India: Beyond the chaos

Life's pretty sweet when you're cruising the backwaters of Kerala in Southern India. It doesn't take long to unwind and relax, letting the peace settle over you. This labyrinth of interconnected canals, rivers, lakes and inlets, is formed by more than 900 km of waterways. And you'll feel like you've got all the time in the world to explore this fascinating destination.

Here's some ways to keep entertained, without having to rouse yourself too far from your dreamlike state:

Watch a round of Kalaripayattu
This is an ancient martial art form that originated in Kerala, and is regarded as one of the oldest and most scientific of its kind anywhere in the world.

It's believed to be about 3000 years old, and legend says it was created when the warrior saint Parasurama, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, threw his axe into the sea and it receded to the point where it fell. Parasurama then established 42 kalaris and taught 21 masters of these kalaris to protect the land he created. 

Kalaripayattu is aimed at perfecting coordination between the mind and body. If you get a chance, try to attend a bout, where you'll watch oil-slicked bodies practice moves like chaattom (jumping), ottam (running) and marichil (somersaulting). They also engage in combat with weapons like daggers, swords, spears, maces, and bow and arrow.

There are about 500 schools in Kerala training people in this ancient form of martial arts, and it's making a real comeback.

Enjoy a traditional Ayurveda Massage
Ayurveda forms an intrinsic part of Kerala's heritage, and is the oldest surviving complete medical system in the world. Warm plant and mineral based oils are massaged into the muscles and allowed to seep in overtime using hot towel wraps. Surrender to the magical fingers of specially trained masseurs and submerge yourself in medicated baths.

Get rid of all those yukky toxins and release the pressures of daily life.  Start off your trip with an Ayurveda massage to instantly feel connected, rejuventated and in tune with the relaxed way of local life. 

Watch some Chinese net fishing
Chinese fish nets are thought to have been introduced to Kochi by a Chinese ruler. They form an important part of the livelihood of the local people, and their silhouettes against the sunset make for an unforgettable sight.

The huge, billowing nets are fixed to the shoreline on bamboo and teak poles. They look sort of like hammocks and spread about 20metres across the water. You'll see a team of about six fishermen operating each net, and sometimes they might let you give them a hand. 

This traditional way of fishing can't be seen anywhere else in the world, and the delicate balancing act is based on counterweights - stones of about 30cm which are tied to different lengths of rope. Be sure to head down at dusk to watch this beautiful ritual play out against the fiery sunset, and it's guaranteed to leave you spellbound.

Cheer a snake boat race
The backwaters of sleepy Kerala come alive during the incredible snake boat races. They happen every few months during the monsoon season, and you can watch teams of 100 oarsmen propel their boats forward, singing and swaying in unison.

The name comes from the shape, and a typical snake boat is about 120 feet long. Each village has its own snake boat, which they take great pride in. Snake boat races have been held here for over 400 years, beginning way back when the kings of Alleppey (Alappuzha) and the surrounding areas used to fight one another in boats along the canals.

Periyar National Park, Thekkady
Periyar National Park is famous for its elephants. You can spot them taking a dip in the Periyar Lake, playing and swimming in pretty large numbers.

The park is set high in the mountains of the Western Ghats, at the border to Tamil Nadu. There's 777 square kilometres of protected area, and around 350 square kilometres of this was dedicated as the Periyar National Park. 

Keep your eyes peeled for the rare lion tailed macaque, the Nilgiri langur, common langur and bonnet macaquesambar. And there's also the elusive leopard, wild dog, barking deer and mouse deer. Twitchers will be kept busy seeking out the great Malabar hornbill and grey hornbill, along with kingfishers, ospreys, kites, orioles, hill mynas, racket tailed drongos, parakeets, including the unusual blue winged parakeet and fly catchers. Phew!

Apart from being a natural hub for the elephants, the park also provides shelter for majestic tigers, as Periyar was named a tiger reserve in 1978.

What's your favourite thing to do in Kerala? Take a look through all our trips that visit this special part of the world.


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