|Kerala : A
special delight Kerala offers is the trip on a slow boat through its forests
and its palm shaded back-waters and canals, enjoying magnificent scenery
all along the waterways and stopping to admire what history and religion
have left in many towns and villages along the way. Motor powered launches
provide regular passenger services for locals and tourists alike, but the
same experience in a covered country boat is far more pleasurable and authentic.
The design of these boats goes back to the Chinese influence on this coast.
Just over 15,500 sq. miles (38,800
sq. km) in area, Kerala is a long (360 miles/576 km) and narrow (averaging
30 miles/48 km, and not broader than 75 miles/120 km) strip along the southwestern
tip of India. The narrow ribbon of palm fringed beaches gives way inland
to the highlands of the Western Ghats, rising to 5,000 feet (1,525 metres)
at their highest point in the state. No less than a quarter of the area
is covered by forests, with more than 600 identified varieties of trees.
With an annual rainfall
exceeding 100 inches (2.54 millimetres) in several districts, it is green
and lush throughout the year. Paddy fields and coconut palms cover the
plains, while up in the hills there are plantations of arecanut, cardamom,
rubber, pepper, tea and coffee.
It is possible to make a backwater
journey from Trivandrum to Kodungal-lur, a distance of nearly 155 miles
(250 km), or from Trivandrum to Kottayam, a distance of about 110 miles
(175 km). But both journeys really start from the ancient town of Quilon
(Kollam), about 44 miles (70 km) north of Trivandrum Once a major international
entrepot known to the Phoenicians and the Arabs, the Romans and the Greeks,
the Chinese and the Persians, Quilon is still a major commercial center
in Kerala. Together with two other important trading centres, Alleppey
and Kottayam, it forms a triangle that is not only commercially affluent
but also unspoiled in heritage and natural surroundings.
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Today, with 25 million people,
Kerala is not only one of the most densely populated of all Indian states,
but also the most advanced in terms of family planning and literacy. The
official language is Malayalam. The people of Kerala have traditionally
been distinguished for their ingenuity and daring. The Malayali diaspora
has taken its people virtually to every inhabited continent of the world,
but their link with their beautiful home state invariably remains strong.
Whilst the majority of Kerala's
population is Hindu, one third is Christian - Syrian Christians, converted
in the early years of this millennium, and Roman Catholics, converted in
the 16th century. There is also a sizable population of Muslims of Arab
descent and converts. There was once also a thriving Jewish population
in Cochin, dwindled since the establishment of the state of Israel. All
of these communities generally co-existed harmoniously; paradoxically,
though Keralites are religious, they pride themselves on their rationalist
tradition and have more than once elected Communist governments.
Kerala is rich both in the
bounty of nature and in the creations of man: beautiful beaches and rivers,
hills and forest sanctuaries, forts and palaces, monuments and memorials,
shrines and festivals, and a fascinating heritage of art and culture.
Triangle - with Taj Mahal - India's top tourist Destinations and