Want to explore India responsibly and boost the local community? In Kerala, you can do both while experiencing a unique culture and landscape.
Kerala, nicknamed ‘God’s Own Country’ for its stunning natural beauty, is often suggested as the perfect starting point for tourists eager to explore India.
With its enchanting backwaters, nearly 600 kilometres of Arabian coastline andrich cultural traditions, the state has something to offer for all kinds of visitors. From nature lovers to those seeking a peaceful, restoring retreat.
But now Kerala, is encouraging tourists to dive deeper into their discovery of the state and the lives of local people.
Spend the night within the local community or test yourself with traditional activities like coconut climbing and arrow-fishing.
This kind of interaction is good for both tourists – who are getting a real experience instead of a packaged tour – and the local community – which is empowered by its involvement in tourism – according to Mr Biju K, Kerala’s Secretary of Tourism.
“We’re looking at responsible and sustainable tourism,” Biju K says. “Each destination that we’re looking at, we’re trying to empower the local communities, boost local jobs and get visitors involved in taking care of these places.”
“People would go and not only admire the backwaters, for example, but experience rural life first-hand,” he adds.
What traditional activities can you try?
A lot of countries offer tourists a peek into local traditions, arts and crafts by bussing them to remote locations and letting them observe the communities at work. Kerala, however, wants travellers to get their hands dirty and experience the local culture first-hand.
One way to do this is through bow-and-arrow fishing. This unique technique is unlikely to yield a big catch for the inexperienced fisherman – but it is a lot of fun. The fishing is done on canoes, so even without catching any fish, you’ll still enjoy the view.
If this practice sounds a bit too intense, you can try the most common form of local fishing, net fishing in Kerala’s backwaters.
Hopefully, you’ll have saved some energy for coconut climbing.
This experience was once “very difficult and very risky,” Biju K says, as it was done the traditional way, “climbing with a rope around your leg”. If you dare, you can still try climbing the tall, swaying coconut trees with this ancient and exhausting technique – or do so with the latest tools and the help of a local master.
The best part? Rewarding yourself with some toddy – Kerala’s signature, world-famous drink made by fermenting the sap of coconut or palm flowers. You’ll be able to make your own mildly alcoholic ‘Palm Wine’ or ‘Coconut Vodka’, But you’ll have to drink on the spot because it has a shelf-life of just 24 hours.
If you want to discover the traditional activities of local women, you can get involved in carpet-weaving, bamboo craft making and coir making. If you want to work with animals, you can get involved in rabbit farming – one of the main sources of livelihood for many villages, as well as goat and cow farming and beekeeping.
Sports lovers shouldn’t miss the chance to try kalaripayattu either, a traditional martial art form unique to Kerala.
What about accommodation?
For a full immersion into the Kerala local lifestyle, you can spend the night within the community and sleep in the so-called village stays or home stays.
“What we are trying to do is move away from the traditional sort of resort experience and get tourists closer to the local communities, making them discover the culture of the place, including the local food and cuisines,” Biju K says.
“We want people to experience God’s Own Country, the way different cultures live in Kerala peacefully because we share brotherhood and happiness, with no discrimination.”
You can pick one village and spend your entire holiday there, or move around and experience life in more than one community.
At the moment, you can find village stays in Kumarakom – a cluster of little islands in the Kottayam district, Thekkady – a must-see for wildlife lovers, Bekal – a picturesque village with stunning beaches and regal forts, Wayanad – surrounded by a wild and lush forest, and Kannur.
Check Kerala’s tourism website for more information about what each village has to offer.