12 Things I Did Not Expect AT ALL About Kerala, India

I am generally one who likes to travel without reading too much about a place.  Sure, it helps to know the weather and if any important vaccinations will be needed – but other than that, I like to arrive without someone else’s ideas packed in my head.  And it helped that I was completely caught off guard when I won a spot – 30 chosen out of over 1000 bloggers – for the third Kerala Blog Express.


India!  I have always dreamed of going but it seemed…overwhelming…over 1.2 BILLION people.  Winning this trip, to one small state at the south-west tip, was perfect.

map-of-india-politicalKerala is said to be “India Light” and if that’s true?   I want more.   Here are the 12 things that surprised me most about my trip halfway around the world.

1.The Diversity of the Landscape & Natural Beauty

I have read many books and seen a few movies about life in India.  I pictured CROWDS.  Crowds and trash.  And in Kerala?  I hardly saw any of that.  There are no HUGE cities.  Cochin is just over 2 million and that is NOTHING compared to say Mumbai at over 16 million.

We traveled all over the state and saw some of the world’s most gorgeous beaches.  Here is Varkala Beach.


The STUNNING Western Ghat mountains (the highest peak in Kerala is 8842 feet) with velvety tea shrubs down the sides.


The Backwaters covered in lilypads, verdant rice paddies and gorgeous rattan houseboats.


Elephants bathing at a huge wildlife sanctuary.


Absolutely gorgeous and very far from any sort of maddening crowds.


2.  The People

The people that I met in Kerala were friendly and beautiful.  Everyone was open to having their photo taken.

IMG_9541Many spoke English along with local Malalayam and the broader Indian language, Hindi.  Education level and literacy in Kerala is amazingly high.  And the ease that many had and curiosity to talk about world issues was awesome.


They know so much about the US but I just learned the name of the Indian president while I was there.


3.  The Food and the Spices

I’ve eaten and loved Indian food for years – since I spent my junior year of university in London and found that curry was a British national dish.  But I had no idea the diversity of spices used at every single meal in India.  Breakfast curry!

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We ate mainly vegetarian but the number of flavors – of chutneys, pastes, sauces was crazy.

banana leafCloves and cardamom, ginger and mace.  It makes sense.  Vasco De Gama was the first European to find a sea route to India and landed in Kerala’s Cochin.  All to feed the European obsession with black gold (pepper) and cinnamon.


India, and especially Kerala, is the land of spices.

A man picking pepper from the vines that climb high up the trees.


4.  The Head Bobbling

Every single Keralite I encountered was incredibly polite.  Even salespeople negotiating prices or our poor “handlers” directing 30 headstrong travel bloggers on a 14 day bus trip, rarely said no.  And when they did, it was with the most delightful bobbling head.  Everyone did a half yes/half no/half “whatever you like” head wobble that I thought was absolutely charming – but I had little idea what it really meant.

It just made me feel better about everything. And by the end of the trip, I found myself doing it too.  There is an excellent video that went viral a few years ago that attempted to explain the “Indian Head Shake”.

5.  The Miniature Toilet Paper and the “Bum Gun”

I’ve seen different types of toilets around the world.  Some Europeans love a bidet.  The Japanese seem to love a toilet that does everything from play music to apply a blow dryer to your underside.

In India, the traditional toilet is a squatty potty.  Flat to the ground with two foot pads on the side.  (Not the best example, this is the slightly horrifying and crude one in the train from Cochin.)

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But universal, whether next to a Western toilet in the finest hotel or a gas station restroom squatter, there is the “bum gun”.


Usually a drip dry situation.  And IF there is TP?  It’s always a miniature roll.  I guess because most people don’t use it?

6.  The Blend of Religions

Kerala is an amazing mash-up of religions.  In almost every village, there is a Christian church…

This one near the famous tea region of Munnar.

…a mosque, one or more Hindu temples and in Cochin, an actual working synagogue.

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7.  How Dressed Up Everyone Is

Everyone looks dressed for a party each and every day.  From the saleswoman from Northern Indian at Varkala Beach…

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…to the man serving coffee where the traditional dhoti (or sarong like skirt) in pastel paisley to the ladies waiting for the bus…


everyone (to this casual dresser) looked like they were in wedding day finery.  It was dazzling.

8.  The Wide Range of Lodging

Kerala has an incredible array of places to overnight.  There are home stays in almost every village and then simple rooms for a few dollars a night to amazing 5-star hotels.

In Trivandrum, the capital, I stayed my last 24 hours at the gorgeous business hotel The Vivanta by Taj and didn’t even leave the hotel.


I was having a bit of love affair with all the products.


And the AMAZING Kumarakom Lake Resort in the Backwater area – where Prince Charles of England spent his 65th birthday.  Absolute perfection.

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A pool just outside our back door.

9.  Trivandrum Contains the World’s Richest Temple

We visited the Padmanabhaswamy Temple on our first day of the tour.  There are no photos allowed and only Hindus may enter.


But I perked up when I heard that in 2011, the coffers of the temple, that had been closed for over 100 years were opened and tons…TONS of diamonds, gold coins and jewels were found worth many BILLIONS of dollars.  Making the temple the richest in the world.  How cool is that?

10.  Everything REALLY is Pink & Turquoise

I had heard that the navy of India is hot pink but in Kerala, it really is true.  Clothing, temples, houses, boats, flowers, police stations…the brighter the better.


11.  Communism

Interesting to me, Kerala was the first place in the world to democratically vote in the Communist party.  It held power for almost 50 years and is still one of the top parties today.

Very unexpected to see the signs and flags flying all over the state.


12.  The GORGEOUS Craftsmenship and Shopping

I am not a huge fan of shopping but in Kerala?  I was pretty much obsessed.  Beautiful bright cotton fabrics and jewelry from the North of India, wooden carvings and leatherwork.  Art and clothing…all SOOO reasonably priced, I could have filled 10 suitcases.


This is most of what I purchased.  And it took some restraint.   I love every single thing.


I even LOVED the window shopping.

final (2) A few people told me before I left that I would be both amazed and horrified by India.  That I would most definitely be changed.

I don’t think I was horrified once (not even by the train toilet)…and what I do know for sure is that I want to return.  Sooner rather than later.

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12 Surprises about Kerala, India that helped me fall in LOVE.

  • John Larew

    I have enjoyed your trip, and am glad that I voted everyday for you. You make it to where I can live vicariously through you.

  • Susan

    So so happy you won and sort of took the rest of us with you! Very glad I had a hand in helping you win! Welcome home.

  • Hey, what a good summary ! Agree with you Rebbeca ! See you later in another part of the world… Take care…. Bisou -Arnaud-

    • Thanks Arnaud…we will definitely meet again. 🙂