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.