Quickly through Kerala

"God's own country", well, I certainly don't agree with this adage. However, Kerala seems surely gifted by Nature. A land that has water, trees, greenery, topographical variety and mild climes naturally appears favoured. Crossing over into Kerala at Palghat brings a feel of the state. Lush green countryside and a range of NilgiriHillspresent a beautiful landscape. The only problem is the condition of the roads and to cite an example, the state highway up toTrichur which is very bad. The traffic is too heavy for this two lane highway. Moreover the drainage system is poor and there are stretches that could have better been in embankment. This highway needs due attention of the engineers of the PWD. You are comfortable only when your vehicle touched the 4-lane NH-47.
 
Entering any city brings traffic woes to the fore and Ernakulam / Kochi is no exception. It took the KSRTC bus about an hour and a half to find its last stop and my hotel besides the Ernakulam Bus Stand. The road is again bad, full of ruts and deep troughs where enough water had accumulated so as to squirt and bathe a passer-by in dirty water if a driver with the typical Indian mindset happened to be pulling a vehicle along.

Kerala has a landscape that has all type of topography like seaside, plains, hills and backwaters. Here are historical ports / harbours like Calicut (Kozhikode), Cochin (Kochi), Alleppey (Alappuzha) and Quilon (Kollam) to name some. Vasco da Gama had landed in 1498 at a beach called Kappad that is near to Calicut. Of course, the long coastline has beautiful pristine beaches as well. Bekal, Kollam, Verkala and Kovalam are famous beaches of Kerala.
Then there are hill stations like Wynad and Munnar, so very rich in wildlife and exquisite flora and fauna. Periyar wild life sanctuary has the reputation of having some rare species of animals and birds in the Nilgiries.Wynad is famous for coffee and tea plantations besides the famous Kerala spices. Cochin, the twin city (along with Ernakulam) has many historical places like the Fort Cochin, Mattancherry (famous for its Jewish synagogue and the palace) Bolghatty Island and Willingdon Island. Chinese fishing nets are unique to Cochin. Rubber plantations are found in Kottayam, Wynad and Cannanore districts.



For the religious minded there are temples and shrines like Sabrimala, Guruvayur and now the richest one in Asia; the Padmanabhaswamy temple at Trivandrum.Culturally, Kerala is very rich. Museums, art galleries etc are located in big cities. It has Kathakali and Mohinattam forms of Indian classical dance as well as the Kalaripayattu martial art of ancient standing. Onam (Aug – Sept) is a famous festival and so are the boat races conducted through the back waters. The Nehru trophy boat race at Alleppey is very famous. This year it was on 13th August, the second Saturday, and I happened to be there.Kerala Back waters are world famous and a cruise through them is a lifetime experience and a dream of every tourist.
 
Kerala is home to many rationalist movements and people are amenable to reason and rationalism. People from different faiths are turning to atheism and materialism and feel no discrimination either from the society or the establishment.

Kerala rightly boasts of its 100% literacy rate. Mathribhumi, the Malayali daily sells about 2 million copies. Availability of reading material is in abundance. Prof Ravichandaran of English department at the Trivandrum University whom I happened to meet twice this year has to his credit translation into Malayalam of many books including Richard Dawkins’ best seller - The God Delusion. People are not only literate but they actually read a lot.

Unfortunately, Kerala has a higher suicide rate in the country. What makes rich and well off people of Kerala to go into depression and end their lives? One Keralite told me that it was the signs of a possible recession and the likely ensuing economic hardships that was causing distress in minds of some people. They feared that they might not be able to cope with such situations and that thinking caused in them deep anxieties and suicidal tendencies. I may not entirely agree but the gentleman certainly has a valid point there.

Kerala women are beautiful and they look more so in SalwarKameez, the usual north Indian attire that is making a remarkable appearance in Kerala and other South Indian states. Here they call it theChuridar. I think more and more young women are abandoning the traditional sareeand dressing up in the churidars. Perhaps this Churidar doesn't have that grace and flair of the salwar-kameez, yet it is making a definite mark on the dress culture of these women. We were having coffee together when Sandeep Krishna, my friend from Cochin, raised this topic of beauty of Kerala women. They are beautiful indeed but drawing a comparison I expressed that women from Coorg (Karnataka) were more beautiful. Sandeep exclaimed, 'Oh, Pahadiladki' (dame from the hills). Yes, I said that the women from the hills were stunningly beautiful and men, well, suavely handsome.
 
Transport, despite bad roads, is cheap in Kerala. The Kerala State Road Transport service is cheap and efficient.  I was told that auto rickshaws in Kerala were as good or bad as anywhere else in the country. However, in Trivandrum city, I was told,they were all good i. e., they didn’t overcharge. Untrue. From Trivandrum city to the airport the auto man asked for Rs 150 but eventually settled for Rs 80. I think Bhubaneswr (Orissa) has the best autorickshaws followed by Gwalior (M P).

A trip to Munnar and Waynad alongwith a backwaters cruise remains hence the desire to come back.