The first thing which strikes you when you wander in the streets of Kerala is the beautiful blend of tradition and modernity.
Walking on the streets of Kochi and Vaikom, we saw single and double-storeyed houses among dense clusters of coconut trees. The beauty of this simple idea was refreshing and reminiscent of my school books which had pictures of rural areas. Except for the main city square, Kochi and Viakom had managed to maintain the presence of a green cover along with the comfort of a concrete roof, something which most cities, including Delhi has miserably failed at.
How easy it seemed, to have a house constructed in the lap of a coconut grove. How comforting it seemed, to think of stepping out of one’s house into a garden with huge leaves of the banana and coconut trees to give some shade from the burning Kerala sun. But then, I reminded myself that Kochi was not, a metro like Delhi, and constructing buildings like these would not only be a luxury, but perhaps nearly impossible to make. Nevertheless, the urge to stay back in these streets and sit under the canopy of the tall coconut trees did not leave me for a long time.
Talking to a few people (which seemed a little difficult as only a few spoke English or Hindi), we found out that traditionally, before cement started to be used for constructing walls, houses were constructed using sea shells. The amazing part is that these traditional houses still stand erect, after years and years of the burning sun and pouring rain, something which Kerala goes through for most of the year. Our hotel, in Kumarakom, being an example in case, was a house 140 years old, with a wooden roof (which, of course, had to be repaired regularly) and a top like a hut, which had holes for air and smoke ventilation. Like most houses of Kerala, it had a sloping, tiled roof to keep away the rain water.
Yet again, thus, I saw the blend of tradition and modernity, when we entered the hotel room to find a television set and an air conditioner waiting for us to switch them on after a long, bumpy bus ride.
Another interesting aspect of Kerala is the frequent use of boats for travelling. Being a backwater region, water often seeps in wherever it finds place and takes the form of small canals and rivulets. Hence, in some cases, the only possible way to reach one place from another is to use small boats…even if just to cover a distance of a kilometre! We even saw people travelling by boat right next to the road!
Sunshine, coonut and wood: these are things the Keralites know very well how to use. Most houses, like already mentioned, are made of wood. Boats are made of wood. The poorer sections could be easily identified by their houses. Typically, the material used for their houses was coconut fibre. These are not the same kind of almonds that we eat usually, it seems. They look like Colocasia and are rough and
The wealthier households had banana orchards and coconut groves in the vicinity of their single storeyed houses. Apartments are rare and are only seen in the main city.
All in all, Kerala is the place to go when you want to soothe your eyes and relax your body and mind. Go for an ayurvedic massage, stroll in the semi-rural Kumarakom, shop in Vytilla, and bask in the sunshine (that-you can do anywhere!!) and learn more about nature and animals in the bird sanctuaries. No wonder, it is called ‘God’s Own Country’!