MESSAGE: India, Kerala *Video*
Kerala is a state in India’s southwest. The name “Kerala” means either “coconut” or “place of large mountain,” named after Anamudi, the highest peak in South India. I like the coconut version better…
According to one survey, 5 out of 10 best cities to live in India are located in Kerala. And I believe it! The state has a distinctly Portuguese feel, great weather, and is surrounded by water – either the Arabian Sea or the famous “backwater” canals.
Even more impressive is that Kerala has India’s highest ranking on the UN’s Human Development Index, and India’s highest literacy rate at 99%. It is the only state to have banking facilities in every village and it is considered India’s least corrupt state – Go Kerala!
So many reasons to like this backwater (and I mean that nicely) region! Here are my 7 insider tips:
MEET (Cool Meet Ups) – Sunset Cruise. Kerala is all about water, with 34 lakes and 49 rain-fed rivers. These rivers and their tributaries wind through the land, creating a complicated system of canals.
We stayed on Kerala’s largest lake, Vembenad Lake, for several nights and took a sunset cruise. It was so peaceful, especially with the rhythmic drumming and flute playing in the background. Just listen!
Can’t see this vide? Click on this link: Kerala Cruise
EAT (Tasty Eats) – Masala Spices. A south Indian mixture of spices, masala is a combination of dry roasted garlic, ginger, onion, and chili. But it’s the added bay leaves, cloves, green and black carmandon and black pepper that give it its distinctive (and yummy!) flavor.
Masala spices are added to curries, meats, just about everything. I’m sure you’ve had it at your local Indian restaurant. If not, try it!
SEE (Must-see Sights) – Kathakali. Classical Indian dancing, Kathakali originated in Kerala in the 17th century. It is highly-stylized and more in tune with a dramatic opera. There are elaborate costumes, detailed gestures, and complicated (and usually violent) storylines. There is no talking as the plot unfolds to very loud percussion music. If you like enthusiastic drumming and cymbal playing – Kathakali is for you.
SHOP (Gotta Have) – Fish! As a water town, Kerala is known for its seafood and for its Chinese fishing nets dotting the shoreline. We walked around the market one morning to check out the daily catch, which was plentiful!
Side note: I was wearing flip-flops during our market crawl, just like I was when I got my worms in Mozambique. Where are my parasite-proof shoes when I need them? Argh!
ACTIVITY (Gotta Do) – Houseboat Tour. Kerala Houseboats are former rice barges that have been re-invented as houseboats to convey tourists along the famous backwater canals. It’s a cool experience! For an inside peek of life on the backwater, read: India’s Backwater Houseboats
GIVE (Greatest Need) – Fighting Corruption. India was just ranked #7 in the world in terms of corruption. This government greediness is compounding the country’s extreme poverty.
For instance, the government contributes US$8 billion a year on employment schemes for the rural poor. But local government officials invent “ghost workers” and pay themselves the additional salaries. The state also spends heavily on subsidized grain for the hungry, but it’s believed that as much of two-thirds of those subsidies are skimmed off the top.
So the Indian government is trying to fight poverty and corruption simultaneously. How are they doing it? Identity cards. In January, India enrolled it 200 millionth person in a new UID (unique identity) scheme that has created the world’s largest bio-metric database.
The UID program is voluntary, but poor people are lining up to get fingerprinted and their retinas scanned. Many of the poor don’t have identification documents for a number of reasons, including no birth certificates (because they were born at home) and no permanent addresses.
The ID cards will soon be linked to a person’s bank account so the government can deposit welfare subsidies directly into the individual’s account, thereby bypassing the corrupt local government officials. Education vouchers and medical care vouchers are next on the horizon. The cost of the UID system per person is $2.
The Indian government has partnered with the private sector to provide technology and security. It is estimated that the UID scheme may make 20 million government employees obsolete. Hopefully the corrupt ones will get the pink slips first.
ENJOY (Extra Fun) – Ayurveda Spa Treatments. According to Ayurveda philosophy, all human beings have 3 doshas (or constituents): vatta, pitta, and kapha. When a dosha is out of balance, it causes health problems. When doshas are in balance, the human body functions optimally. Ayurveda spa treatments help to bring your doshas into alignment.
I was being cheap and didn’t pony up the cash for a spa treatment, but Sam did, warm oil streaming on her legs and all. She said it was divine! (Although I’m not too sure how her doshas are doing…)