Life as we know it has changed in the last couple of years. The pandemic pushed us all to the edge, forced us to press pause and introspect. As social interactions and work-life balance turned upside down, it also compelled us to see the world in a newer light, where the little things mattered the most.
This thought also translates in the way we are travelling now. As the world slowly heals and opens its doors to travellers desperately seeking to set free their wanderlust, it also welcomes this new wave of experience-based travel. Here, authentic experiences triumph touristy itineraries and mere travellers transform into explorers, waiting to discover meaningful and memorable moments of beauty.
And what better place to start than the evergreen and simplistically marvellous ‘God’s Own Country’— Kerala. Be it the sweet smell of wet earth in the air or the blanket of green that wraps around your eyes the moment you set foot inside its state borders, Kerala invites you to weave a unique memory of every experience.
From the pristine beaches, mellow backwaters, evergreen forests to the mighty mountains and gushing waterfalls, every bit of Kerala encourages you to slow down, let go and completely immerse yourself in its beauty.
Here are three examples of such destinations in Kerala, where every nook has a special story to tell.
Unique, unspoilt and unforgettable — are three words that summarise the experience of a place called Wayanad in Kerala. The only district that shares borders with Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, Wayanad is around 76 kms away from the coastline of Kozhikode, and is known for its unperturbed natural beauty crowned with paddy fields, coffee plantations, dense rain forests and wildlife sanctuaries.
Be it the quaint villages sporadically sprinkled around the mountains of Western Ghats, the enchanting misty hills and waterfalls humming the countless lores of the region going back to centuries, or the verdant carpets of paddy and coffee plantations — Wayanad is a green paradise that offers a bit of everything.
While the magnificent landscapes provide an opportunity for a restless soul to pause and rewind soaking in the tranquil environs of the region, the steep peaks and thick jungles promise a number of thrilling adventures. For instance, in the Pookot Lake nestled under the rolling hills of Wayanad, one can revel in the picturesque glory of nature while also indulging in kayaking and row boating activities. For adventure-lovers looking to scale peaks, there’s the 2100-ft-above-sea-level Chembra peak, which is the highest in Wayanad. It offers challenging and exhilarating trek opportunities.
If you are a history buff waiting to be lost in the marvels of the past, Sultan Bathery in Wayanad is a must visit. This place gets its name from Tipu Sultan who used an abandoned Jain Temple here to build a stronghold and eventually defeated the British Army and saved Wayanad from their occupation.
Around 16 kms from here, up the Ambukuthi Hill, lies another Neolithic era marvel, the Edakkal caves. Inside it one can find pictorial writings as old as at least 6000 BCE from the Neolithic man. The stone age carvings found in Edakkal caves are considered to be very rare and the only known examples close to it have been found in Shenthurini, Kollam.
Some other offbeat spots include the one-of-a-kind Koottamundu temple made entirely out of mirrors, India’s largest dam, Banasura and the wildlife sanctuary trio — Kerala’s Muthanga Wildlife Sanctuary and Nagarhole National Park and Bandipur Tiger Reserve in Karnataka.
With its pristine hills that dance beneath the velvety skies, Wayanad is a calling waiting to be heard.
Iringal, a scenic village near Vadakara in Kozhikode, Kerala, goes down in the annals of history as the birthplace of the valiant admiral Kunhali Marakkar, who commanded the Zamorin’s fleet and led many wars against the Portuguese during the 16th century.
The village, which was once home to battle-scarred clans and legendary warriors, is today known as a hub for traditional craftsmanship. Sargaalaya Kerala Arts and Crafts Village was established at Iringal in 2011 by the Department of Tourism, based on the concept of ‘responsible tourism’.
Sargaalaya is home to more than 80 highly-skilled artisans from villages across the state of Kerala, all housed under one roof. This craft village has 27 cottages, which are ethnic in design, located on the shores of the Moorad River in the village. The cottages provide a permanent space for the artisans to stay, create, display and sell their products. The village is also home to artisans who practice traditional art forms. Craftsmen are provided with training on the latest techniques of production and are encouraged to innovate within the traditional system.
At Sargaalaya you can find artifacts designed with different raw materials, ranging from natural options such as banana fibre, coir, bamboo, sand, coconut shells, husk, palm leaves, coconut leaves and screw-pine to modern alloys.
The craft village provides a unique experience for tourists as they can witness the artisans at work and are encouraged to interact and learn from them. Visitors can also enjoy performances of classical and folk art forms.
The unique set up of the village not only attracts tourists but provides a platform for promoting traditional arts and crafts while employing and encouraging local artisans. The village has generated employment for more than 400 people directly and more than 1,000 indirectly.
Amidst the many temples, forts and palaces that Kerala is famous for, Sargaalaya provides a distinct experience. With the perfect blend of art, history and business, it has become a model for responsible tourism in the state.
Vagamon, also known as Wagamon, is Kerala’s best-kept secret. Perpetually wrapped in a thick mist, with lush green velvety meadows carpeted with acres of tea plantations, Vagamon is a small hill station cradled in the south-eastern district of Idukki. It is one of the most unique off-beat experiences for travellers.
It is nature’s abode in the truest of forms, largely untouched and away from the hustle and bustle that many neighbouring hill stations like Munnar experience. So, if you are looking to breathe in the fresh air and unleash your imaginative expression through art, this is the place for you.
Here, time has its own pace, singing to the mellow tunes of the wind that can take you on a journey like no other. If you like long walks or to trek amidst nature, Vagamon offers a variety of landscapes. From rocky hills and rugged terrain to green meadows sprinkled with delicate blooms and dense pine forests to get lost in and be found again. On the way, follow the bubbling whisper of river Meenachil, which originates in Kottayam and flows throughout the small town.
But there are two sides to this town, one immersed in tranquil silence, and the other promising an ecstatic adventure.
Among the adventure seekers, Vagamon is a prominent site for paragliding, mountaineering and rock climbing. Offering a thrilling experience truly unique in South India, during the winters the town witnesses many paragliders flocking in to enjoy the experience of gliding over the velvety fields, lakes, plantations and hills. When joyously tired after such an exciting day, the mountains after the sundown take you in a quiet embrace, lulling you to sleep for another day, another unique experience at Vagamon.
Beyond the spice gardens and sleepy villages that you can breeze through, scaling the hills on a cycle, Vagamon is also known to be the seat of harmony. The town strung together with three adjoining hills—Thangal, Murugan and Kurisumala—all of which have prominent religious significance.
While Thangalpara houses the mausoleum of Sheik Fariduddin, which is an important religious location for Muslims, Muruganmala dedicated the the son of Lord Shiva, Murugan, is a significant site for Hindus. The third hill, Kurisumala houses the Kurisumala Ashram, which is a pilgrimage spot for Nazrani Catholics. At its foot, lies the St Thomas Mount, a centenary memorial that leads up to the statute of St Thomas. All three hills and the values they represent have been coexisting harmoniously for decades.
Beyond pilgrimage, if you are interested in ecotourism and a sustainable lifestyle, a visit to the Kurisumala Ashram to witness the sustainable dairy farm is a must. Imported from the island of Jersey the cattle is reared by the monks and this establishment functions under an Indo-Swiss Project.
Every curve and every corner of these idyllic locations leave a memorable mark, making your trip to Kerala more than just another ordinary vacation.