Monday, January 27, 2014

The Current Time In India Is Kerala Time!

By Mitchell Jones

There are a lot of people traveling to India these days. Some are ex-pats looking to reconnect with the homeland. Others are a vast range of tourists and adventures with a host of ideas of what would be the perfect Indian getaway. Whatever your motivation, you probably want to know where the action is. I'm here to tell you.

There's no doubt about it, if that's what you're seeking, get yourself to Kerala. The glory days of Katmandu and Goa are all behind us. You don't want to be some butt of irony. Forget about those places. Yes, Mumbai and Delhi still have their appeal, but there is a kind of crazy, intense, pressing of humanity in those cities, which isn't for everyone.

No, if you want a visit to India that gives you the top experience, in a chilled atmosphere, immersed in natural beauty, but without sacrificing cultural vibrancy, the current time in India is Kerala time! This hot Indian up-and-comer of a destination stretches along the south-western corner of the country. (I like to tell people, if they can conjure up an image of where Chile is in South America, they can figure out where Kerala is in India). This area has all you could ask for in your Indian vacation.

For instance, consider these great options:

Kochi, still on some maps called Cochin, is the commercial center of Kerala and a place both happening and stunning. The city straddles an extensive backwaters region, which encompasses the northern end of a peninsula, several islands and a portion of the mainland. Ferries ply the waters of this beautiful natural harbor where I personally have experienced dolphins swimming so close to the low sitting boat that I could reach out and touch them.

The architecture of the city is pretty great, too. This is especially true in the Fort Kochi area, where a history of diverse colonization, including a century and a half under the Portuguese, has left behind a sometimes stunning and unexpected architectural legacy.

Don't get lulled into complacency by the idyllic natural and architectural beauty, though. Kochi can rock its way into your heart, too. Its thriving nightlife provides an impressive spectrum of fine restaurants, offering up culinary delights from all over India. International food options are also well represented. Following a night out for dinner, you can kick back in any of a diverse number of cafes (south Indian coffee is great!), or if looking for something more energetic, there are a good assortment of discos and pubs to party on into the wee hours.

However, if even that's too much city action for you - or you just want a change - Kerala still has you covered. There are a variety of more serene options. If you're looking to be on the move, you have to check out the Kerala backwaters. These are constituted by a large number of lagoons and lakes, connected via a web of rivers and canals. This great network of waterways runs parallel to the Kerala coast - once, more prosaically, known as the Malabar Coast.

Among the two top options in exploring the backwaters is a visit to Alappuzha (still sometime referred to as Alleppey on maps). It is the settlement center of the backwaters region; a delightful town crisscrossed by so many canals that it has come to be known as Venice of the East. It was a main trading center for a long time and remains an intriguing place to explore.

Another popular backwaters experience is booking passage on one of the over 2000 kettuvallams, or Kerala houseboats, that ply the backwaters. Historically these boats were commissioned as grain barges. In recent years, there has been a very successful, popular and, for the locals, lucrative trend to convert them into floating cottages. Thatched roofs enclose cozy sleeping quarters. There will be an inboard toilet and an outdoor deck area. This latter is perfect for taking in the scenery, watching the sunset, relaxing under the full moon and enjoying the Kerala-style meals prepared by the crew.

But, for those who just want to lounge on the beach, sip a cool drink and listen to the waves, Kerala has so much to offer as well. We'll only mention one absolute gem, here. Varkala is a chill-out delight, but largely free of the Western hippies and ravers that are so prevalent in other similar areas of west coast India.

Here you'll find that dream tropical coastline, with the perfect beach, just as you imagined it. Plus, you get the bonus of the geologically distinctive cliffs of the area. The seaside village of Varkala spreads out over these cliffs, in a series of small shops, over a kilometer in distance. Varkala is truly a delight to the palate, the senses and the spirit. It's got to be seen to be believed. (To get some fleeting sense of the delights, check out the video at our post: The Current Time in India is Varkala Time!)

And, if you're such a hard sell that even paradise itself isn't enough to move you, Varkala offers the additional perk of a 2000 year old temple, which is an important Vaishnavaite shrine. It is too a hotbed of Ayurvedic medicine. Heck, it even has an Ayurvedic hospital. What more could you want?

If you're already fantasizing about it, Kerala is easy to reach. International flights come into both Kochi and the Kerala capital city of Thiruvananthapuram (about 32 miles, or 50km from Varkala). However, if you can afford the time, I'd recommended making even more of an adventure out of your holiday. Instead, fly into the even better served Mumbai airport. After the necessary trip to visit Bollywood, you can book passage on the wonderful Konkan railway, which will carry you down the west coast. When I first traveled through India, back in the 1970s, this railway didn't exist. It has been a huge boon to Indian travel since its opening in 1998.

The bottom line is simple enough. However you decide to make your way, what matters is that you get yourself to Kerala. Inevitably the popularity of a location usually winds up destroying the very charms that made it popular in the first place. Great locations do not stay so forever. Right now, Kerala is in its full glory. The current time in India is, indeed, Kerala time! Don't miss it.

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