S is for Spices
Kerala is the spice state of India, benefiting from lots of sun and rain and a superb climate for things to grow. We visited a spice garden near Munnar and even small towns have spice shops, with the larger cities groaning under the weight of little packets of chillies, cardamoms, pepper, cinnamon and spice mixes like garam masala.
T is for Thekkady
Thekkady is another high altitude town and the jumping off point for the Periyar wildlife park, lake and tiger reserve. We didn't see any of these – I think our driver was stressed about us being put in a crazy hotel over an hour's drive from the town and he wanted to get there before it got dark (because he didn't know where he was going). There are some fabulous luxury hotels, lots of elephant-things to do and plenty of shops. But that's about it.
U is for Unionisation
I already mentioned under G that the communists have run Kerala for many years and consequently a lot of the workers are in unions. One Kashmiri shop keeper told us about his uncle who came to visit and refused to ever return after being royally ripped off by the porterage charges at the airport. He told us that in Kerala you can't haggle about prices for services as much as elsewhere because drivers, porters, dhobiwalas, etc have formed unions and won't undercut each other. We certainly found that a lot of tuk tuk drivers weren't open for negotiation – if you wouldn't pay their price, they wouldn't take you. Fortunately not all were so inflexible but it's good to know roughly what you should pay and then stick to your guns, even if it means having to ask 2 or 3 drivers before you get one that'll take your price.
V is for Vasco da Gama
St Francis Church in Cochin is also known as the Vasco da Gama church. I was surprised to learn that I could see Vasco da Gama's tomb because I had a sneaky suspicion I'd seen it before – in Lisbon. Sure enough, poor old Vasco was buried in St Francis, the oldest church in India after he die in 1524 on his third trip to India. Then a few years later his body was taken back to Lisbon and put in a beautiful tomb in the church next to the Jeronimos Monastery.
W is for Water
There's a lot of water in Kerala – the coast, the backwaters with their islands of reclaimed lands, waterfalls throughout the mountains and rather a lot of rain.
X is for Ex-pat houses
Throughout the mountains we saw lots of enormous fancy houses, often set in large garden plots. Very rarely was there much evidence that anyone actually lived there. We asked Beena in Cochin what this was all about and she explained that most of these houses were built with money sent back to the families by relatives working in the Gulf. She told us that if you build a big house with your money, you can pretty much guarantee good marriage offers for all your daughters. It seems a shame that the best houses are mostly just for show. Ironically, you see similar behaviour in the countryside of Portugal where relatives go to Brazil and send back money to build big villas. In contrast to the grandeur of the ex-pat houses, I saw one little house, not much bigger than a garage with a neatly painted little sign that said 'Lal Bhawan'. My Hindi is pretty poor but I'm pretty sure that means 'precious palace'.
Y is for Yes
If someone asks you if you want to go to Kerala – well that's the answer "Yes, of course"
Z is for ZigZags
Yes, another tenuous one but the mountains do have a lot of hair-pin bends.
So that's your lot. What are you waiting for? Kerala is one of the least hasslesome states of India, the people are friendly but not pushy, the food is excellent and inexpensive and the scenery is spectacular. There aren't too many states where you can spend time on the beach, time on a converted rice-barge floating around on the backwaters, and get to high altitude and see fabulous mountains and hang out with elephants.