Kerala is India on a more manageable scale. Its diverse natural landscapes are stunning, with spice groves, sultry jungle, mountain foothills, verdant tea plantations, golden stretches of sand and (perhaps most famously) the watery maze of canals fringed with coconut palms that makes up the backwaters. Even the cities are easier to navigate. Keralans are welcoming and friendly, and their traditions and cuisine are a refreshing fusion of cultures. The southern part of the state is still the most visited, but understandably so; this particular ‘beaten track’ is very beautiful.
Obviously there's a lot more, this is just to get you started...
Stay in the historic fort area and you’ll be ideally placed to explore Cochin at your own pace. British, Dutch, Chinese and Portuguese traders have all left their mark on the city, giving it an eclectic atmosphere. Explore on foot, taking in India's oldest synagogue, aromatic spice markets and ancient pastel-coloured mansions. Make frequent stops at the many relaxed cafes, then hop on a bicycle, into an auto-rickshaw, or take to the water to head further afield for a few hours before taking in an evening performance of kathakali, Kerala’s unique dance drama. Keen photographers who arrive early will be able to see the performers go through the elaborate, lengthy ritual of applying their traditional make up before the show.
For many, the quintessential Keralan experience is a night or two onboard a houseboat, puttering gently around the latticework of tributaries sandwiched between coast and hills. The aim is merely to float along at a leisurely pace, drinking in the emerald scenery and witnessing local life. Recently we’ve heard of groups chartering backwater boats looking for a bit more of a party atmosphere, but they’re not the only option. If you want to be sure of getting peace and quiet, away from any potential party vessels, consider a smaller boat which can negotiate the narrower waterways away from the larger craft and slide beneath low bridges. For ultimate rural tranquility, extend your visit at one of the area's farm-stay style experiences.
You're likely to come home raving about the home-from-home accommodation on offer in rural Kerala. Authentic, welcoming and unique, Dewalokam is the perfect example. The ancestral farm of the Alilakuzhy family, this sanctuary of calm offers yoga and meditation, Keralan cookery classes using organic ingredients from its own farm, and visits to local villages to experience real Keralan life first hand. If we had to pick one must-do experience to take your classic journey through Kerala to another level, then a stay at one of these special properties would be it.
Take your best shot at spotting wildlife with an itinerary that includes not one but three different parks, all located in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. This allows you to explore some surprisingly diverse scenery, see myriad bird and animal species, and hugely increase your chances of spotting one of these elusive big cats.