Stretching from some of the highest mountains of the Western Ghats to the lush coastal plain, Kerala encapsulates the rich diversity of western India's coastal landscapes. Travellers are drawn to Kerala by its attractive Palm-lined beaches â€“ Kovalam and its quieter neighbouring resorts. The backwaters beckon the visitor to catch a glimpse of Keralan village life, while festivals are marked by great elephant marches, snake boat races and colourful Kathakali dances. Kerala was selected by 'National Geographic Traveler' magazine as one of its fifty "destinations of a lifetime".
Places to visit in the state are:
1. Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum)
The capital, a pleasant city built over gently rolling coastal land, retains a rural air away from the crowded centre. The great complex of the Padmanabhasvami Temple and the old fort are to the south, while to the north is the artistic and cultural heart of the city exemplified by the Museum building. Sights in the city are Sri Padmanabhasvami Temple, Arts and Crafts Museum, Kanakakunnu Palace, Natural History Museum, Sri Chitra Art Gallery, Kuthiramalika Palace Museum and the Folklore Museum.
Once just a series of sandy bays separated by rocky headland, derelict except for the scattered fishing villages under the coconut palms, Kovalam has become a major tourist centre. Famous for its superb beaches, Kovalam is a must in every itinerary. A rocky promontory divided the beaches into the north and south sections; the beach immediately to the north of the rocky promontory offers the most sheltered bathing and clearest water.
Varkala attracts many visitors and is rapidly becoming better known. The beach, backed by high reddish cliffs, is an excellent place to calm down, and the sea here is very alluring. Varkala offers a wide range of accommodation options, along with a string of restaurants along the cliff top. Place to pay a visit are Papanasam Beach and the Janardhanaswamy Temple.
Capital of the Venad Kingdom in the ninth century, Kollam is a shaded town with a compact centre on the side of the Ashtamudi Lake. At the south end of Kerala's backwaters, it is one of the main centers for boat trips up the canals. The places of interest in Kollam are Ashtamudi Lake, Tangasseri and Fort Thomas.
5. Alappuzha (Alleppey)
Alappuzha (pronounced Alappoorra) and also known as Alleppey has a large network of canals passing through the town and is a major centre for backwater cruises and the venue for the spectacular 'snake' boat races. There is a little else of interest along though the people are friendly. You can stop your car at St. Thomas Church, and for a Kathakali performance at SD pharmacy building.
6. Kochi- Ernakulam
Kochi (Cochin), one of south India's most interesting towns, still largely comprises low rise, picturesque buildings. Rich in history, despite recent growth it retains a relaxed, quiet atmosphere once the majority of day-visitors leave. Narrow spits of land and coconut covered islands jut out into the wide, and almost enclosed, bay whose neck is lined with famous Chinese fishing nets. Today, Kochi's twin town, Ernakulam is busy and noisy by comparison, a dynamic city with soaring land prices and rapidly industrializing suburbs. The places of interest are Fort Kochi, Mattancherry Palace, Synagogue, St, Francis Church, Bolghatty Islands, Vypeen Island and Parishath Thamburan Museum.
The centre of Kerala's rubber industry, Kottayam is the main Christian centre in the state. Kottayam is surrounded by some of the most fertile and beautiful scenery in the state, with hills to its east and backwaters to the west. The compact town centre is noisy, busy and increasingly polluted but outskirts are much pleasanter. The places to see are the 450 yr old Cheria Palli ('Small' St Mary's Church), Valia Palli ('Big' St Mary's Church).
Set on an attractive Periyar lake side, significant wildlife sightings in Thekkadi are uncommon, but the beautiful setting attracts over 300,000 visitors a year. The small Kumily village with most of the guest houses and eating places is 3 km above the lake. The sanctuary, near the border with Tamil Nadu, is in a beautiful setting and was designated a part of Project tiger in 1973, though tigers are rarely seen and it is better known for its elephants. Kumily village is a good place to find spices, coffee and cashew nuts.
A major centre of Kerala's tea industry, and close to Anaimudi, at 2,695 m the highest peak in south India, Munnar is the nearest Kerala comes to a genuine hill station. It is surrounded by about 30 tea estates, among the highest in the world, and forest that is still rich in wildlife, including the reclusive Nilgiri Tahr, that continues to survive the increasing commercial use of the hills. The surrounding hills are home to the rare Neelakurunji orchid (Strobilanthes), which covers the hills in colour for a month once in 12 years. The highlights of the city are Christ Church, Mount Carmel Roman Catholic Church, Mattupetty Lake, Devikulam and Eravikulam/Rajamalai National Park.
The Havelis and Palaces of Jaisalmer, made of the local golden-yellow sandstone, are the most spectacular paradigm of Rajasthani stonemason's art. Founded in the 12th century by Maharawal Jaisal of the Bhatti Rajput clan Jaisal is today a remote outpost in the Thar Desert. Places to stopover in Jaisalmer are Jaisalmer Fort, Manik Chowk, Badal Vilas, Gadisagar Lake, Salim Singh's Haveli, Nathmalji's Haveli and Patwon ki Haveli.
Kannur stands on raised ground with cliffs at the sea face. The coconut fringed coastline has some attractive beaches nearby. Weaver's Co-operative and beedi factories provide employment but this is also the place to watch Theyyam dances. Place to watch here are Chirakkal Palace, Moplah town and Payyambalam beach.