Kerala was a little bit of an exception to my general experience with expectations. As per what I said about Bangalore, I was a little worried about Kerala, just because my expectations could not have been any higher. Every single Indian and foreigner I’d ever spoken with about Kerala could not stop singing its praises. “Beautiful!” “So clean!” “Lovely people!” “The best places in India!” Indians told me it’s referred to as “God’s own country.” (I later learned this is because the Kerala Tourism Department has made sure to slap that tagline on every single official sign in the state. How’s that for marketing?)
So I was literally being promised the Garden of Eden. How could the state live up to such high expectations? I feared disappointment was inevitable.
Oh, how wrong I was.
Erin and I arrived in Kerala via night bus (my least favorite form of transportation ever. Kerala is very developed in many ways, but its roads are definitely not. We “slept” the whole night in 10-minute snatches in between bone-jangling potholes). Waking up at sunrise that morning was magical. I wasn’t thinking, “This is it?” Instead, all I could think was, “I made it. I made it.”
Because all those people were right. Kerala is everything everyone promised it would be: green, lush, beautiful, clean, friendly. Brilliant green rice paddies, swaying palm fronds, heaps of coconuts, beaming Keralans waving from behind stacks of idlis and vadas. It IS much cleaner than the rest of India, and I found the people more relaxed and friendlier as well. And since the state actually does have a very different language from the north — Malayalam is as different from Hindi as it is from English — it often feels like being in another country entirely.
Not to say the state’s perfect. As mentioned, the roads are hideous, and a lack of infrastructure development means that roads and bridges wash out frequently during monsoon. And various social and economic problems do plague the state. Still, it’s got the highest literacy rate in India — something like 90-95% — and I believe one of the highest life expectancies. Place is doing pretty well.*
Erin and I wasted no time in hitting the top must-do in Kerala: booking a houseboat for an adventure through the backwaters.
The area around central and southern Kerala’s coast is laced with hundreds of kilometers of canals and rivers that are essentially the highways for thousands of villagers who live among these waters.
From the houseboat, we saw these Keralans just living their daily lives: washing clothes, taking ferries, coming back from school, going fishing.
Erin and I went for an afternoon swim — the waters are clean and warm — and had an afternoon snack of fried plantains and tea…
…then bought some fresh prawns for dinner.
The word “prawn” brings to mind a little pink thing about an inch or two long, yes?
Not in Kerala, apparently:
They were delicious.
We also saw some people practicing for August’s Nehru Snake Boat race. By “some people,” I mean about 80:
Super cool. They waved to us and our captain threw them some water bottles:
We got really lucky on the weather — it was sunny all day and only rained a bit at night, when we weren’t trying to sight-see anyway. And in the evening, Erin taught me a very important life skill: how to play poker!
Erin’s Colorado playing cards included this Teddy Roosevelt line, which I thought was pretty fitting for Kerala, too:
*Place also had the first-ever elected Communist government for a while back in the 50s. Currently, the party in charge isn’t Communist, but they’ve held power on and off for the last few decades, and Communist flags, signs, and demonstrations were everywhere. Yet the state is still a democracy and private commerce appears to flourish, or at least function at the same level as in the rest of India. Very interesting place. I want to read/learn more about it.