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India-bound: Exploring Off-beat Kerala for Nature Tripping and Holistic Healing

Hard to imagine that vibrant Kerala, the state where the perennially-busy Kochi airport which is home to Air India Express is located, was once relatively little-known as a tourist destination, taking a backseat to Delhi, Jaipur and Agra. That’s all history now as Kerala is but obviously holding its own when it comes to drawing tourists with over 10 million flocking every year. But it’s nice to know that even a popular state as Kerala still has its relatively off-the-beaten track destinations, places with a lot less tourists per square feet.

Hard to imagine that vibrant Kerala, the state where the perennially-busy Kochi airport which is home to Air India Express is located, was once relatively little-known as a tourist destination, taking a backseat to Delhi, Jaipur and Agra. That’s all history now as Kerala is but obviously holding its own when it comes to drawing tourists with over 10 million flocking every year. But it’s nice to know that even a popular state as Kerala still has its relatively off-the-beaten track destinations, places with a lot less tourists per square feet.

Ayurveda in Kerala
Ayurveda in Kerala

Kerala is Ayurveda

Granted, a lot of tourists go to India for adventure, however, the country is also an important destination for those who want to pursue spiritual attunement and healing. Kerala plays a great role in filling those particular needs as it is the only state in the entirety of India where Ayurveda, the ancient science dealing with holistic healing, is practiced in the mainstream. Moreover, Kerala has more Ayurvedic practitioners than any other place in the world.

Ayurveda is some 5,000 years old but remains relevant, if not more so, in the present. As the stories go, there were once 18 families in Kerala who were into Ashtvaidyans, which were parts of the Ayurvedic holistic healing system. The surviving generations have specialized and distilled their kind of treatments over the course of time. It also helps that Kerala has the climate, soil, rainfall, and sunshine favorable for growing plants and herbs used in Ayurveda for their medicinal properties.

Little wonder that Kerala offers a great number of Ayurveda centers providing a wide range of treatments from uzichil which is all about rejuvenating the body’s nervous and muscular systems; to the more mundane massages for beautifying the face and skin. Whatever the treatment may be, the basic premises of Ayurveda stay the same – purification through the removal of toxic elements from the body and maintaining the equilibrium of bodily organs and systems. And Kerala is a great place to find yourself if detoxifying and healing are what you’re after. You can even get your Ayurveda treatments without leaving the confine of your room as some hotels and resorts offer them in-house. On the other hand, you can even combine the best of Kerala attractions – plying the backwaters on a houseboat with getting an Ayurvedic massage onboard.

Kumarakom Bird sanctuary
Kumarakom Bird sanctuary

Gone to the birds

Kerala has an amazing natural landscape so it’s not surprising to hear it has a number of bird sanctuaries for birders and nature trippers. High up on any birder’s list is Kumakarakom Bird Sanctuary in Kottayam, erstwhile a 14 acre rubber plantation on the bank of the Meenachil River. Accessible by land transport through roads or by water via Vembanad Lake, the Meenachil River, the Kumarakom bird sanctuary is home to cormorants, darters, kits, moorhen, owls, egrets, flycatchers, waterfowls, and herons as well as migratory birds, some coming all the way from Siberia and the Himalayas.

Another popular bird sanctuary is the one in Thattekad, Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary, so-named because of the legacy of the ornithologist, Dr. Salim Ali. It carries a great reputation for being one of the best birding spots in the whole of India, drawing over 500 species of birds. Located on Njiyapilli Hill, about 60 km from Kochi, the bird sanctuary of Salim Ali is a great 25 square kilometer haven for bird life with its deciduous and evergreen tree forest. For birders who’d prefer to stay within Kochi, there’s also the 2.74 ha Mangalavanam Bird Sanctuary right at the heart of the city located just behind the Kerala High Court edifice and connected to the backwaters through a canal. This third option is a great way to enjoy bird life only minutes away from the hotels and accommodations of the city proper.

Eravikulam national Park @Munnar
Eravikulam national Park

Connecting with nature

Ecotourism is big in Kerala, again, no surprise there. Nature has blessed this state with lushness so much so that it is home to two national parks and 12 wildlife sanctuaries; without argument a good place as any to trek and commune with nature.

The Eravikulam National Park found on the Western Ghats summit of Idduki district boasts of the highest peaks south of the Himalayas, the Anamudi Peak. Formerly the Rajamalai National Park, it was later created as a sanctuary for the protection of the endangered mountain goat, the Nilgiri Tahr. It is now home to a great variety of flora and fauna including elephants, leopards, martens, as well as rare orchids and balsams.The second of two national parks in Kerala is the Periyar National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary in Thekkady. It is widely known for its tiger reserve evolved from the Nellikkampatty Game Sanctuary in the 1930s. It is also the location for Project Elephant set up by the Central Ministry of Environment and Forests to help protect wildly-roaming Asian elephants. There are mouse deers, Sambars, Gaurs, macaques, Langurs and wild pigs here as far as fauna is concerned as well as the rarely seen Nilgiri Tahr goat. The tropical evergreen and deciduous forest plays host to 246 bird species, 49 mammal species, doeznens of reptiles and amphibians, fishes and butterflies. There’s a jeep safari option available but the boat cruise is most recommended for wildlife sightings, especially of boars, elephants and deer by the lake’s edge.

The period from October to February is the best time to visit the national parks as well as the wildlife sanctuaries with cool and mild weather.
A gateway to the treasures of India, Kerala is in itself an important destination for the traveler who yearns for nature and holistic healing. Good thing that Air India Express connects tourists and guests from Kotchi International Airport in Kerala to Manila as well as 30 destinations within the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region with 550 flights weekly.