I think the most relevant local phrase I learned in my 10 months of living in Kerala was Nyan Sandosha Vadiyaane – I am very happy. It was a feeling that stayed with me until the day I boarded the plane back home and said goodbye to one of the most beautiful places I have ever experienced.
Kerala is a state in the southern part of India, and is a tropical heaven, filled with lush greenery and coconut trees. It is known for its beautiful tea plantations and its backwater experiences, as well as its delicious Malabar cuisine and gorgeous sand beaches, amongst many other things.
Kerala became home for me very quickly. The people of southern India, and especially those in Calicut (or Kozhikode) where I was living, turned from strangers to friends to family. If I got lost, or needed help with directions, I wouldn’t hesitate to ask the uncle standing on the street side on his phone. Malayalee people (people from Kerala) are one of the kindest peoples I have come across to this day.
The most vivid thing I remember about Kerala are the coconut trees. I remember the plane descending onto the airport in Calicut and right before landing, seeing the entire city sprawled with coconut trees. They’re everywhere and they make everything beautiful. A simple drive on a local road became a journey through a tropical paradise.
Coconut trees also meant coconut stalls, where coconuts would be cut at the top for you to drink the delicious water, and cut up afterwards, so you could eat the flesh. I’ve never been a fan of coconuts, but Calicut’s coconuts definitely converted me into a coconut lover.
I would also recommend taking advantage of the fresh juices that are sold in many shops and street-side stalls in Calicut. They’re fresh, healthy, delicious, and really cheap!
When I wasn’t working as an intern, I was definitely at one of the beautiful beaches in Calicut, or at one of the malls. There were also some beautiful destinations a few hours out of the main city, such as waterfalls, hills, dams, and wildlife sanctuaries which I had the privilege to visit quite a few times.
But some things got hella confusing…
One of the things that confused me very much was the change in the meaning of a few words. For example, a HOTEL in Kerala meant a restaurant, in which food and beverages would be served. However, GUEST HOUSE would be the term for where travelers could book rooms to stay in. Airbnb and OYO rooms are common guest houses in Kerala.
Another term I came to learn was FANCY STORE which was the word for jewelry stores. Fancy stores were the term for places that sold costume jewelry which was cheaper and did not contain any precious stones or metals.
Another important factor for those considering travel in India is the obtaining of a sim card. Without a sim card, you will not be able to have access to data, or call or messaging services. However, you cannot purchase a local sim card without an Adhar Card (the identification card held by Indians). However, most phone companies in India have deals for foreigners to purchase temporary sim cards for the duration of their stay. I was provided with a sim card from my supervisor, and returned it before departing from Kerala. So if you do make any local friends, they could also help you out with that!
Kerala is divided into different districts, in which the three main ones are Calicut, Cochin, and Trivandrum. The main method to travel between districts is by the local train. The time range on train ride travel between districts can range from one hour to even 8 or 9 hours!
Scooters, a kind of motorcycle-bicycle hybrid vehicles, are a very common way for people to get around in the city. Men, women, the elderly, youth (and sometimes even children!) could be seen on the roads of Calicut, riding scooters.
The other vehicle besides cars, motorcycles and scooters that claimed the roads were the rickshaws (ohhh the rickshaws). The best way I could describe rickshaws would be a sort of carriage, attached to what would be the front of a motorcycle, in which customers would sit on a bench-like chair in the back, while the driver would be controlling the vehicle from the front.
Rickshaw rides were one of the most common (and definitely one of the most fun!) ways I used to get around the city. Most of the rickshaws use meters in order to charge a set fair, but there was the occasional driver who would claim that the meter was not working (sneaky!), though this was a rare occurrence in Calicut.
Busses were also a way to get around, and a lot more cheap than other methods of transport, but could also get extremely crowded and sweaty in the heat of the summer months.
It’s important to mention that there were no Uber or Lyft services in the city of Calicut and in most of Kerala (as far as I’m aware), and that taxi services were available through hotel services or you could ask your Airbnb host for help with that as well.
The amount of details I want to discuss on Kerala are endless, so I’ll write another (more specific) post soon, on the highlights of each district which I was able to visit.