Kerala is widely known for its backwaters, scenic beaches, hill stations, kathakali (a performance art), and houseboats.
To make your visit benefit the local communities, take the first step towards sustainable tourism by getting to know the local culture, and understanding the people.
There’s a wide mix of cultural beliefs and practices in Kerala; with Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and a series of deities that the Adivasi (native inhabitants) worship, each with their own set of customs and values.
It might surprise you to find that indications of Kerala’s quality of life are comparable to many European countries. However, its economic situation places Kerala among the world’s poorer regions.
Travel is all about meeting people, learning from each other, empowering local communities and exchanging cultural beliefs.
This type of travel enriches the lives of the host community, and you, the visitor.
Before you go, take some time to learn about your host country by reading books, stories, and fun facts about Kerala.
Learning a little bit of everyday Malayalam (mother tongue of Keralites) is a great way to spark a meaningful conversation between you, and your host when you arrive. It also shows a sign of respect – brownie points for you!
When you catch public transport, there’s no doubt Malayalis (Keralite’s) will gladly begin a conversation with you.
It’s likely that they’ll try to see if you’ve got any common interests: Do you play cricket? Do you like Ricky Ponting? Do you play football? Do you know Christiano Ronaldo? These are just some of the questions that might come up when you’re mingling on the local bus.
Another way to get to know the locals is by visiting teashops in the villages. If you go early in the morning, you’ll see villagers meeting, reading the newspaper, and discussing politics. They’d be more than happy to stop reading the paper to chat with a new friend!
While you’re there, try a “one meter tea”, a unique way of making tea here in Kerala.
Every village has its own festival in Kerala, at almost any time of year! Start by asking your host family what’s on while you’re there, and maybe they’ll reach out to a few friends.
If you’re invited to a wedding, don’t pass on the opportunity! Your presence alone will delight the young couple.
Usually hundreds of relatives, friends, and neighbors gather to celebrate the marriage. But the exact structure, and rituals of each marriage ceremony will depend on their religion, and can vary significantly.
In many villages, communities like farmers and small entrepreneurs offer you “beyond the map”, real home-stay experiences.
As guests, you’re offered to stay with a family to enjoy the delicious local food, and experience what everyday life is like.
Your stay will also provide an additional income for the farmer and hosts, apart from their traditional agriculture.
Many of these traditional farmers will share stories of their land, and pass on wisdom from their traditional knowledge.
They’ll also offer spice tours, tea tours, and firsthand experiences with agricultural practices.
Would you believe there is a German bakery in Kerala? There’s even Italian Pizza is available on Kerala’s beaches and cities – though it may not taste the same as back home.
Finding an authentic local, traditional kitchen won’t be difficult, either.
Food diversity in Kerala is outrageous; from tastebud-tingling spices to cool-calm-and-collected tapioca, give these local treats a try:
Throughout India, you’ll notice haggling over prices is the norm, but not in Kerala.
In stores, restaurants, and hotels, you don’t bargain. But, when you’re at market stalls on the streets or in more touristy locations, bargaining is accepted.
The best way to gauge the situation is to observe how the locals behave when they do their shopping. This way, you’ll see how to get the best price, without being dragged over the table, and still give the sellers a decent price.
Most of the Malayalis are not only curious, but also (maybe because of that) sociable.
When you catch public transport in Kerala, your fellow passengers will speak to you. What is your name? Where are you from (may be from Melbourne? My sister is working there!) Do you have siblings? Are you married (if not, why)?
Don’t be offended if you’re asked personal questions – especially by women in Kerala – they’re interested in family matters. It’s also a great idea to bring pictures of your close family for your host to see.
Mariellen Ward shares her favorite experiences in Kerala, from the tea plantations in Munnar to hiking in Periyar National Park and hanging out at the beach in Varkala.
Want to see the best of India’s south? Nomad Mariellen shares this three-week itinerary, guiding you through the states of Kerala, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu.
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