Even though we are spoilt for choice when it comes to travel, there are places that keep calling us back. Located on the southwestern coast of India, Kerala is one such place that never ceases to amaze. For some it’s the beauty of the place they aren’t tired of marvelling at, for some it’s the food, and for some it's the warmth of the people.
If you’re wondering where to go for your next vacation, there are ample reasons to consider Kerala. The recent being the only Indian state on The New York Times’ list of 52 Places To Go In 2023. Known for its responsible tourism initiative helmed by the state tourism board, Kerala made it to the 13th spot in a list of 52 destinations, with London, Japan and Arizona topping the list. And while you would expect Wayanad or Munnar to be the suggested destinations, it’s Vaikom, Kumarakom and Maravanthuruthu in the Kottayam district that made the cut.
Admiring the beauty of God’s Own Country, a part of the NYT report reads, “A southern Indian state that allows visitors to experience village life while supporting the communities that host them.” Apart from the backwaters, houseboats, and tea plantations that make the perfect Kerala postcard, the publication also spotlighted the cuisine and rich cultural traditions such as the Vaikathashtami festival. But then, what really makes Kerala the only Indian destination to feature on the list? Let’s take a look at the other side of the state far from the touristy crowd, the regions of Kerala you may not know.
For the uninitiated, this picturesque village located on Vembanad lake won the National Tourism Award for Best Responsible Tourism Project in 2009. Their initiatives to make tourism sustainable with a focus on social, cultural and economic growth, have not only benefited villagers but also empowered women in the region. Some of the must-visit attractions here are Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary, which is home to migratory bird species; Kumarakom Craft Museum which houses an exclusive collection of over 2,000 Kerala antiques; Kumarakom backwaters; and Ettumanoor Sree Mahadevar Temple.
When it comes to food, what you can’t miss out on is their Kumarakom Karimeen Pollichathu — pearl spot fish fillets marinated in a blend of native spices and baked in banana leaves.
How to reach: It’s a two-hour drive from Cochin International Airport. If you wish to travel by train, the nearest railway station to Kumarakom is the Kottayam railway station, located 16 kilometres away. You can even opt for state-run buses.
The iconic Vaikathashtami festival which got a mention in the NYT report, is celebrated during the Malayalam month of Vrischikamat at Vaikom Mahadeva Temple, one of the oldest temples of Kerala. At the 12-day annual festival (happening on September 17, 2023), you can witness the greatest of art forms that celebrate the rich and diverse culture of Kerala through Kathakali dance, recitals and music concerts. Additionally, the temple is also known for its delicious spread of rice, payasam and kalan — a popular sadya dish made with elephant foot yam, coconut, plantains and curd.
Other must-visit attractions in Vaikom are Lake Beach and Vaikom Satyagraha Gandhi Museum, which pays tribute to Mahatma Gandhi’s protest against untouchability and displays documents narrating his instrumental journey in Satyagraha.
How to reach: The journey from Cochin International Airport is about an hour-and-a-half. The Kottayam Railway Station is just an hour away from Vaikom.
As part of the state’s Responsible Tourism street project initiative, India’s first-ever water street originated in Maravanthuruthu in July 2022. On November 9, 2022, Kerala Tourism also won the prestigious Global Award for Responsible Tourism at the World Travel Market in London, for its Street Project. In no time, the village grabbed the attention of international travellers as well, for its beautiful street art, Cheriya Canal kayaking, Muvattupuzha lake views, traditional temple dance and sublime sunsets.
How to reach: Both Cochin International Airport and Kottayam Railway Station are an hour’s drive from Maravanthuruthu.