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 and Kumarakom and the hill station of Munnar. The statistic became my cue to discover places to visit in North Kerala, of which Google could tell me little.
Away from the honeymooners and ‘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 sunbathers. This is a Kerala of mist-adorned tropical forests, where wild elephants can be effortlessly spotted as you drive along the main highway.
Behold, offbeat and pristine places to visit in North Kerala, that are still under the regular tourist radar. As always, I try to highlight travel experiences that are environmentally conscious and benefit locals:
Thottada Village, Kannur: Places to visit in North Kerala for beach bums
On the confluence of the backwaters and the Arabian Sea, across a pretty beach, lies the sleepy hamlet of Thottada. On one side, a narrow stretch of backwaters meanders in the shade of tall coconut trees. On the other, the waves of the Arabian Sea caress the golden sands of Thottada beach. One minute, you could be spotting otters, darters, terns and kingfishers along a backwater lagoon. The other you could be strolling barefoot and 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.
The monsoon rains awaken Thottada from its slumber, whipping the backwaters and the sea in full flow. Afterwards, the village transforms with soulful festivities. The Theyyam dance festival has acquired a cult status in the region with traditions dating back a thousand years. 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.
Wayanad: for mountain lovers
In the backdrop of the majestic Western Ghats, colourful deciduous and semi-evergreen forests are interspersed with plantations of coffee, rubber, banana, coconut and jackfruit, and sprinkled with rice paddies and lush tea estates. It is here that clouds descend into the wilderness. Herds of wild elephants freely roam. Traditional tribal folk live along the edges of the jungle in houses made of bamboo and cow dung. A big cat (the tiger) may not elude you on a trek through the core zone of the forest. Tiny fresh water islands are strewn along the length of the district for an anytime dip.
The monsoon paints the countryside 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.
Thekkekadu, Kasargod: Places to visit in North Kerala for the backwaters
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.
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?
Have you explored any places to visit in North Kerala? What secret spots have you discovered?
This article was originally featured on The Huffington Post.