“God’s Own Country” is Kerala’s tourist catchphrase. You see it everywhere when you walk into an airport or book some sort of visit to something. Anyway, I only had about 4 days in God’s Own Country, and mostly stayed within the hills rather than the seaside (although I definitely hope to do that before I leave India). I was still with my friend from Bombay and her family, and we tried to see if we were able to go to an island near Wyanad (the town we stayed in), but unfortunately it was closed off after some tourist deaths.
Either way, aside from Kerala having the natural beauty, I have to say that South India really is its own country. To someone who is not so familiar with India, or heck, even South Asia, this may not be quickly obvious. Still, certainly felt it, and I definitely can feel it now that I am in Uttar Pradesh, which is pretty much at the heart of North Indian culture.
Aside from the most obvious difference of language (sadly, my Hindi/Urdu does not work at all for me here), just the environment and the culture were much different. Kerala, as many know (or don’t) is a state that is ruled by the ideology of the CPI-M (Communist Party of India – Marxist).
Right, so as the American I am supposed to freak out and scream “Red Scare” and cringe at the sight of signs with CPI-M party leaders as well as some pictures of Che Guevera and Karl Marx. However, that was in no way my reaction, but I admit it still did not feel quite second nature to feel normal about a communist or socialist government since the mindset in the U.S. about it is completely rooted in fear mongering. For goodness sake, a billboard between Austin and Dallas has a big picture of Obama on it, with the phrase “Socialist by Action” on it. And trust me, he does not fall ANYWHERE NEAR the line of socialism.
Another interesting observation I found myself making was the major connection Keralites have to the United Arab Emirates. There was a place we stopped at called The Walnut Cakes (yes – it is written just like that) where some of the shake flavors included the Sharjah and the Shaikh (get it?). It did not click at first, but I remember when talking about Dubai how the Keralite population is one of the highest in Dubai. So, it made sense why there were such names for shakes.
Anyway, the trip was quite nice. I stayed with my Mumbaikar friend and her family in a beautiful house in Wyanand – kilometers away from shops and busy traffic. It was peaceful, and the man whose house we were staying in was a wonderful host. Unfortunately, my stomach was a bit uneasy so I could not enjoy food as extensively as I would have liked. Nevertheless, his house was like an organic plantation. He grew so many vegetables and lived a sustainable existence (heck he even had a cow, and used the dung to generate heat and energy somehow). The best thing I saw and now wish I took advantage of though – COFFEE BEANS. Now, you may think I am quite silly to be excited about this, but I do not think I’ve had “real” coffee since I got to India. It has mostly been nescafe and sugar/ice cream concoctions, while although yummy, just can’t cut it.
Best of all though, were the coconuts and pineapples. There is something I enjoy about produce in India that the U.S. can never compare to. In the U.S. it feels as if having great produce is a luxury and part of some faux pas Whole Foodsian culture. I never understood that because here fresh produce is constantly used in food here. I love the concept of being able to walk downstairs and grabbing some fruit off of a stand rather than driving myself to a grocery store or waking up early morning just to make it to a farmer’s market. It just makes more sense. While India certainly has seen many health problems because of the growth of fast food and junk food, the culture of fresh food is still very much alive.
I wish I had more time to take the place in culturally (besides the few observations I was able to make), but I simply felt like enjoying the beautiful hills and fresh air that was not present at all in Mumbai. And of course, who could forget the coastal-based culinary experiences? The coconut base in most of the curry dishes and the warm, flaky parathas were to die for, even despite my stomach situations. The thing I notice about myself is that even if I feel sick, if really good food is in front of me, I cannot help but try it. Of course, I cannot enjoy it to the max, but Keralan food was just that good that even the taste of it was still craved despite what my body was telling me. Who would’ve thought there was some method to rebelling one’s own body?!
All in all, with a combination of great food, great weather, a Dravidian language change, and a transition from men in pants to men in lungis, Kerala is well worth a visit. I hope to back to Kerala before coming home, but instead to Cochin and more towards the ocean.
Enjoy the pics!