Kerala ebbs by at snail's pace: most picturesquely in the slow-flowing calm found in the networks of lagoons and rivers that make up its backwaters, where nature grows in such overwhelming profusion that canals sit choked with tangles of pretty water-lily thickets and dragonflies bunch in clouds over lotus leaves. Dawn mists drift through canopies made by antique mango and teak trees, as farmers slip their oars into the silent waters, and women's dresses glare extra bright in the reflections of the still glass waters.

In the ramshackle port city of Fort Kochi, it's as if the clocks stopped a few centuries back: wizened traders sift spice in the shadows of derelict go-downs, the churches glow lime white, at the harbour's edge lines of cantilevered Chinese fishing nets swoop for their next catch of silvery sprats, and medieval streets and antique shops thread the route between the tiny blue-tiled synagogue and grand Dutch wooden palace of Mattancherry.

Unwind with Ayurvedic massages on the southern beaches of Kovalam and Varkala, but Malabar, in the north, is the real unsung jewel of the state, an outpost of staunch Hindu religiosity and capital of the Muslim Moplah community. Here, hushed families gather at dawn in leafy temple gardens to watch spectacles of the unique, hypnotic temple dance-form
and, come nightfall, the precision athletes of the swashbuckling martial art
draw their swords.

Switchback turns bear you from the lush green paddy fields of the plains through spindly rubber plantations and blooming coffee-tree forests up to the thick tea-shrub territory of the high mountain villages of Thekaddy and Munnar, whose nature reserves hide herds of tigers and elephants.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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