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adventure — By Vawn on March 16, 2010 at 8:59 am
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Cruising Kerala’s backwaters in south India

Aymanam is the village setting of Arundhati Roy’s controversial first novel, The God of Small Things, a story of lost dreams and forbidden love set in 1969. Today, you can sip a cold beverage at the original History House in Roy’s novel, now the Taj Garden Retreat.

Kerala is one of India’s most prosperous states, with what it claims is a 100 per cent literacy rate (arts and education are highly valued). After independence, citizens voted in a communist government, and as a result the state has a more equal distribution of land and income than other parts of India. While it’s more progressive, Roy does point out the trials and tribulations of sexual and caste conflict here.

Most people travel to Kerala to escape the chaos of India in a traditional houseboat or rice barge, called a Kattuvallum. Kerala is home to more than 900 km of waterways and canals, its traditional highways – though village life pretty much continues on here as it has for centuries, with the exception of the influx of tourism.

Meander through canals past rice paddies, coconut groves and villages with women in vibrant saris. Eat kingfish and drink a cold Kingfisher under the stars and enjoy the closest thing to silence you’ll find in India, unless perhaps you’re way up in the Himalayas. There are also plenty of homestays in the villages that line the canals. You can organize a houseboat or homestay in Alappuzha (formerly called Alleppey).

It’s worth spending a few days wandering the pedestrian-friendly streets of Fort Cochin along the Malabar Coast, which was once an important centre of the spice trade. It’s truly multicultural, influenced by settlements of Jewish and Arab traders and European merchants. Here you’ll find Syrian Christians living alongside Hindus, Muslims and Jews, with Portuguese-inspired architecture aside British and Dutch bungalows. While supposedly there are only 10 Jews left living in Fort Cochin, the town is home to the 400-year-old Pardesi Synagogue with floor tiles imported from China and chandeliers shipped in from Belgium.

Despite its multicultural roots, Kerala has its own distinct culture. Kathakali is a traditional form of dance that tells the stories of great Hindu epics, such as Ramayana, through mudras or hand gestures. It’s also a centre of traditional Ayurvedic medicine and has its own unique cuisine, which makes use of its extensive supply of coconuts, as well as black pepper, cardamom, cloves, ginger and cinnamon. If you’re interested in learning more about Kerala cuisine, try a cooking class with Nimmy.

Kerala is my second stop with a traveling book club through India, organized by Nicholas Hoare Books and Going Places Together.

Photo Copyright @ 2010 VH Media
Photo Credit: Random House

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