Kids learn best when they make connections. Reading something in a book or watching something on the screen is great. But the learning really deepens when they experience it first-hand. Like, botany is learnt best when they read about plants first and then actually sow seeds and watch their plant grow before them!
How about following this same order for holidays?
Most of us don’t associate holidays with learning for our kids. But if you think about it, there’s no better way to teach them about geography, history, botany, zoology, psychology and even math (yes, math) than taking them on holidays.
If we read up about a place, understand its history, its culture, its geography and its flora and fauna before we go, holidays become so much more meaningful for kids.
They start looking for things that you told them about or read to them about. “Look ma, those Chinese fishing nets we saw on your phone!”
With this article, we aim to give you a glimpse of Kerala from an ‘educational’ perspective. Don’t worry, it’s nothing heavy duty. In simple words (and with lots of photographs that you can show your kids), we’ll take you through significant aspects of the wonder that is Kerala!
So you can read the article, discuss it with your kids and show them the photographs before you go on your family holiday to Kerala.
And when you do take the trip, we guarantee it will be one they won’t forget soon!
So let’s begin!
Kerala is a beautiful state in south India, famous for its rich cultural heritage and natural beauty. A visit to Kerala is a fun-filled travel experience amidst the lush green habitat and different water bodies. Kerala is home to different animals and beautiful birds. All one can say is, ‘Kerala is certainly God’s Own Country.’
The Name Kerala and Why it’s called ‘God’s Own Country’
‘Kera’ means coconut and ‘alam’ means land so Keralam in Malayalam translates into the land of coconuts.
But why ‘God’s Own Country’?
‘God’s Own Country’ was the tagline crafted by ad man Walter Mendez for Kerala Tourism in 1989. However, it is not just a tagline because Kerala is truly God’s own country at many levels.
Kerala has a diverse population comprising Muslims, Hindus, Christians and Jews. The state has always been a shining example of communal harmony in India. On our visit to Kochi with our daughter, we found many churches, a Jewish synagogue, temples and mosques. We saw how people respected the religion of others.
Even its natural beauty displays a divine diversity in physical features, flora and fauna.
The natural landscape of Kerala
With more than 40 rivers and the Arabian Sea to the west and the Western Ghats to the east, Kerala has all of nature’s bounty packed in one single state!
It lies close to the Equator but with the presence of Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea, it enjoys an equable climate. The south-west monsoon and the north-east monsoon bring rain.
One finds different shades of green in trees, water plants, tea gardens, rubber and coffee plantations and paddy fields during this season.
Kerala is a coastal state with a network of waterways, inlets, estuaries, lakes and canals connecting coastal towns; Lord Curzon rightly described it as the Venice of the East.
This interlinked body of waterways makes the famous ‘backwaters’ of Kerala. Around 900 kms of these backwaters are navigable.
To experience the magical backwaters, stay in a houseboat in Alleppey or Kumarakon for a night.
Vembanadu Lake is the largest in the state.
Being a coastal state, Kerala also boasts of some magnificent beaches like Kovalam, Marari, Bekal and Varkala beaches.
Apart from the copious water bodies, Kerala is also home to a number of mountains along the Western Ghats. The highland areas of the Western Ghats make for gorgeous hill-stations like Munnar, Wayanad, Kunnur and Palakkad.
History, Tradition and Culture
The history and culture of the state of Kerala is as unique as its beautiful landscape. Over the centuries, Kerala has seen the influence of diverse traders, rulers and evangelists, giving the state a rich blend of cultures.
- The Main Festival of Kerala – Onam
Onam is the harvest festival of Kerala celebrated harmoniously by all communities. According to folklore, during Onam people also welcome the beloved demon King Mahabali.
This festival falls in the month of Chingam (first month of Malayalam Calendar) that corresponds with August-September.
Sadya (Feasts) and Pookalams (flower beds or flower arrangements like the rangoli) form a part of their celebrations.
One of the most exhilarating things you can do in Kerala during Onam is visit a snake boat race in Allepey. One of our most unforgettable memories of Kerala is the Nehru Trophy Boat Race 2017. Each year on the second Saturday of August, the snake boats compete for the prestigious trophy at the Punnamada Lake in Alleppy.
4 helmsmen, 100 oarsmen and 25 singers occupy these long snake boats or Chundan Vallams to play their roles. The rhythmic oars and synchronized rowing of many boats makes it a visual treat.
- Art & Culture
Kerala is the birthplace of various art forms, performed by passionate artists. If you want to get a taste of these art forms, Fort Kochi is the place to visit. There you can sample the traditional art forms and give your children a rich insight into the culture of Kerala.
Before each performance, artists or comperes explain the history and the relevance of the art form.
- Kalaripayattu, the martial art form of Kerala is a training in combat that requires the ultimate co-ordination of the mind and body. Kalari or training school is where the training is conducted. These schools teach feats like chaattom (jumping), ottam (running), marichil (somersault) etc. The students are also taught the use of weapons such as daggers, swords, spears and maces, the bow and arrow.
- Kathakali is an ancient Indian classical dance form that comes to life with storytelling, foot work, and gestures using facial muscles and eyes. The make-up is intricate and involves a patient session that goes on for hours. The dancers also wear masks and artistically designed costumes. Traditionally performed by male dancers, it became a popular form of theatre.
- Mohiniyattam is a semi-classical dance form of Kerala performed by women. The movements are graceful and the costume is elegant. This dance form involves footsteps and subtle expressions that require years of hard work and practice. The vocal music is Carnatic that gives the dancers the rhythm and lyrics to perform.
Life of the People
The natives of rural Kerala are generally farmers or fisher folk who work hard, live simply and peacefully. Men and women work together in all kinds of traditional and modern work places in this state that boasts of a 100% literacy rate.
One place to see the fishermen of Kerala in action is Fort Kochi. It is a beautiful early morning scene in Fort Kochi as fishermen push their boats from the shores to sail in deep waters.
Another interesting ritual is the lowering of the Cheena Vala (Chinese fishing nets), also in Fort Kochi, in the morning or early evening. The lowered nets are then pulled out with the help of ropes. Once the catch is emptied, the nets droop and sway with the breeze, looking breathtakingly beautiful.
In the backwaters, you can see the local paddy farmers in action. On the languorous boat ride through the backwaters, you will find men and women working alongside in paddy fields.
Malayalis mostly live in houses that have slanting roofs for effective drainage during monsoons. The huge houses have pillared verandahs. Most traditional homes in Kerala flaunt a small but well–maintained garden where they grow kappa (tapioca), various kinds of flowers, curry leaves, banana trees, etc.
Local Crops and Staple Diet
Paddy (Rice) is the staple food of the people of Kerala. The lush green paddy fields are a vital part of Kerala’s environment and ecological systems.
The locals consume boiled rice with curries and curd. Puttu (steamed cake) is a special dish that looks like cylinders of steamed ground rice layered with coconut. It is a popular choice for breakfast and tastes delicious with black gram, mutton curry, etc.
Dosa and idli remain popular food items made from rice.
Coconut – The coconut tree is considered the tree of wealth by Keralites since all its parts have value. Coconut gives flavor to most of the vegetarian and non-vegetarian curries made in Kerala.
Bananas– Bananas are available in many varieties and the local people of Kerala make use of the banana flower, leaves and fruit in abundance.
Tapioca/Cassava– Cassava is a root grown in Kerala. The locals mash boiled tapioca and add grated coconut to it. Boiled pieces of tapioca served as a side dish are popular with tourists. Tapioca is also sliced and fried to make chips. Pearls of tapioca cooked in milk make a yummy pudding!
Tea and Coffee
Kerala is also famous for tea and coffee gardens. Munnar is the most famous of all for the lush green hills. Cochin and Periyar are other destinations where the aroma of tea and coffee fills up the air.
A drive through the gardens and a leisurely morning walk while inhaling the aroma are enough to de-stress everyone. If you go to Munnar, do visit the tea museum!
Spices and Herbs
Cardamoms, ginger, garlic, vanilla, clove, cinnamon, pepper, turmeric, tamarind, etc. are some of the popular spices grown in Kerala.
An educational trip for kids would be a visit to one of the spice gardens in Kerala. Specialists in these gardens explain various techniques used in spice growing and processing.
ou could plan a trip to the Idukki district to see the spice gardens and combine it with a visit to Periyar National Park.
All the local crops and spices come together to make lip-smacking traditional meals! So when you’re in Kerala, don’t forget to have appam with stew or crab masala, iddi-appam and egg curry, idlis with sambhar, kappa puttu or cassava laddoos. During your stay on the houseboat in Allepey, you’ll get an authentic (and delicious) taste of Kerala cuisine.
After relishing these traditional meals, you can shop for the spices that give the meals their unique flavor.
Now that you have been introduced to interesting facts about Kerala through this article, it is time to figure out which of these gorgeous places you will visit first in your discovery of Kerala:
- Kochi specifically Fort Kochi to sample traditional art forms, see the Chinese fishing nets and historic religious sites
- Athirapally for its gushing waterfall on Chalakudi River.
- Allepy for floating on its backwaters in an idyllic houseboat or for watching the exhilarating snake boat race during Onam
- Munnar for its verdant mountains and tea gardens
- Periyar for it alluring beasts and elephant rides through rubber plantations
- Thiruvanthapuram for the Kovalam Beach, Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple and the zoo
Whichever place you begin your Kerala sojourn with, we assure you, you will come back for more! So book your tickets and take the plunge into the divine beauty of God’s Own Country!