Human by Nature – The inherent warmth of the people of Kerala

posted in: Asia, Culture, India, Kerala | 10

One of the things that travel has made me realize is that a destination is memorable owing to its people. It is they who bring alive a place. Their life and stories add vibrance to that place. Ultimately, they make it so desirable that you want to visit it again and again.

For me, Kerala is one such destination. Every trip that I made through God’s own country is filled with delightful memories of its people. It is that which has got me to return – not once but umpteen times. This is why the latest campaign by Kerala tourism – Human by nature – resonates with me. The five different landscapes that they showcase remain attractive owing to these very human interactions. I am sure you too, will relate to it when you read through my experiences.

Backwaters of Kerala

The backwaters of Kerala never fail to enchant its visitors. With its picturesque paddy fields, swaying coconut trees, divine sunsets and artistic houseboats, there is no way you can resist falling in love with the land. However, what made that love stay was the element of human by nature. I start with our boatman who patiently explained the life in the backwaters. With his toothy grin, he pointed out to the duck farmer, using his slim canoe to herd his flock to safety. He cheerfully waved to the kids waiting at a public dock for their school motorboat (bus) to arrive. That caused the kids to wave back furiously with cheerful “Bye Chetta, Bye Chechi”. (Bye Big Brother, Bye Big Sister)

Mesmerized by the life on backwaters of Kerala
Mesmerized by the life on backwaters of Kerala

“The life of these kids by the backwaters is not like what you have in the cities”– he continued. “They go to school or tuitions in the boat. Some families have their own boats while others have to wait for public ferries. “. As I watched the kids, I realized this part of the world still had its innocence intact. The waiting for bus was made fun by converting one coconut kernel into a football. A loud goal was followed by a splash close to a fisherman trying to cast his nets.

Innocence that still prevails - after all, they are human by nature
Innocence that still prevails – after all, they are human by nature

In another lane, I came across a smiling lady selling hand-made picture frames to the tourists on a boat. Another smaller boat with toddy bottles passed us with the owner attempting to tempt me into trying one small glass of the local wine. My persistent No was met with a smile and his last offer of coke instead of toddy. 🙂

Smiles that make a place in your heart for Kerala
Smiles that make a place in your heart for Kerala

Every splash and every water lane had a new experience waiting for me – owing to the locals living there.  To me, it all seemed exotic but for them, Vembanad and its backwater lanes were a way of life. They accepted my curiosity with warmth and allowed me into their lives with my questions. Truly an experience that you can relate to when you say human by nature.

Kannur

My visit to Kannur was over a long weekend from Bangalore in the months of monsoon. With a few roadblocks, we had to take a slightly longer route to Kannur via Wayanad. A little famished with the unexpected detours, we landed at a small tea shop – in the middle of nowhere. The aged owner of the stall set up a pot of tea and catered it to our taste. “Milk? No Sugar? Some cardamon? Or would you like some ginger”?”. Seeing kids in the car, he extended his hospitality by offering us biscuits free of cost. He took a step further and guided us to take the shortest route to our final destination.

Theyyam artists practicing on Kannur Beach
Theyyam artists practicing on Kannur Beach

At the Thottada beach, while we lounged on the soft sands, we heard a rhythmic beating of drums. Curiosity pulled this cat and thus, my encounter with the band of musicians preparing for the Theyyam dance. I watched them from a distance – not wanting to upset them. One of them noticed and beckoned me closer. It was he who told me about how Kannur was famous for the Theyyam dance. He explained the story behind the dance and shared pictures from his phone. Costumes made from parts of a coconut tree, the elaborate make-up, the ritualistic fire and the music – it was almost like watching a live performance but even better!

A Theyyam dancer in Kannur
A Theyyam dancer in Kannur                                                                                           Image Credits: Pixabay

We parted ways with him guiding us to the best beaches of Kannur and a strong recommendation to visit the St.Angelo’s fort. Taking him up on the recommendation, we did visit the St. Angelo’s fort to come across another instance of human by nature. As I wandered on the campus, I met an old caretaker who voluntarily took on the role of pointing the important parts of the fort for us to see. What was more was he even told me where to pose and helped me take my pictures 😀

When he insisted I pose at the fort in Kannur
When he insisted I pose at the fort in Kannur

Fort Kochi

It started with a hearty Kerala meal where the restaurant owner insisted we take more helpings than what we could attempt. The warmth of the humans in Kerala flowed through their food and their insistence that we try more of their local delicacies. Even after we were done, samples of their sweets and snacks were given to us and ultimately, we left with a few packed for the rest of our trip.

The Chinese Fishing Nets at Fort Kochi
The Chinese Fishing Nets at Fort Kochi

Walking by the Chinese fishing nets, a fisherman called out to us – “ Ivite….Ivite. Fishing net starting. See see...”. We approached the cantilever and not only did the kind fishermen show us how it is done but allowed us to take a turn. Any catch they got, they offered to us with a smile. But of course, we had to decline 😉

A picture of Sarah Cohen when she made Kerala her home
A picture of Sarah Cohen when she made Kerala her home

The next instance and possibly the best example of human by nature was at the Jew Town. Such was the hospitality of the people even eons ago that they enticed the Jews from Israel to make Kerala their home. I was welcomed into the home of one of the three Jew homes. Sarah Cohen can no longer understand what is happening around her but her adopted family – the local neighbors and caretakers carry on her legacy. They sew and make the Jewish hats and sell them. They share her story with curious visitors like me and keep her legacy going as if it were their own!

Thekkady

 

The misty hills of Thekkady will always hold a special place in my heart owing to Cheta. Cheta owns a spice farm and a tea estate in Thekkady. We stayed over for a day as a part of our long road trip through Kerala. From treating us to home-made local meals to buying us tickets to the local Kathakali and Kalaripayattu shows, he made sure we experienced his culture well. He, in fact, sent some of his boys to catch seats for us at the show so that we get the best experience.

Kathakali dancer
Kathakali dancer                                                                                                                                                           Image credits: Pixabay

If that was not all, the next morning, he took us around his estate. He explained the various spices and their uses. At the end of it all, as a parting gift, he gave us a small packet of cloves and ginger oil. With a smile he said – “Come again to visit your Cheta”.

Wayanad

The naturalist who himself is an example of human by nature
The naturalist who himself is an example of human by nature

Of all the places that I have mentioned, I have been to Wayanad the most. Of these visits, the last visit to Wayanad sanctuary remains the fondest. This is when I met the elusive Paniyars and Kattunayakan tribes through the naturalist at my resort. The naturalist realized how I enjoyed the cultural aspect of travel and he proposed a trail through the tribal villages. He acted as my translator and introduced me to the oldest resident of the village. The face with the toothless grin welcomed me and offered me a small fruit from the forest.

The oldest lady of the tribal village who offered me fruits
The oldest lady of the tribal village who offered me fruits

Nearby two kids fought to get some camera time. At the Kattunayakan village, the tribals opened their small homes for me to see. A kid held my hand and took me to see the 2nd tallest teak tree in South India. They were happy to show me some more of their natural world but with the clock ticking, it was time to say goodbye to them.

A special mention to the tea stall owner here in Wayanad. On the first day of my trail, he offered me lemon tea and when I asked if he had milk tea, he apologetically smiled. He knew I was in the area for the next two days. He called out to me on my way back from the Tribal trail and got me a cup of milk tea. He had specially ordered the milk for me. 🙂

Such is the hospitality and warmth in the people of Kerala. It is no wonder that I completely related to Kerala Tourism’s latest campaign – Human by nature! So go on and pin this as a reminder of the welcoming nature of the humans of Kerala.

P.S: This post has been sponsored by Kerala Tourism. However, the incidents and stories in the post are completely and truly my own.

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10 Responses

  1. Clarice

    Thank you for sharing your wonderful experience in Kerala. I agree with you that one of the key factors of a beautiful experience is the people that you visit. It’s good that their tourism department highlighted this and that a trip there would be more meaningful.

  2. Lisa

    What a heartwarming post, and something positive to read in this time of turmoil and uncertainty. I’ve not yet been to India, but I’m really keen to visit Kerala now after reading this. I had no idea about Jew Town, how fascinating! I also like those dancer costumes and make-up; it’s so dramatic. I’d like to visit one day.

  3. Joe Ankenbauer

    I’ve been lucky enough to be able to visit Kerala. I will say that is one place I have to repeat as I was in awe the entire time I was there and I didn’t get enough! My favorite parts were the backwater and the food. I will have to take more time and immerse myself in the culture and see some of the shows like Kathakali!

  4. Cecilia

    “Humans by nature” I love that. I think this campaign is so well done because it is genuine, authentic, and focuses on the people. I love how warm and hospitable everyone was from the tribal villages to the tea estates and shops. Kerala seems like a beautiful place to visit due to the surrounding, but also the people.

  5. Anda

    You are so right, Ami: people are the ones that make a place memorable. It’s interesting to observe how different people open up to strangers more than other. What always intrigued me is that that simple, poor people are always kinder and more welcoming than those who have a lot. I was really impressed by your experience in Thekkadi, where they not only gave you home-made food, but also bought you tickets for a local show. We have a lot to learn from this people.

  6. Stephanie

    This post transported me in a time when I needed it most – thank you! I went to Kerala a few years back and it was absolutely magical. I loved exploring the backwaters on the boat overnight – it was the most unique experience ever. Your section on that brought back a flood of positive memories. I am hoping to get back sometime soon!

  7. Iuliana Marchian

    It is so good to read about so many places in India during this lockdown. I once met an Indian who had family in Wayanad but he lived in Dubai at that moment. It is so true that I felt his warmth and we befriended right away. Your photos are so beautiful that it makes me to pack and leave right away. I love the masks and their colorful design.

  8. daniel

    Great post!! Kerala is indeed one of the amazing destinations in India. I have been to Kerala once while exploring India and I absolutely loved it because the people of Kerala truly amazing and super friendly too. I love the fact that they have such a unique culture and festival like the Theyyam dance in kannur is a must in Kerala.

  9. Yukti Agrawal

    I loved reading all your beautiful experiences at Kerala and warmth of people you received. I would love to take that special tea at Kannur and so cute that some small kids offered biscuits for free. Fisherman calling you for laying Chinese nets at Kochin must be a interesting thing to experience here. Kerala is really human by nature and even I too experienced this when I visited Kerala.

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