Where does one go for tranquility in India? Some would say it’s not possible, but John Flinn found Kerala, on the country’s southwestern coast, to be an idyllic spot. He wrote about it for the San Francisco Chronicle.
Traders still come for the spices — when the wind is right a hint of nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom and turmeric wafts across the harbor from the warehouses in Emakulam — but travelers are arriving in increasing numbers for another reason: a respite in what’s probably the gentlest, most idyllic and socially interesting corner of India.
Cut off from the rest of the subcontinent by a spine of mountains called the Western Ghats, lapped by the warm Arabian Sea and crisscrossed by the tranquil web of canals, lakes and rivers known as the Backwaters, Kerala is unlike any other place in India. It’s green and lush rather than brown and dusty, its literacy rate is the highest in the world, and it’s renowned for religious tolerance in a country where this hasn’t always been a strong point.
Fort Cochin is the tourist nexus, with the ramparts of an old Portuguese fort, moldering Dutch and English mansions, a waterfront fish market and a warren of narrow streets meandering through the old spice district. The beaches — which I didn’t get to spend much time on — are said to be like those of Goa, minus the blissed-out ravers. And a journey by houseboat through the Backwaters is becoming de rigueur for world travelers.
There is an accompanying story about his experiences on a houseboat.