Kerala, India – is this really “God’s Own Country”?

“God’s own country” is a phrase which has been bandied around, used for locations from Yorkshire to Zimbabwe to New Zealand. But whereas in many of these locations it might be wishful thinking, in Kerala, an Indian province in the south of the country, it seems a perfectly reasonable description.

The Malabar Coast and lush backwaters certainly look like paradise, the population has the highest life expectancy and literacy rates in India, and the melting pot of different religions happily coexist. God, we can guess, would be very happy indeed.

Kochi International Airport, the gateway to Kerala, is the first airport in the world to be powered entirely by solar panels. This is quite a technological feat. The journey back in time, and to a simpler life, begins the moment you step outside the terminal building, however, as in the parking lot there are Hindustan Ambassadors (the iconic Indian car modelled on a Morris Oxford), auto-rickshaws, cycle rickshaws, and even an occasional wandering cow! Traffic on the roads is just as eclectic. The buses have to swerve around bullock carts, and if there’s an elephant in the road then everything grinds to a halt.

Elephant in Thrippunithura Kerala (c) Rajesh Kakkanatt, courtesy Suresh Babu

Kochi was historically the port of Cochin, a city of international traders on the Arabian Sea. Spice merchants came here from Portugal in the early 16th century, and the Dutch and British came in their wake. It retains a cosmopolitan feel, with numerous different communities having left their mark.

The Cochin Jews trace their own history back to the time of King Solomon and have their own dialect of the local Malayalam language. There are only two dozen Jews that still live there but you can visit India’s oldest functioning synagogue in the trinket-lined Jew Street in the pretty Mattancherry neighborhood, dubbed “Jew Town”. There are also Syrian Catholic churches; and festivals such as Holi, Eid, and Christmas are all celebrated with great fervour.