Kerala backwaters with houseboats, a popular holiday experience in south India.
Chinese fishing nets, visible both on backwater trips or on Kerala’s coast around Fort Cochi.
Boating on the Kerala backwaters in India’s far southwest is one of the most relaxing and delightful activities a tourist can enjoy during an India holiday though it comes way behind the Golden Triangle on most bucket lists and is mainly experienced by travelers who are spending a month or more in the country.
The backwaters are a series of calm natural lagoons and lakes, partially salty, that have been connected by canals to form a waterway stretching hundreds of kilometres along half of Kerala’s length. On either side of the backwaters rural Indian life drifts quietly on, fishing, duck, coconut and coir farming, while foreign travellers chug by.
A backwater cruise can be accomplished in various ways. Cheapest (but noisiest) is simply jumping on a ferry at Alappuzha (aka Allepey), climbing onto the roof and chilling out till Kochi (Cochin). Alternatively find a tourist boat for a more comfortable trip with sensible stops and guides. Or, time permitting, rent a kettuvallam houseboat and have a really relaxing trip. Alappuzha is the primary port to scout for trips.
Munnar tea plantations, Kerala
Kerala tourism is mostly about relaxing on palm-fringed beaches in this little but lush state , surrendering to Ayurvedic massage (a Kerala speciality), hiking (or paragliding) over lush Munnar tea plantations or gently cruising the tropical backwaters, rather than trudging around lingam-heavy temples or raucous cities.
However, it is worth dragging yourself off the steaming sand or soporific houseboat to see ancient, local Hindu traditions of music, dance or religious festivals which are invariably kaleidoscopic jamborees of borderline insanity.
A cool way to get high in Munnar.
Locals enjoying having their cheeks pierced with steel rods in Allepey, Kerala state.
Elephants also enjoying a festival in Cochin.
Measuring a woman against a bunch of coconuts in Cochin. This is a local Maharaja’s tradition.
Basically the best season to travel Kerala is October-March, the coolest time. However, accommodation prices will rise quite steeply from mid-December to mid-January. October is soon after the monsoon so the region should be nice and green and the backwaters full. During February and March you should be able to see many decorated elephants for festivals.