A Keralan recipe for relaxation

For many, relaxation can be as simple as laying on a beach and Kerala, the slender state that runs along India’s southwest coast, has no shortage of sandy stretches.

The beach at Niraamaya Surya Samudra...
The beach at Niraamaya Surya Samudra…

We spent a large part of our time in Kerala spread on the golden seashore beside our hotel Niraamaya Surya Samudra just outside Kovalam, enthusiastically dodging the angry waves that give way to decent surf a bit further along the coast.

While these two secluded beaches to either side of the rocky promontory on which the hotel sits still possess an unspoilt beauty, the sweep of sand that made Kovalam famous is now somewhat overdeveloped and tired.

The main beach at Kovalam
The main beach at Kovalam

So we headed up the coast to surf hotspot Varkala for a taste of Kovalam as it once was – beach shacks and a smattering of hotels along the dramatic line of cliffs overlooking the popular sandy crescent.

The beach at Varkala
The beach at Varkala

I hired a dilapidated sun lounger and faded umbrella and lay back to soak up the rays, while my husband hit the surf shop to grab a board before taking off into the splash and spray of the Arabian Sea.

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But for an even more chilled setting, with fewer crowds and less clutter, sunseekers can try the beaches of Marari, Kannur and Bekal.

Further north from Varkala at Alleppey, described by some as the “Venice of the East”, tourists head inland aboard coconut and bamboo-thatched kettuvallams to drift along the mangrove-lined waterways of the state’s backwaters – a perfectly peaceful slice of rural life. Around 8,000 of these barges, originally used for transporting grain from the region’s rice fields, cruise the network of brackish lagoons and lakes that stretches across almost half of the state.

Meals are mostly prepared on board, with fish pulled fresh onto the boat, with the occasional stop at a local village where cruisers can disembark to sample village life or taste the local dishes.

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Food is, after all, a major part of the spice state’s identity. Quite distinct from the Mughal-influenced cuisine of the north, here the coconut reigns supreme. It finds its way into the brightly coloured sambals, creamy curries and intricate pancake-style dishes of the south, rounded off with a cool mango lassi or mug of sweet cardamom chai – the final tasty ingredient in Kerala’s ultimate recipe for relaxation.

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