to experience, Kerala will move you to your core.
Here are three opportunities to let Kerala change you.
1. Learn to see the whole picture. Experience a holistic Ayurveda treatment.
Throughout summer most of us have been caught up in a frantic race to ready our beach bodies, reaching our holiday destinations stressed and starved. And now that autumn is looming, we’re all breathing a collective sigh of relief and looking forward to piling on the carbs again. This sort of frantic and fragmented view of health is, well, not healthy.
When you take a Kerala holiday, let the ancient Indian tradition of Ayurveda change your mind about your health and your body. More a lifestyle than any one particular practice, Ayurveda is made up of a set of components practices including diet, exercise, massage and herbal remedies.
Ayurveda Vaidyas - traditional practitioners of Ayurveda - use their natural medicines to fight illness and cure serious ailments. They claim that these practices and recipes have been passed down to humans from the Gods themselves through several texts, such as the Adharva Veda which dates back five thousand years. In fact, Vedic literature (written by sages) has clearly laid out instructions for maintaining health as well as fighting illness in our daily lives.
You may have your doubts about the science behind some of these interventions, but we can all benefit from thinking about our body and spirit more holistically. With its warm climate and high humidity, Kerala is considered to be the best location in India for Ayurveda treatments. Moisture in the air and on the surface of the skin is believed to allow the natural medicines and oils work to maximum effectiveness within the body. There are a number of ayurveda resorts across Kerala, each offering a range of restorative therapies, spa treatments and yoga classes.
2. Learn to be flexible. Live on water.
If you’ve done a bit of travelling, you’re probably used to spending weeks trawling the internet, looking for accommodation and planning your itinerary before you leave. It seems a given part of going on holiday. But it can be stressful and confining.
Kerala will teach you to ease up and go with the flow. A large part of Kerala is made up of a network of lakes, canals and estuaries that lead into the Arabian Sea. These sparkling backwaters are a self-sustaining eco-system teeming with life just waiting to be discovered. They are also a vital transport network, connecting the many villages in Kerala.
Sailing Kerala’s backwaters and rivers is a unique adventure that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Similar to the gondolas of Venice, the houseboats of Kerala are a cultural staple of this area of south India. Yet, unlike the gondolas, they remain a relatively unknown experience to many.
Historically, the boats were used as the main form of cargo transport through the backwaters. Once other forms of transport became available, the boats found new usage as stylish, unique dwellings for visitors to Kerala.
The houseboats are marvels in themselves. Called 'Kettuvalloms' - meaning, 'stitched boat', they are 70 ft long and have a capacity of 30 tons. Amazingly they are constructed without a single nail and are entirely hand made. Wooden planks are joined and stitched together with coconut ropes, then the interior is painted with cashew nut oil and the exterior with fish oil.
Making your home on water allows you journey through Kerala at your own pace, putting down anchor where and when you please - stopping to marvel at water lilies, lush paddy fields, coir villages, rustic homes, temples and coconut groves. And no rush to check out of your hotel!
3. Learn to celebrate with empathy and intent. Participate in the colourful Festival of Theyyam.
We all like a good party when we go on holiday. But let’s face it, most of us celebrate simply for the sake of celebration. Mindless fun is great, but being part of something bigger and sharing in other’s joy can significantly enhance your enjoyment. The Festival of Theyyam will show you how.
If you happen to be in Kerala during winter, you will most likely witness celebrations of the Festival of Theyyam. It is an exhilarating tradition to behold, with drummers accompanying brightly painted and masked performers while reciting ritual songs describing the myths and legends of the many gods and spirits in Kerala’s mythology.
Theyyam is more than eight centuries old and one of the most spectacular art forms in Northern Kerala. Celebrations typically take place from October to May each year at local shrines or temples called ‘Kavu’. The festival is based in the belief that immortal spirits enter the mortal bodies of those performing the rituals of divine revelation. For the local people Theyyam is a tangible god/goddess who is rarely sighted but often felt.
Now you could just stand by and observe this curious spectacle as it unfolds. Or you could allow yourself to be swept up by the enactment of an age-old affirmation of life and shared experience, take some of that euphoria and make it your own.