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Unearthing Kerala’s Best Kept Secrets.

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Thoughts of Kerala often evoke images of dome-shaped houseboats traversing the backwaters, and neatly manicured tea estates covered in mist on the slopes of the Western Ghats. The lush green beauty of God’s Own Country has stolen many a heart, the result of which was 10 million tourist arrivals in 2011, a large majority of who flocked to the familiar tourist trail in the south of the state, along the backwaters of Alleppey & Kumarakom and the hill station of Munnar. The statistic became my cue to journey along the coast of North Kerala, of which Google could tell me little.

Away from the honeymooners & ‘first timers’, this is a Kerala of virgin backwaters, where the only boats you ever see are fishing boats, owned by residents of the sleepy villages quietly nestled on its palm-fringed shores. This is a Kerala of blissfully isolated white sand beaches, with no beachside shacks and no sunbathing fellow travellers. This is a Kerala of mist adorned tropical forests, where wild elephants can be effortlessly spotted as you drive along the main highway.

1.     Thottada Village, Kannur.

On the confluence of the backwaters and the Arabian Sea, across a sandy beach, lies the sleepy hamlet of Thottada. On one side, a narrow stretch of backwaters meanders in the shade of tall coconut trees, and on the other, the waves of the Arabian Sea caress the golden sands of the Thottada beach. One minute, you could be spotting otters, darters, terns & kingfishers along a backwater lagoon, the other you could be strolling barefoot on the beach & playing in the waves; such is the pace of life in this tiny corner of Kannur, reached through a narrow python road from the main town.

North Kerala, Kannur, Kerala beaches, beach beaches in Kerala, Kerala backwaters beach

The backwaters meet the sea across a sandy beach.

The monsoon rains awaken Thottada from its slumber, whipping the backwaters & the sea in full flow, and after, transforming the village with soulful festivities. The Theyyam dance festival has acquired a cult status in the region with traditions dating back a thousand years, and is a colourful melange of ethnic costumes, face paintings, antique weapons, gaudy masks, folk music, ancient rituals and theatrical art, best experienced in traditional village homes.

2.     Wayanad

In the backdrop of the majestic Western Ghats, colourful deciduous & semi-evergreen forests are interspersed with plantations of coffee, rubber, banana, coconut & jackfruit, and sprinkled with rice paddies & lush tea estates. It is here that clouds descend into the wilderness, herds of wild elephants freely roam on roadside pavements, traditional tribal folk live along the edges of the jungle in houses made of bamboo & cow dung, the big cat does not elude you on a trek through the core zone of the forest, and tiny fresh water islands are strewn along the length of the district for an anytime dip.

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The backdrop of the Western Ghaats in Wayanad.

When monsoons paint the towns a chirpy green and the smell of wet earth diffuses through the air, Wayanad invites you to go out, get wet and reminisce your childhood with mud football, rain dancing and rain kabadi in the aptly named Splash Carnival.

Stay at: Bamboo Village, Wayanad.

3.     Thekkekadu, Kasaragod

On the northernmost shores of Kerala, along the most virgin stretch of its backwaters, lies a little piece of paradise called Thekkekadu. This, one of the few private islands on the backwaters, is nature’s most indulgent way of discovering life on the coconut countryside of Kerala; sleepy villages hide away amid palm trees on the shores, occasional fishing boats emerge from the mist, and eagles soar in the skies above. This isn’t your houseboat-infiltrated lagoon, not many people speak languages other than Malayalam here, you won’t find yourself bargaining for a fresh catch of prawn here; this is the serendipity of those willing to get off the tourist trail.

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Soaking in the serenity of the backwaters.

On a canoe or a boat, as you sail through the vast expanse of these backwaters, you may find the eureka moment of an early explorer; the coastline adorned by the Arabian Sea across the shores of the backwaters is blessed with white sand in many places, devoid of any signs of civilization. Wouldn’t it be pretty awesome to have a white sand beach all to yourself in a state with 10 million tourists?

Stay at: Mr Gul’s private island retreat, Thekkekadu

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A virgin beach in North Kerala.

This trail is now offered by India Untravelled: Best Kept Secrets of Kerala.

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This article was originally featured on The Huffington Post.

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Have you travelled in Kerala? What secret places have you discovered?

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29 Comments Post a comment
  1. Nice to see someone write about the less touristy shores of northern Kerala. I went to Telicherry (which has some lovely homestays) and Kannur several years ago. Ironically, I never managed to go to the backwaters!

    PS: Congrats for the Turkey trip!!

    June 24, 2012
    • Isn’t Kannur beautiful? If you didn’t make it to the confluence of the backwaters & the Arabian Sea at Thotadda, you really have to go back. And it’s worth going the extra mile to visit Kasaragod too =)

      June 26, 2012
      • someone #

        hi come to kannur……….you will love it

        June 22, 2013
  2. Kerala is right at the top of my list of places to travel to.

    June 24, 2012
    • And for good reason, Debra. Come soon :-)

      June 26, 2012
  3. My sentiments exactly… I too had a similar experience which I had shared in my article http://www.raghupatri.in/the-unsung-mountain-destination-kerala/ .

    June 25, 2012
    • That’s great Raghu, I’m off to read your article, thanks for sharing it!

      June 26, 2012
  4. Those are magnificent photographs.

    August 7, 2012
  5. I love North Kerala. Its so less-crowded. My wife and I spent our honeymoon in the beaches of Kannur and Kasargod. Totally worth it.
    Btw, would you happen to have the contact details of backwater tour operators?

    August 7, 2012
  6. Travelled to Wayanad a year and 6 months back. The whole district is very serene and picturesque. Stayed in Kalpetta, Sultan Bathery and Vythiri. The tales of Pazhassi Raja are a must-learn over there – he’s a local legend. His tomb (a memorial park) is also there in Wayanad, near Manthanawady. Kabini river is pretty much the heart of the ghats of Wayanad. There’s a dam near Kalpetta, the river below which is very full if one goes there after the rainy season. The tea plantations on the route between Kalpetta and Meenmutty Falls are brilliant. The owners of the one we stopped to explore were very cooperative too!

    September 26, 2012
    • Wow, Gowtham, that sounds wonderful. I didn’t get to spend too much time in Wayanad on my trip, but hope to go back there and do all of this :)

      September 28, 2012
      • Biju #

        Hi Shivya, Please don’t miss out the great opportunity to visit Palakkad District in Kerala as this District is blessed with all kind of attractions except beach. Rock Garden, Ropeway, Malampuzha Garden, Hanging Bridge, Kava, Palakkad Fort, Jain temple, Thiruvalathur Temple, Chinmaya Mission Temple, Kalpathy Heritage Village, Nelliyampathy Hills, Kanjirapuzha, Silent Valley National Park, Parambikulam Wild Life, Siruvani Forest, Dhoni Forest, Meenvallam Waterfalls are few of the best attractions in Palakkad, which are much more better than other tourist attractions in Kerala. The only sad thing is Palakkad doesn’t have beach.

        Just try to visit there and enjoy tour travel a good , loving and memorable trip. Please don’t listen what others says to avoid Palakkad trip as there is a big lobby group plays in Kerala to discriminate Palakkad. You have to visit the destination to know more about the same. Then only you will get a clear picture about it.

        Happy Journey

        September 7, 2014
  7. I’m from Kerala and happy to see Wayanad on the list. I believe it is the best place in the whole of Kerala to visit. Speaking of Kerala’s best kept secrets, Nelliyampathy in Palakkad district and Gavi in Pathanamthitta district could be ideal candidates.

    February 15, 2013
    • Biju #

      Hi Alen, you are absolutely right. People, who are visiting Kerala , avoid such beautiful spots like Nelliyampathy and Gavi. Mean time, Palakkad is also a beautiful spot like Palakkad Fort (Heritage), Temples (Kalpathy Heritage, Jain Temple, Thiruvalathur Temple, Chinmaya Mission Temple etc), Wild Life (Parambikulam Wild Life), Silent Valley (National Park), Siruvani (Forest), Dhoni (Forest), Meenvallam (Waterfalls), Nelliyampathy (Hill Station) etc

      People think Kerala means only Munnar, Thekkady, Kovalam and Wayanad. But other spots in Kerala are much more better than this. This is not my word, but this word is from tourist, whose who visited Palakkad. I know Gavi is also a very good spot. But I didn’t visit there. Awaiting a god chance to visit there

      September 7, 2014
  8. hey wait. Isnt thottada closer to thalassery? I just went to this beautiful secluded beach near thalassery, watched dolphins from the sea side and fisherman scouting for early morning catch of kallumakkayi (muscle). Or are you talking of a different beach all together?

    That was such a good morning I had, the manager of the resort I went to check out gave me some good chai, I chatted up a french national who gave me an opportunity to work with the world famous photographer George Rousse in bombay early next year, had breakfast at this stopover for some really soft porottas and idiappams with chicken stew, and of course the weather was awesome.

    March 31, 2013
  9. Raghunanthan #

    ‘Hey, would like to share my experience of my travel to Kannur. I decided to enjoy the scenic beauty of KERALA by visiting, Kannur and Wayanad. RingCab.com [ http://www.ringcab.com ] , helped me to realize my dream. They are reliable, amazing, too customer friendly, thought of sharing this  useful info to my other fellow travelers. Worth giving a try to avail RingCab.com [http://www.ringcab.com ]‘ transit facility ‘.

    June 15, 2013
  10. I am going to Trivandrum for a friend’s wedding in December. And I hope that’s when I can strike off at least a few places you mentioned here. Interesting post. Will check out India Untravelled for stay options too.
    Much Love,
    Bharti (www.suitcaseofstories.wordpress.com)

    September 10, 2013
  11. Shan #

    Hi Shivya,

    After reading your articles on North Karela and Kannur I’m definitely planning a trip there! :-) Could you email me the names of the home stays that you stayed at ? as well as any other activities/sites to visit around there? Thx much! Shan

    September 25, 2013
    • Hey Shan, glad to hear that :) You’ll find all details at http://indiauntravelled.com/itineraries-the-best-kept-secrets-of-kerala.html (my little travel venture)

      September 25, 2013
    • Bakel fort in Kasarkod, and Kannur’s Payyambalam Beach, Aralam Wild Life sancutary, Muzhappilangad drive-in Beach, Dharmadam Thuruth are some of the best places to visit in north Kerala. If you want to see the diversified worship of Malabaries visit Parassinikadavu Muthappan temple. Thankfully I’m from this place.

      May 3, 2014
  12. Jilana antony #

    Copy cat ————–http://www.huffingtonpost.com/shivya-nath/unearthing-keralas-bestke_b_1579130.html

    April 6, 2014

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