Kerala’s gently hypnotic charm is best appreciated on the water. Forging through the backwaters’ narrow channels – coconut palms hanging overhead, African moss verdant on the water’s surface – is an exploration of the exotic. Kerala’s patchwork of rivers and canals, lagoons and lakes compose an incredible, labyrinthine watery warren. Dense tropical scenery all but swallows boats at times, then unexpectedly gives way to open lagoons and paddy fields. Families live on small pockets of land near temple ruins, mangrove trees are home to kingfishers and parakeets, darting along riverbanks while fishermen work their nets. Exploring the area in a traditional houseboat is a quiet, compelling adventure, thick with tropical smells, alive with the easygoing rhythm of everyday life.
Kerala is India’s land of plenty, a fertile world of coconut groves and banana plantations, rice paddies and spice plantations. Small wonder then that it serves up some of the country’s finest cooking – so after you’ve spent a day cruising Kerala’s beautiful waterways, continue your journey of the region by exploring its table. As well as a feast of vegetarian dishes, keep your eyes (and nostrils) open for one of the region’s culinary highlights, Meen Vattichatu – fish cooked in a fiery sauce laden with chili, coconut oil and fenugreek. Lip-smackingly good. And while you’re searching for it, sate your appetite with a paratha or two offered up by street vendors. As well as invariably being served sharp sour spicy sauces that are so characteristic of Kerala’s lime-loving cuisine, you’ll taste plenty of cinnamon and cardamom, ginger and garlic here, flavours that come together to glorious effect in Kerala’s chicken biryani, a regional staple, particularly among its Muslims. And of course there are bananas. Lots of them. Food is often served on banana leaves, and no meal is complete without one to finish, cooked in raw sugar syrup, perhaps, or in a pudding with raisins and cashew nuts. Delicious.