The multicultural state of Kerala along India’s southwestern coast is a land of beaches, sleepy backwaters, tea plantations, wildlife preserves and a calendar packed with colorful festivals.
The giant cantilevered fishing nets along the coast near Fort Kochi were likely brought here by Chinese explorer Zheng He. The nets have become one of the most recognizable images of Kochi.
Hinduism ranks as the largest religion in Kerala, practiced by some 54 percent of the population. The state is one of only a few places where all major religions have coexisted peacefully for centuries.
The village of Aranmula is known for its fine metallurgy. The Aranmula Kannadi, a metal mirror handmade in the village, is believed to bring prosperity into the home.
Kerala’s long line of rulers have led to the construction of numerous forts and palaces over the centuries. Bekal Fort, among the biggest in the states, rises 130 feet above the sea.
Cashews have been a commercial export from Kerala for centuries. Cashew nut trees, likely brought to Kerala by Portuguese traders, thrive in Kerala’s tropical climate.
Beaches line the Kerala coast from top to bottom, each offering a place to go for a swim or to soak up the sun. The waters of Varkala Beach are believed to purge the body and soul of impurities.
Kerala has been home to a Jewish community for as long as 2,000 years. The first Jewish traders likely came to the region during the time of King Solomon.
Visitors from around India and the globe come to Kerala to explore its serene backwaters. Board a traditional houseboat – a thatch-roofed, wooden-hulled barge once used to carry rice and spices.
The Vizhinjam Lighthouse, built in 1972, ranks among the area’s most popular attractions. Visitors can climb the spiral staircase or ride an elevator to the top for sweeping coastal views.
The 300-year-old tradition of Kathakali combines drama, dance, music and costumes to retell stories from Indian epics.
The hills of Munnar, set 5,200 feet above sea level, have served as a cooling summer resort dating back before the British Raj.
The Western Ghats are home to the endangered Nilgiri tahr, a mountain goat endemic to this region. These animals thrive in the cold, wet grasslands and steep rocky cliffs.
Christianity is the third-most practiced religion in Kerala (after Hinduism and Islam), with Christians making up about 18 percent of the population.
The ritual art form of Theyyam originated in North Kerala and comprises dance, mime and music. There are more than 400 separate Theyyams, each with its own distinct music and choreography.
During the South Indian Onam festival, artists paint their bodies like tigers and take to the streets of Thrissur, dancing to the rhythm of thakil, udukku and chenda drums.
The state of Kerala is home to one of the oldest martial art forms on the planet: Kalaripayattu.
Boat races rank among Kerala’s most popular pastimes. The snake-shaped boats, known as chundan vallam, measure more than 100 feet in length.