People to People: Thoughtful Travel in Kerala

Peep behind the tourist curtain and gain insight into Kerala’s local culture and experiences with Sumesh – a Kerala local and Chairman of our 2017 Travel Film Scholarship partner, Kabani Tours.

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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.

Interesting Paradoxes in Kerala

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.

Thoughtful Travel: Travel Like a Local

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!

Meeting People

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.

Festivals 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.

A boat on Kerala’s backwaters. Photo credit: Julian Manrique, WhereNext.com

Farm Homestays in Kerala

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.

Eat Like a Local: Support Local Products!

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:

  • Appam: pancakes made out of rice flour, with coconut milk.
  • Puttu: rice waffles and coconut.
  • Kappa (tapioca) with fish curry and chickpeas.

Pay Fair Prices, Don’t Get Cheated

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.

Prepare to Be Asked Questions… A Lot

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.

Kabani Tours are a partner of our 2017 Travel Film Scholarship

Apply now for your chance to win a 12-day filmmaking assignment in Kerala, plus be mentored by professional filmmaker Brian Rapsey. Click here to find out more about Kabani Tours..

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