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If there is one place in the riveting diversity of India

where there is tangible beauty and a phenomenal thing like total literacy, it is in Kerala. This small State in the southern tip of the Indian peninsula is an easy winner owning to its great mind-blowing landscape and infinity of intriguing customs, high-intensity cultural life and educated public so often dressed in white. From Kasargode to Thiruvananthapuram Kerala is choc-a-bloc with places that attract tourists and travelers from all over the world.

Sandwiched between the

Lakshwadeep Sea and the Western Ghats, Kerala is a bustling little green-andsilver, coconuts-and-water state on the west coast of India. It is bounded by Karnataka to the north, Tamil Nadu to the east, and the Arabian Sea to the west. Thiruvananthapuram is its capital.

Original inhabitants were animists, followed by the

Dravidians. After Alexander's triumphant sweep over Asia Minor, the ports of Kerala became a link between the Middle East, the Mediterranean and China. In 1498, Vasco da Gama made his historic landing on the Malabar Coast. In 1723, the East India Company signed a strategic treaty with King Marthanda Varma. For a few decades, Hyder Ali and his son -Tipu sultan proved to be a thorn in the flesh of the British, sweeping down several times into Kerala. In 1947, it was the turn of the British to pack their bags.

Kerala also has considerable ethnic diversity. The Malayali

majority belong to the Dravidian group (local race) of early Indian peoples. There is a small population of descendants of IndoEuropean migrants from the north. Certain hill tribes exhibit affinities with the Negrito peoples of Southeast Asia. Most Keralites are Hindus, but there are also large Christian and Islamic, and lesser Jain and Jewish, minorities. The official language is Malayalam. A long contact with the outside world has led to an intriguing blend of cultures and given Keralites a cosmopolitan outlook

One aspect of the state's

rich cultural heritage is manifest in its varieties of religious architecture: ancient Hindu temples with copper-clad roofs, later Islamic mosques with "Malabar gables," and colonial Portuguese Baroque churches. .

The climate is equable and varies little from season to

season. The temperature normally ranges between 27 and 32 C in the plains but drops to about 21 C in the highlands.

10-day annual festival in January at Sreekandeswaram

Temple, Thiruvananthapuram. In February, is the week-long Nishagandhi Dance festival; Pooram festival in Thrissur around April-May; Flavor Food Festival, at the Kanakakunnu Palace grounds, Thiruvananthapuram in May.

With the Arabian Sea in the west, the Western Ghats

towering 500-2700 m in the east and networked by forty four rivers, Kerala enjoys unique geographical features that have made it one of the most sought after tourist destinations in Asia. Kerala is one of the most wanted after tourist destinations in the world.

- One of the exclusive

features of the beaches of Kerala are the clean sands bound by non-stop rows of palm trees. This adds to the magic created by sunbathing, boating and swimming in these waters.

- The only way to learn the

real Kerala is to cruise along its backwaters. You will experience a totally different Kerala as you sail down these calming waters in a country craft and absorb this unusual representation of Kerala life. Keralas centuries-old, palm fringed backwaters stretch over 1900 kms.

Ayurveda in Kerala -Call it a blessing of God, Kerala's friendly

climate, natural abundance of forests (with a wealth of herbs and medicinal plants), and the cool extended monsoon season (June November) are best suited for Ayurveda's curative and restorative packages. Kerala Forts - Kerala had been the hub of much political activity in the past and has witnessed the influx of various foreign powers, which settled down in various parts of the state. The imposing forts such as the St.Angelo's Fort, Bekal Fort, Palakkad Fort built by these colonial powers speak volumes about the foreign influence on architecture. Kerala Hill Stations - Kerala has been well-known for its natural riches at least since the time of King Solomon. Driving from the ocean to the hills the moist jade of coastal rice and paddy fields and coconut groves give way to bananas, black pepper, Ginger and tapioca. Moving higher the road begins to wind through tea estates and plantations of coffee, rubber and spices. Kerala Museums - The museums and art galleries of Kerala resound with the glory of a bygone era that was replete with exotic art forms.

- There are 34 lakes in the state. From the

geographical point of view lakes can be segmented into three Bordered by the sandbank and running almost parallel to the riverbank are the first category. These include the Vembanadu and Kayamkulam Lake.

Kerala Wildlife - The Wildlife Parks, reserves,

sanctuaries and National Parks stretch from the southern tip of Kerala to the Northern Border with Karnataka. Kerala Temples - Kerala has a fairly rich mythological heritage and there are temples of several gods and goddesses almost throughout the state. All these temples are not only significant from their religios importance but are also great architectural set ups. Some are huge and richly decorated while others are small with simple decor, but invarianbly all speak volumes about the highly religious temperament of the people.

Forests in Kerala - The Western Ghats, the natural mountain barriers

of Kerala, bordering Tamil Nadu and Karnataka are home to the majority of Keralas forests and wildlife. Not long ago, these forests made a contiguous path for animal migration. But the unrestricted migration of vast populations from the plains in search of cultivable lands during the 50s and 60s saw the alarming denudation of the forest cover and along with it the destruction of wildlife. Pilgrimage in Kerala - The Lord Ayyappa temple at Sabarimala, 80 kms. from the Pathanamthitta district head quarters, is a National Pilgrim Centre. This famous shrine of Lord Ayyappa is surrounded by hazardous hills like Karimala and Neelimala. Waterfalls in Kerala - Enchanting and serene waterfalls welcome you at the entrance of the Sholayar ranges. One can find frequents buses to Athirappally from Chalakudy-40 km from Cochin on the Thrissur route. Athirappally is 77 km north of Cochin (Kochi).