Kerala is where India slips down into second gear, stops to smell the roses and always talks to strangers. A strip of land between the Arabian Sea and the Western Ghats, its perfect climate flirts unabashedly with the fertile soil, and everything glows. An easy-going and successful socialist state, Kerala has a liberal hospitality that stands out as its most laudable achievement.
Resting on low hills in Southern Kerala, is the capital Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum), used as a gateway to nearby resorts by many but boasting some of its very own attractions and dread-locked faithfuls. North of the capital is Varkala with its stunning cliffs; but the real emerald jewel in South India’s crown are the backwaters that meander throughout Kerala. Here, spindly networks of rivers, canals and lagoons nourish a seemingly infinite number of rice paddies and coconut groves, while sleek houseboats cruise the water highways from one bucolic village to another – try stopping at Kollam (Quilon). Along the coast, slices of perfect, sandy beach beckon the sun-worshipping crowd, and far inland the mountainous Ghats are covered in vast plantations of spices and tea. Exotic wildlife also thrives in the hills, for those who need more than just the smell of cardamom growing to get their juices flowing.
This flourishing land isn’t good at keeping its secret: adventurers and traders have been in on it for years. The serene Fort Cochin pays homage to its colonial past, each building whispering a tale of Chinese visitors, Portuguese traders, Jewish settlers, Syrian Christians and Muslim merchants. Yet even with its colonial distractions, Kerala manages to cling to its vibrant traditions: Kathakali – a blend of religious play and dance; kalarippayat – a gravity-defying martial art; and theyyam – a trance-induced ritual. Combine this with some of the most taste bud-tingling cuisine in India, and you can imagine how hard it will be to leave before you even get here.
Geography and Climate
Kerala is lodged between the Western Ghats and the Lakshadweep Sea. The state has a total coastline of 590 km. The state can be divided into three distinct regions; they are the eastern highlands, the central midlands and the western lowlands. The eastern region of the state comprises of high mountains, gorges and valleys which are immediately west of the Western Ghats’ rain shadow area. Forty one west flowing rivers and three east flowing rivers originate from this region. The Western Ghats have an average height of 4920 ft (1,500 m) above sea level, with highest peaks that reach around 8200 ft (2,500 m). The coastal belt is comparatively flat and is crisscrossed by an interconnected network of canals, estuaries, lakes and rivers which are collectively known as the Kerala Backwaters.
The state of Kerala experiences a humid equatorial tropic type of climate. With more than a hundred days of rain, Kerala has a wet and maritime tropical climate, which is influenced by the south-west summer monsoon and north-east winter monsoon. The southwest monsoon brings rain from June to August and the northeast monsoon brings forth rain from September to December. Kerala is the first Indian state to receive rainfall from the Southwest Monsoon. However, the northeast monsoon is only witnessed in the southern districts. The state receives an average annual rainfall of 3,107 mm (122 in). The average daily temperature in the state ranges from 19.8°C to 36.7°C.
Backwaters & Rivers
The backwaters are a peculiar feature of the state. Canals link the lakes and backwaters to facilitate an uninterrupted inland water navigation system from Thiruvananthapuram to Vadakara, a distance of 450 kms. The Vembanad lake stretching from Alappuzha to Kochi is the biggest water body in the state and is over 200 sq.kms. in area. Kuttanad in Alappuzha district alone has more than 20 per cent of India’s total length of waterways.
The important rivers from north to south are; Valapattanam river (110 kms.), Chaliar (69 kms.), Kadalundipuzha (130 kms.), Bharathapuzha (209 kms.), Chalakudy river (130 kms.), Periyar (244 kms), Pamba (176 kms), Achancoil (128 kms.) and Kalladayar (121 kms.). Other than these, there are 35 more small rivers and rivulets flowing down from the Ghats. Most of these rivers are navigable up to the midland region, in country crafts.
Districts of Kerala
Kerala is divided into 14 districts. The districts of Kerala are Alappuzha, Ernakulam, Idukki, Kannur, Kasaragod, Kollam, Kottayam, Kozhikode, Malappuram, Palakkad, Pathanamthitta, Thiruvananthapuram, Thrissur and Wayanad. The districts are further subdivided into 75 taluks, which are further divided into 1453 revenue villages. Local self-government constitutes 14 District Panchayats, 152 Block Panchayats, 978 Gram Panchayats along with 60 Municipalities, 5 Corporations and 1 Township.
Malayalam is the official language in Kerala; nevertheless Tamil is also widely understood in the region. Other languages like Kannada, Tulu, Hindi, Mahl and various tribal dialects are also spoken by the people in the region.