Sunlight flickers on your eyelids, through gently swishing palm leaves. Blue waters ripple past your languid fingers as they trail over the edge of your houseboat. With every drop of lightly scented Ayurvedic oil dripping in a lazy arc on your forehead, with every bird call filtering through the emerald green forest in the distance, you are transported to a place when rush hour traffic and deadlines are but a hazy concept, and life is a gentle journey to be savored.
You are in Kerala, aptly known as 'God's Own Country'...a jewel nestled between the glistening Arabian Sea and the towering Western Ghats...crisscrossed with 44 rivers, dotted with lush hill stations and exotic wildlife. There are also rushing waterfalls and scented plantations, paddy fields and cultural monuments.
With its undulating shoreline and aromatic food, this is the place Vasco Da Gama discovered and was eventually buried in, in 1524. Most of these charming destinations are just a couple of hours drive away from each other, thanks to the narrow boundaries of this state, so you can have your fill of sandy beaches and mountain-top breezes in a single day.
For the cultural adventurer, Kerala offers Kathakali, - a wildly colorful and stylized blend of religious play and dance; kalarippayat - a gravity defying martial art, with sword wielding men in spotless white dhotis flying overhead while they execute complicated maneuvers; and theyyam - a trance-induced ritual with bright red body paint and elaborate costumes.
For those who need more than just the aroma of spices and tea growing in the sprawling plantations, there are historical monuments and heritage sites reminding you of Kerala's colorful colonial past...Chinese and Portuguese traders, Jewish settlers, Syrian Christians and Muslim merchants who visited this fertile region to engage in trade with the locals and Dutch invaders, often made this land their home and have left behind palaces, forts and houses of prayer.
St. Francis Church, considered to be the oldest European-built church in India was originally built by Franciscan friars from Portugal in 1503. The present structure was built in the mid-16th century, to replace the earlier wooden one, and this is where Vasco Da Gama was buried after he died in Cochin. His remains were ultimately shifted to Lisbon.
The synagogue in Cochin, or Kochi as it is now known, was built in 1568, partially destroyed by the Portuguese in 1662 and rebuilt by the Dutch invaders in 1664. It has an ornate gold pulpit, and Cantonese floor tiles with an intricate hand-painted willow pattern. Elaborate Belgian chandeliers and colored glass lamps illuminate the interiors. A gallery upstairs was built to provide a separate space for Orthodox women worshippers. Even today, shorts and sleeveless tops are frowned upon inside the synagogue.
Another place of interest is Madurai, with its fascinating temples and a recorded history dating back to the 3rd century BC. You could alternately, trek along the walker's delight - the Western Ghats, and take in the incredible scenery and fabulous views of tea plantations, rough rock formations and rolling grasslands that make up this beautiful state.
So whether you find sanctuary on top of a green mountain ridge, or peace while you drift along the vast network of rivers, canals and lagoons, Kerala with its perfect climate and easy-going hospitality is a place any world-weary traveler will enjoy.
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