India Blog #4 – Kerala



Kerala is one of the southernmost states of India. It has the highest literacy rate of all Indian states: 95%! It’s general standard of living is quite high compared with many other Indian states. Interestingly, it’s government is led by the local communist party. We saw the hammer and sickle stenciled in various public places. I interpret the popularity of the communist party of Kerala to the desire for stronger programs to benefit the people. We didn’t see any slums like one sees in Mumbai and other large Indian cities. We were in Kerala’s largest city, Cochin. Perhaps there are tenement slums somewhere, but there were certainly none visible in all our travels through the city and Kerala countryside.

We had previously seen tea plantations in Darjeeling, India, and in Sri Lanka. It was a pleasant surprise to find so many beautiful tea plantations such as those in the photos below.

Traditionally, only women harvest the tea leaves. The plants are trimmed twice a month throughout the year.

One of Kerala’s most well known tourist attractions are the houseboats on the backwaters which extend to the harbor in Kerala’s largest city, Cochin. I was told that there are a total of 700-800 tourist houseboats. The majority of the houseboat owners are Christians. There were several Catholic churches located adjacent to the backwaters. Every boat is unique. The larger ones have up to six bedrooms. The houseboats were unexpectedly luxurious. We stayed ovenight in a one bedroom houseboat. Our room was air conditioned with internet. There were three men taking care of the two of us. The cook was a longtime professional chef. The photograph of one of our delicious meals is found at the end of the houseboat photos.

This houseboat was anchored adjacent to ours. The open observation room was similar on our boat.
This is a larger four bedroom houseboat.
This is the large six bedroom boat.
This was one of the meals served on our houseboat. It was more food than the two of us could possibly eat. There was fresh fish, barbecued shrimp, chicken curry, three vegetable curries, rice, and papadams (thin wafer-bread seen next to the water bottle).

Below are some of the birds that I was able to photograph from the houseboat sailing around the backwaters.

The ducks are wild, sut someone is regularly feeding them on the banks of the backwaters.
Huge rice fields are located next to the backwaters where they can be easily irrigated and flooded.

The photos below were taken from our houseboat cruising on the backwaters. Women would regularly wash clothes by beating them on the rocks. Detergents and other chemicals were used sparingly if at all.

The first tiger reserve featured in my previous blog was in the state of Karnatika. It’s landscape was mostly forests with undergrowth. The Kerala tiger reserve was more a jungle landscape. This made the animals harder to spot. We didn’t see any tigers. But we did see Elephants, monkeys, antelopes, and tropical birds. We took a trip on a boat identical to the one in the photo below on the large lake in the reserve. The landscape was beautiful.

Sign posted at the boat dock
Six monkeys relaxing next to the lake. Black monkeys, a different specie than the ones seen at the other tiger reserve. This photo taken from our boat.
A mother and her baby high in the trees.
This was the posted instruction at the visitor’s center. Illegal activities include feeding the wild animals, which would cause them to lose their fear of humans. We were led on a hike through the jungle leading the the overlook in the photo below.
This landscape reminded us of California.
An elephant family in their natural habitat

The Cochin harbor is a major port for southern India. We were given a two hour harbor tour as the only passengers on the boat, but there was no guide. The captain made a few comments in English, but the harbor tour in general was a waste of time. The fishermen were more interesting. Their small boats stood in stark contrast to the large commercial container ships. Cochin is also a port of call for cruise ships. Originally, our 2022 Viking world cruise included stopping in Cochin. But that cruise itinerary was changed due to covid restrictions. Read my cruise blogs on our website.

This was our harbor tour boat. The lack of an English-speaking guide was the only glitch in our two-week guided tour.
Fishermen retuning from their night fishing trips, organizing their nets.
The man in the blue shirt is dumping his boat’s catch into the blue crate.
Here is the daily catch on sale very close to the boats in the previous photo.

Despite efforts by the Hindu-centric political party of prime minister Moti to legislate Hindu dominance, India has a long tradition of tolerance for all religions. Indian religions include: Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis (Zoroastrians), and Jews. India is home to over one hundred million Muslims, making it the second most populated Muslim state after Indonesia. India has even more Muslims than neighboring Pakistan.

Our guide in Cochin took us to the oldest synagogue in India, founded by Portuguese Jews in the 16th century who fled Portugal when the ruling Christians expelled the Muslims and Jews from the Iberian peninsula (Spain and Portugal). The synagogue shares a common wall with a Hindu temple, which are located adjacent to the former Kerala maharaja’s palace. As a city with a large natural port, Cochin has a history of conducting trade with many nationalities, supporting its history of religious tolerance. In the West, “Jew Town” would be a pejorative designation. But in Cochin, the name represents Cochin’s historical pride.

Sign at the entrance to the synagogue
Cochin’s newest Christian church.
We happened to witness a service in progress at a Catholic church located on the houseboat backwaters.

Kathakali dance is one of India’s ancient dance styles, characterized by storytelling by male dancers in elaborate costumes performing enactments of traditional Hindu stories. Prior to the performance, the singer/leader narrated a demonstration of the various hand and facial expressions used to tell the story. Though the singer sang in a language we couldn’t understand, we were given a program sheet that explained the story being told by the dancers, a traditional Hindu narrative of the interaction between gods and humans. The music consisted solely of the singer and the drummers.

This Kathakali theater has Kathakali dance performances every day of the year! The theater opens an hour before the performances for the public to witness the application of makeup on the actors’ faces. This is shown in the photo below. Observe the two paintings on either side which are depictions of the lead dancers seen in the photos below taken during the show.

These drummers opened the performance. They were very loud!
The blowing of the conch shell began the story. This man was an excellent singer, and the leader of the dance theater troupe.

Shopping for Indian handicrafts is a major part of the tourist industry. Most of the cheaper goods are mass produced and sold in portable stands such as the ones below. These photos were taken in Jew Town. Similar goods are for sale in all tourist towns.

Bangles, worm by most Indian women
This is the fabric room in a large clothing store. Saris of silk and cotton range from two to six meters in length.

Kerala is filled with coconut trees. I enjoy the green coconut juice available in roadside stands throughout Kerala. Indian fruits are delicious and plentiful. Every morning at our hotels, we ate fresh papaya, watermelon, cantelope, and pineapple. Unfortunately, we are here too early for mangos. Below is a pineapple farm.

These are green mangos. The photo was taken from the houseboat. It should be a great mango season in a couple of months.
Chilis are part of almost every Indian dish. These two bags would be a lifetime supply for me.
This tree is probably several hundred years old. Banyan trees are very impressive and considered sacred.

Below are two of larger carvings for sale: wooden Buddha and Shiva Nataranja, the cosmic dancer.

Hi, I'm Dallas Smith

My blogs offer the vicarious pleasure for my readers to learn of my travels and musical adventures.
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Comments (7)

  1. Glenn Sackett

    March 3, 2023 at 2:55 pm

    Thanks for the armchair tour !

  2. Matthew Booher

    March 3, 2023 at 3:11 pm

    AMAZING pictures and story, Dallas! Those chilis look good, LOL! Sounds like you all are having a great time. Thank you so much for your travelog! Safe journey!

  3. Linda Peterson

    March 3, 2023 at 7:06 pm

    Dallas another precious blog. So happy to see such abundance in an Indian area.
    Lovely photos and house boat discoveries! Thanks for enlarging my travel experience!
    Hugs to you and Susan. Hope all the rest of the journey is filled with wonder.

  4. Herta Wegner

    March 4, 2023 at 9:41 pm

    Hallo Dallas,
    surprise while opening your blog! First because of becoming your blog, second because of the places you have been to and the amazing fotos. You might know: in1971, when you and Gert were touring towards India, I have been working in Udupi, Basel Mission Hospital. I shortened my stay there because I couldn’t stand this mission atmosphere and had more time to go by boat along the backwaters of Cochin (almost no tourists that time!) and to visit a wildlife sanctuary in Kerala ( I don’t remember the name…) on an elephants back for some hours. Quite exciting! And we saw a tiger drinking while the antelopes were on the opposite side of the lake. Out of your fotos the ones of the Katakali dancers get most of my interest and the banyan tree my love. I’ll be looking for more!
    Last week I came back after touring with Hurtigruten around the Nordkap seeing polar light, reindeers and otters and penguins, wonderful!
    Hope you are fine! Herta

    P.S. Ikonographie of Shiva Nataraja : normaly with four arms. ?

  5. Beverly Grogan

    March 5, 2023 at 4:44 am

    Love your pictures and insights. I had no idea there were so many different religions in India. The farming tea photos were just beautiful. Thanks for taking us along with you.
    Bev & Fred

  6. Ginetta

    March 21, 2023 at 4:15 am

    Love it!!!!!!!!!!thank you Dallas!!!!!!!!! Looking forward to laying together again!!!!!!!

    • Dallas Smith

      April 25, 2023 at 1:18 am

      Hey Ginetta! I’ve seen your posts online. I’m just now getting back to my blog comments like yours. Was your comment a Freudian slip?

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