Kerala hugs the coast in a long, thin strip and water dominates the life of the state which has beaches, rivers, canals and the famous backwaters. Kerala is agreen, fertile, beautiful state. The population is friendly, highly literate, and often well-travelled; there aremosques and churches galore and a tiny Jewish enclave in Cochin; good beaches, and above all else, there are the tree-fringed backwaters, the “roads” of Kerala – a visitors’ delight.
As you travel south from the Karnataka–Kerala border, you pass Mahe, a small French dependency that was returned to India along with Pondicherry, and continue down to Calicut, where Vasco da Gama landed in 1498. Today the town gives little indication of its former dramatic days, when the local people repulsed two Portuguese attacks in the early 16th century, only to have their town destroyed by Tipu Sultan, before the British set up rule there in 1792.
The most picturesque and better-known part of Kerala is the stretch between Ernakulam and Cochin, south to Alleppey and onto Quilon. Cochin is on the sea, at the head of a long lagoon which runs parallel to the coast, otherwise known as the backwaters. Cochin is a charming, historic town, with an intriguing medley of history and cultures – Chinese fishing nets are still in use, there is a synagogue, the oldest nochurch in India, a Dutch palace, old Portuguese houses and Fort Cochin, a slightly unreal copy of an English village, set amidst the coconut trees which are such a major part of the local economy here. Just finding a boat to take you along the backwaters is all part of the adventure, for tirgetables are at best vague, boats tend to get taken out of service without warning but once you find your launch, and settle down to watch the slow backwater life glide past, you will be enchanted. Life is lived along the banks of the backwaters and, as you sail past little houses perched on walkways, you will Breaking waves at Chorwad
After the unique atmosphere of Cochin and the backwaters, it comes as no surprise that the state capital, Trivandrum, is a relaxed, friendly place, with, a little further south, the beaches of Kovalam. Although not as well-known as Goa, Kovalam is very definitely on the tourist map, has good hotels, good beaches (though the current can be dangerous) and friendly villagers, watching the sun-worshippers with amused disbelief.