Note: I recently completed a fifteen day press trip through Kerala, India which was sponsored by the state’s tourism bureau. I have not been asked to write about any specific topic related to the trip. The words and ideas are my own.
I have noticed casually over the years that most travelers find themselves isolated from the locals in one way or another. Sometimes this isolation comes because of time limitations, sometimes it comes from a desire to get away from it all and often times it is the locals themselves who push foreigners away because they perceive them as rich tourists.
It isn’t important to discuss the whys and hows of this problem, only to acknowledge its existence. Once you have an awareness of it, the world starts to look a little different. I started to really see this difference in 2007 while visiting Guatemala. While there, I wasn’t just a white guy who the locals tried to rip off or sell cheap crap to. No, I was just another person existing in the same place. I discovered this same phenomenon in Kerala.
On my first morning in Kerala, I awoke at sunrise to take a boat across the estuary near our hotel to the beach. This beach was full of fishermen performing their daily tasks. We were taking photos and they didn’t care. One of them even jokingly tried to hand one of us the rope to pull. Their spirit and teamwork was inspiring.
The next day I once again found myself surrounded by friendly and engaging locals. We started Day 2 in Trivandrum City at the Padmanabhaswamy Temple. The temple is said to be one of the richest in the world because of the treasures inside which at one time belonged to the royal family. Since the temple is off limits for non-Hindus, I wasn’t as interested in that as I was by the busy streets and markets outside.
As we were leaving the temple, I struck up a conversation with another blogger as we meandered through the busy streets. While he told me tales of his travels through Northern India, something stood out. I noticed that everyone around us was so friendly. They even smiled when we snapped the odd photo of them. No one was approaching us in the street trying to sell something. Everyday Kerala life was happening around us and we were simply a part of it.
Later that day we visited a museum which is located next to the zoo in Trivandrum. The Napier Museum has some fantastic artifacts including ivory carvings that made my jaw drop. While the art held my attention for a few minutes, it was the groups of schoolchildren and their laughter outside that caused me to wander off from the group for a few minutes.
This theme continued for our entire tour of Kerala. From street vendors to tribal villagers, almost everyone was friendly. I will never forget the 85 year old tribal chief who we met in Wayanad. Not only did he welcome us into his home, but he gladly demonstrated his hunting techniques with pride. He then let each of us shoot his bow and arrow! His spirit was so amazing that ten photographers snapped photo after photo to somehow capture it.
Perhaps the people most inspiring in Kerala are the children. Their fantastic smiles often helped to pick my spirit up on long and tiring days. Their laughter and pure silliness was a reminder of how we are all the same in many ways despite our cultural differences. I will always remember the little boy and his father on Varkala beach. They gladly posed for a photo and that boy’s smile brought instantaneous joy to my heart.
Over the next few weeks I will share about some of the different locales and experiences I had in Kerala. I have decided not to write about my day to day travels, but instead to share my favorite topics with you. Thankfully, no one has told me what to write or suggested in any way that I should cover certain topics, so I am free to write about what inspired me. Now that you have seen a glimpse of Kerala’s people, I hope you will come back to read more about this wonderful place.