For many travellers, Kerala is South India’s most serenely beautiful state. A slender coastal strip is shaped by its layered landscape: almost 600km of glorious Arabian Sea coast and beaches; a languid network of glistening backwaters; and the spice- and tea-covered hills of the Western Ghats. Just setting foot on this swath of soul-quenching, palm-shaded green will slow your subcontinental stride to a blissed-out amble. Kerala is a world away from the frenzy of elsewhere, as if India had passed through the Looking Glass and become an altogether more laid-back place.
Besides its famous backwaters, elegant houseboats, ayurvedic treatments and delicately spiced, taste-bud-tingling cuisine, Kerala is home to wild elephants, exotic birds and the odd tiger, while vibrant traditions such as Kathakali plays, temple festivals and snake-boat races frequently bring even the smallest villages to life. It’s hard to deny Kerala’s liberal use of the slogan ‘God’s Own Country’.
Kerala’s main backwaters stretch north, east and south of Alleppey while Vembanad Lake, Kerala’s largest, reaches all the way to Kochi. Along the coast, Marari has developed into a fully fledged beach resort.
Many Keralans rate the elevated Wayanad region as the most beautiful part of their state. Encompassing part of a remote forest reserve that spills into Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, Wayanad’s landscape combines mountain scenery, rice paddies of ludicrous green, skinny betel nut trees, bamboo, red earth, spiky ginger fields, and rubber, cardamom and coffee plantations. Foreign travellers stop here on the bus route between Mysore, Bangalore or Ooty and Kerala, but it’s still fantastically unspoilt and satisfyingly remote. It’s also an excellent place to spot wild elephants.