Cooling Down in Kerala

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Drifting down the backwaters on a houseboat, Kerala could be the world’s most picture-perfect destination. Even if you had no stress to escape from, the lazy palm trees and still waters would still be a welcome escape from the 9 to 5.

By the time we arrived in Kerala, we’d been backpacking in India for nearly a month. If there’s anywhere that requires a holiday after visiting, it’s India. Amazing as it is, it just doesn’t stop – the constant, crazy traffic; blaring horns and beeping tuk tuks; overwhelming heat; unavoidable staring and hot, heavy cuisine. Kerala is without a doubt India’s more relaxed counterpart. The temperature is more bearable, the cuisine lighter – think fresh fish served on banana leaves rather than steaming pools of curry in the baking heat – and the greenery is a welcome alternative to north India’s dusty, dry climate.

North India is colourful and chaotic

The best thing we did in Kerala was spend a night on a houseboat crusing along the backwaters (a chain of lagoons and lakes within south India). We had the benefit of off-peak season on our side meaning a boat rental was typically half the price of that of peak season. We paid £90 (split three ways) for a full afternoon, night and the following morning aboard a canal-style boat including lunch, dinner, breakfast, the services of a captain and chef, and return transport from our guesthouse. In peak season this is more commonly around £200. The latter half of my India trip was one of the only times I travelled in a group of three so it was perfectly timed to be able to split our costs and spend less each.

An ideal way to relax and forget backpacker life, a day and night bobbing on the waterways allowed us to see the scenery without moving a muscle. Our home for the night featured a deck area to relax on and two cosy double bedrooms with ensuite bathrooms along a corridor.

Sunset on the backwaters

Anyone in need of entertainment would have found very little but, after a busy couple of weeks, we were in our element lounging on the deck, admiring the lush greenery along the banks and soaking up the sun. We’d picked up a few beers before boarding and drinking them while watching the sunset was an incredible experience.

The food we were served was some of the best I’ve ever eaten! South Indian food is lighter than the heavy curries up north and you’ll find plenty of coconut-based sauces, fresh veg and fried fish. I could eat this cuisine all day long…

One of the tasty lunches served to us on the boat

The day after our boat cruise we explored the colourful Keralan capital, Kochi, which is home to plenty of markets and a diverse community. Visiting the Jewish area and local synagogue seemed unusual when compared to the Hindu and Muslim majority in the north of the country.

Knowingly booking a trip to India during monsoon season was in some ways a risky move, but luckily we seemed to miss the brunt of it. A few weeks before we arrived in India #MumbaiRains had been trending on Twitter accompanied with images of people swimming in the streets and trains overflowing with water. The prospect of shut-down towns and closed tourist attractions understandably had us concerned but in the end we were met with blue skies and warm temperatures. The hotels and guest houses were fairly quiet during our stay but we benefitted from reduced prices and still found plenty to do and see.

Hostels aren’t common in Kerala but local homestays are inexpensive and offer comfortable, hotel-like rooms connected to family homes. We stayed at Dreamcatcher Homestay where our host family helped us book trips and shared local advice with us, meaning we had a more authentic stay than we night have at a backpackers hostel. We only had four days in the south of India but with other glorious destinations such as Goa still to explore, I’ll definately be coming back one day…

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