So you think you know India? Crowded, polluted and heaving with holy cows? Well, think again! After having visited the chaos of Rajasthan and Delhi, I had the chance to visit the southern state of Kerala as part of the Kerala Blog Express and boy, was I in for a surprise! I discovered a totally different part of this immense country, I found an India that isn’t often portrayed in the media. One that definitely deserves a visit and might be the perfect place for a first time visitor to India.
Why is Kerala different from other Indian states?
1. The lack of cows
The main reason why Kerala is different from other Indian states is the lack of cows! I mean, seriously, where are they? A few years ago, when I went to the Indian states of Rajasthan and Delhi, cows were roaming all over the city centre. They were as common as pedestrians or rickshaws. There, everybody gets out of the way to accommodate them and seeing these peaceful, hairy animals chewing on bits of plastic along the road is a very common sight.
Not in Kerala though. Streets are generally a lot cleaner and cows seem to belong in a field.
Why the difference?
As you probably know, India is mainly a Hindu country in which cows are revered as holy creatures. Kerala however has much more of a mixed population, religious wise. While the majority is still Hindu, there are also a significant number of Muslims and Christians. They do not revere cows the way Hindu people do. Which brings us to the next point.
2. Kerala boasts a unique mix of faiths
There’s a place in India where religion co-exists: Kerala! The state is home to a unique mix of faiths where Hindus, Christians and Muslims live together peacefully. The city of Trivandrum is especially known for its religious tolerance. If you are walking around the Palayam junction, you will find the Juma Masjid mosque and the Ganesh Temple side by side, while on the other side of the road stands the St Joseph’s Cathedral. People in Trivandrum don’t think much of it, as it is pretty much the norm rather than the exception in Kerala, but to most people in the world, this is pretty special and a perfect example of how religions can live together in harmony.
3. Never knew India could be so green!
Kerala couldn’t be further away from the desert and dusty landscapes of Rajasthan! From the lush tea plantations around Munnar to the green hills of the Western Ghats… there are plenty of opportunities to immerse yourself in Kerala’s beautiful landscapes! I walked the “Pappathi Shola” or “Butterfly trek”, which is one of the biodiversity hotspots of the country, had the chance to camp in the Western Ghats and kayaked along the backwaters of Kerala, all surrounded by gorgeous nature. A real eye-opener!
4. Where are the crowds?
If you’ve been to New Delhi or Mumbai, you know you have to fight your way through the crowds to obtain a spot on the buses, at the counter, anywhere really! Again, not in Kerala! From the peaceful Western Ghats to the green paradise that is Wayanad, you’ll feel very much off-the-beaten trail. Even the main cities like Trivandrum and Kochi are pretty quiet! If you feel like visiting India might be too overwhelming for you, then this is another reason to start with Kerala!
5. Eco-tourism in India
Sustainable tourism wouldn’t be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about India, but I must admit, Kerala has definitely jumped on the eco-tourism bandwagon.
There is lots of wildlife to spot without facing the hordes of tourists you might see in the more popular safari destinations. Take the Periyar Tiger Reserve for example: I spent a lovely afternoon navigating the lake and even had the chance to spot an elephant family who stopped for a drink at the lake banks. The next morning I took an early morning walk in the forest that is home to abundant bird life, wild boars and sambar deer. Despite the name of the reserve, I didn’t get to see any tigers, apparently there are only 40 of them in the entire reserve, so chances are pretty slim. But don’t let that stop you from visiting, you still feel very much “in the wild” during the walk.
In the rural district of Wayanad, I had the chance to visit an NGO that promotes sustainable employment for rural communities, using local resources like bamboo. And in Kumarakom, along the famous backwaters, you can experience what local village life is like: weaving, net fishing, coir making, …
India is such a diverse country and Kerala is definitely very different from the rest of India! Curious to learn more about Kerala and what there is to do? Check out my article on the best things to do in Kerala!