H is for Hill Stations
Throughout India when the weather gets hot, those who can afford to head for the hills. With altitude comes respite from the heat and for Kerala the most famous of the Hill Stations is Munnar though Wikipedia lists 16 different Kerala Hill Stations. Munnar is the least overtly 'British' hill station that we've visited and it's not actually a terribly attractive place. However it does have lots of great scenery, some interesting and some ridiculously bizarre attractions and it's certainly a lot cooler than down by the sea.
I is for Irritating Sales People
OK, it's fair to say that this applies to most of India and not just Kerala. There is little more annoying that being followed round a shop by someone trying to be helpful but most of the time just stating the 'bleedin' obvious'. If your eye should glance a moment to long in one direction, they'll be there telling you what it is, whether you're interested or not. I always feel like they think I'm going to shop lift. The fact that you express absolutely no interest and sometimes even state explicitly that you don't care what the price is you wouldn't give house room to the ugly macramé elephant will not come between the irritating sales person and his or her determination to sell you things that you don't want.
J is for Jewtown
Jewtown is the district of Kochi in the direct vicinity of the Paradesi Synagogue, an area which was once inhabited by the wealthy, historic Jewish community but is now mostly filled with shops run or owned by Kashmiri traders. The Paradesi Jews are a dying community with no prospect to make it beyond the middle of the 21st century because they've been so exclusive about not marrying outside their community and the only remaining woman of child bearing age refuses to wed her cousins. We were there on a Friday, the worst possible day if you want to see the Synagogue because it's closed but the best day to do a bit of shopping because nobody goes there when the Synagogue isn't open. We spent a lovely few hours eating, drinking and chatting to the most relaxed bunch of low-hassle shop keepers in the sub-continent. I have a weakness for Kashmiris and their stores because they always have the best stock and as a rule are utterly charming.
K is for Kathikali
If you only take away one piece of advice from this review let it be this – life is too short and too precious to watch Kathikali dancing. It's the most ridiculous form of dance I've seen anywhere in the world and also the most boring (though the Catalan 'Sardana' comes close). We went to a demonstration the first time we went to Kerala and vowed never to do it again. Our driver – the man who bullied us into Ayurvedic massage - worked out very quickly that whilst we were probably the most laid-back and amenable clients he'd ever had, when we said 'NO KATHIKALI' we meant it.
L is for the Lack of Beggars
I know, bizarre, but we didn't see a single beggar in Kerala. It might be something to do with the state having the highest level of education and literacy anywhere in India and a pretty good level of income, and no doubt being on the coast with direct flights to the Middle East means a lot of money comes into the state from families sending a son or two to the Gulf to earn money.
M is for moustaches
Every good Keralan man has a moustache. To be more precise, every good Keralan man has the SAME moustache. It's an excellent bushy thing that goes all across the top of the lip and droops a bit down either side.
N is for the Nilgiri Tahr
The Nilgiri Tahr is a goat that lives in Eravikulam National Park, quite possibly the lamest national park in India and they have some pretty daft one. Despite the park being massive, you're only allowed to walk along one piece of tarmac path which is about half a mile long. So we waited over an hour to get the bus from the ticket office to the park, paid ten times more than the locals, walked half a mile, saw a goat, walked back, waited an hour for another bus and then went back to Munnar. The goat was nice enough – I suspect it was fed in the same spot every day to ensure people got to see one – and it must have been a deaf goat to put up with dozens of Indians shouting "Oy, look! It's a goat, let's shout at it".
O is for Orange Pekoe
The mountainsides of Kerala are coated in tea bushes which look like fuzzy green corduroy. We visited the Kolukkumalai tea estate and were shown around the factory which produces the highest altitude organic tea in the world. The standard quality grade is known as BOP or Broken Orange Pekoe. OK, it's a tenuous 'O is for' but it's the only one I could think of.
P is for Pancakes
Beena's husband at the homestay in Cochin makes the most fabulous Kerala pancakes. We had them on the rice barge we stayed on on the backwaters but didn't realise just how wonderful they could be. Sudi's fresh hot pancakes stuffed with sweet coconut paste were so good that I ate four – I think my husband ate six. If there had been more I think we'd have eaten those too.
Q is for Quiet Places
In a very loud country, it's hard to find quiet places and the most typical sound is that of car horns blaring. We stayed in four different place in Kerala and every one was quiet and peaceful. I slept like a log.
R is for Roman Catholicism
You can almost always tell the religion of a driver in India by looking at what's dangling off his rear view mirror or sitting on the dashboard. Our driver Shijo asked us on the first morning in his broken English "Madame is Arsey?" - Yes, I thought to myself, perhaps she is but that's not the way to go about getting a good tip. Then the penny dropped – Arsey – RC – Roman Catholic. So not quite so insulting after all. The strange thing about Kerala Roman Catholicism is that even the new churches (we saw one built only a few years ago) have all their icons looking distinctly European. I've seen churches in Tamil Nadu where they've changed the skin colour to make the saints look a little more 'local' but oddly in Kerala they don't seem to do that. And we saw a LOT of churches.