Romantic Kerala

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Romantic Kerala
Kerala's atmosphere is naturally romantic, thanks to its serene backwaters, pristine beaches, and rolling hills of aromatic spices. Add in temple elephants and traditional dance performances and the state makes for an unforgettable couple's vacation.
By Neha Puntambekar , AFAR Local Expert
Photo by Neha Puntambekar
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    Explore the Backwaters by Houseboat
    Kumarakom and Alappuzha are good bases from which to explore Kerala's enchanting backwaters. Head out on a houseboat for a day's cruise or, even better, stay overnight on the water. You'll drift past the routines of daily life, with women doing chores and children on their way back from school or running errands on small boats, navigating the waters with as much ease as if they were on a bicycle. As well as modest dwellings, you'll see the palatial mansions of those who've made their fortunes in the UAE. As the sun begins to set, laborers head back home and the villages prepare for evening.
    Photo by Neha Puntambekar
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    The Healing Touch of Ayurveda
    Kerala has a strong link to the study and practice of Ayurveda, the traditional Indian healthcare system that promotes balance of body, mind, and spirit through proper diet and the use of natural remedies. Today, it is considered a therapy that complements modern medicine, especially for pain management. Ayurvedic massage is offered in most spas, and a number of Ayurvedic health resorts in Kerala offer holistic holiday packages that might include travel, Ayurvedic consultation and treatment, meditation, and yoga. The Somatheeram Ayurveda Resort near to Kovalam Beach and the luxurious Jiva Grande Spa at Vivanta Bekal are two top options.
    Photo courtesy of Jiva Grand Spa at the Vivanta by Taj Bekal
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    Snake Boat Races
    During the monsoon months, when the rivers are full and spilling over, Kerala hosts its famous snake boat races. These are part of Onam festivities, the local harvest festival, and have been taking place for over 400 years. Each village puts forth a snake boat—a long, serpentine vessel that holds up to a hundred oarsmen, each rowing in tandem to the beat of folk songs—to compete against boats from other villages in front of the large crowds of locals and tourists that gather to cheer them on. The main races are Aranmula Boat Race (Aranmula), President’s Trophy (Ashtamudi Lake), Nehru Trophy (Punnamada), and Champakulam Moolam Boat Race (Champakulam). The sheer energy and drama of the spectacle make these races must-see events.
    Photo by M. Balan/age fotostock
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    Kerala's Elephants
    Domesticated and trained to offer blessings in temples, elephants are a common sight in Kerala. If lucky, you may see their wild cousins ambling between the public roads that cut through forest ranges, oblivious to the traffic. Protected areas such as Muthanga Wildlife Sanctuary and Periyar Wildlife Reserve are good places to spot these majestic giants; the latter offers elephant safaris through the forest. You can also stop by the Kodanad Elephant Sanctuary in Ernakulam to interact with the residents of this rescue and training facility. Stay for the bathing session, when the mahouts might give you a shot at a scrub down. Souvenir elephants are also plentiful and come in every shape and size, from hand-carved wood to brass figurines.
    Photo by Neha Puntambekar
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    The Drama of Kathakali
    The dramatic makeup, eye-catching costumes and head gear, hypnotic music, and graceful dance movements define a kathakali performance. Kathakali is a 17th-century classical dance form that's part dance, part drama. Each performance tells a story from one of the ancient Hindu epics, and is full of gods and demi-gods, demons and angry saints, prayers and blessings, curses and sacrifices, and, of course, a hero. In the end, good always triumphs over evil. Traditionally, kathakali dancers are male, even those playing female roles. Most resorts arrange performances for guests, but you can also attend one at the Kathakali Center in Kochi or at Cochin Cultural Centre.
    Photo by Martin Siepmann/age fotostock
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    Spice Plantations
    Spice, tea, and coffee plantations are common in the hilly and fertile terrain of Kerala. Many open their gates to visitors, who can take estate tours, witness how the product is processed, and sample fresh goods. At spice plantations, the rich aromas of cloves, cardamom, bay leaf, ginger, nutmeg, rosemary, vanilla, and more mingle with one another, encouraging visitors to make bulk purchases on-site. In addition to learning more about spices (or tea or coffee), you can take nature walks through the estates or join cycle tours that visit multiple locations. Good options include the 400-acre Tranquil Resorts in Wayanad, Spice Walk in Thekkady, and Letchmi Estate in Munnar.
    Photo by Neha Puntambekar
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    Precious Kerala
    Kerala loves its gold—the sheer number of jewelry stores around is evidence of that. The small shops are lined up one next to the other; the big ones are two or three floors. Inside, the air-conditioning is set at just the right temperature and cheerful staff greet you with refreshments for you to sip while they dazzle you with a presentation of the gold, silver, and precious stones on offer. There's a seemingly endless supply of the stuff, a mix of traditional and modern designs, with the most common pieces being bangles, earrings, rings, and necklaces. Pick a piece you love, or commission something specific. A few well-known jewelry chains in Kerala include Malabar Gold and Diamonds, Kalyan Jewellers, and Chemmanur Jewellers.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Temple Festivals
    Between February and April, temples across Kerala put on their annual festival, with each temple celebrating for a period of 10 days. Big temples have elaborate festivities; small village temples have more modest but equally high-spirited affairs. The faithful take to the streets, dressed in traditional costumes, and there is singing, dancing, and fireworks. The festival highlight is usually the spectacular elephant pageant: a procession of temple elephants—perhaps as many as 50 or more—decked out in finery such as golden trunk plates. The biggest, most opulent festival is the Thrissur Pooram, celebrated by the Vadakkumnathan Temple in Thrissur.
    Photo by age fotostock