Kerela,  also known as `God’s Own Country’ is one of the top tourist destinations  of  India,  and Kovalam undoubtedly its cleanest and most famous beach.  Situated on the Malabar Coast with the backdrop of the Arabian Sea, its picturesque  beaches  and serenity makes it a popular holiday getaway  for city dwellers .  Looking  down from the  aeroplane  as it descends,  the view  of the lush greenery below  enveloped  by coconut palm trees is just magical.

Kovalam is a calm, peaceful  and a clean city, with friendly locals always ready to strike a conversation. The three crescent shaped, adjacent  beaches being  the heart and soul of  the place. The most popular and southern most  is the Lighthouse beach named after  the charming old Lighthouse located here  , next  to this  is the `Hawa Beach’ which is one of the cleanest . A  rocky hill separates the Hawa beach from the third beautiful  beach – the  Ashoka beach .

The famous luxury hotel  Leela  Kempinsiky  is located on the hilly cliff of the Ashoka Beach. Treated like royalty on reaching  this  resort  on the sea, as soon as we alighted at the magnificient lobby, smiling hostesses  greeted us  with exotic drinks and fragrant wet napkins, which rejuvenated us instantly.  The first view of the sea  from the lounge is simply awesome. The hotel stands  on the  rocky high cliff  , with the mighty sea below as it splashes  against the huge boulders. Kovalam beach is supposed to be one of the cleanest beaches in India,  attracting a lot of foreign tourists. It was rightly so….   pristine with its bluish-green waters .

There is a lot of activity on these beaches and visitors can spend ample  time here .  A host of shops selling traditional Kerela  items  and souvenirs,  cafes and eateries dotting the roads of these three beaches are plenty. Merely sitting on the beach with a view of the magnificient,  silvery  sea  shimmering on the horizon  is quite relaxing to the tired soul. Fishing boats appear  like tiny dots hobbing up and down and fishermen with their nets is a common sight.  Undoubtedly, for a langorous break this place is an ideal destination.

One more field for which Kerela is famous for is `ayurveda’ and  this  attracts both Indian and international tourists. Ayurveda  is one of the most ancient and traditional systems of healing using natural products with no side effects. These  are effective in curing  major  or minor  ailments and also for stress removal and relaxation . Natural growing herbs and  oils,  having medicinal properties are used for the treatments.  A host of resorts, spas and centres offer therapies and massages but visitors who are new need to be careful while choosing a centre as not all are genuine. There are a host  of these `vaidyashala’s’ which have  mushroomed all over, but one must  opt for an authorised centre. Most   luxury hotels in Kovalam have  excellent  spas , some other  registered ones  are – ` Ayushya Ayurvedic Centre’.

To combine a pleasure trip with some spirituality, head to Thiruvanantpuram  to  visit  the renowned Padmanabhaswamy temple , and  it was indeed a very memorable trip ! A  mere  15 kms drive from Kovalam,  once you enter this city, you get a feel of the rich, cultural heritage of Kerela –  houses and buildings from a by-gone era with intricate Dravidian architecture. Localites  dressed in traditional attire –  men in  white and gold half dhoti and women with long, thick, oiled hair, in white half saree .

Though exact dates for the construction of  this  temple is not known,  it is believed to be  more than 2000 years old. The beautiful ` gopuram’  with fine art work and carved stone figurines was constructed in 1565 approximately. To enter this  holy place there is a dress code which is strictly followed, like it is in most temples of South India. Men have to wear a white cotton `lungi’ having  red and green border  and  ladies  any Indian attire, all of this is available in various shops around the temple complex.  As we entered the main gates into the thousand pillared corridor which leads to the  sanctum sanctorum or the main platform,  I somehow felt a very deep connection to this spell binding temple.

As is true of all well-known temples in India,  there is always a teeming  crowd eager to  pay obeisance, so we too joined the serpentine queue  . Finally we reached the inner, sanctum `sanctorum’  just in time for the evening aarti;  the aura was fully `charged’ with a spiritual fervour. The first view of  the magnificient  statue of the  reclining life like Mahavishnu on the `Seshanaga ’ was so mesmerising and out of this world …as if we had reached  heaven . Amidst  the  the tinkling of bells, chanting of hymns and mantras and  murmuring crowds, peering through the slats,  in anticipation of getting darshan of their diety, we quickly said our prayers,  as no one is allowed to stay there for long. There are  3 separate entrances or doors  from which the  diety can be seen and revered  – the face from the first, the navel with a lotus emerging  from it on which sits lord Brahma  from the second door and the feet from the third.

Within this huge,  temple  complex , there is also a Krishna temple and towards the south door is a shrine of `Narasimha’. The peace and tranquillity exuding  after a visit to this  temple was simply divine.

A trip to Kerela is incomplete without a taste of the local cuisine and Malayali’s are very fond of  cooking.  One of their  favourite dishes is the `appam and stew’;  appams are a kind  of plain dosa and stew is a delicious vegetable curry .Coconut is used in most of their dishes in different forms – oil, milk or plain grated.  Being a coastal town you will find different varieties of fish eaten mostly with rice. Also banana chips are a speciality here as they are sun dried first and then fried which makes them so crispy.

One of my most cherished and wholesome trips ever!  Kovalam would always be on my itinery, to be visited again.