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When in Kerala: 10 must-dos in India's deep south

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Kerala has been a favourite haunt of travellers from around the world for nearly 600 years; it's been known to exhilarate, enchant and enthral. Here's a cherry-picked list of 10 activities to get you under the skin of this incredible state.

Cruise the backwaters

No trip to Kerala is complete without a languid boat ride on its idyllic backwaters. Lined by emerald coconut plantations and interspersed by turquoise lakes, these placid lagoons are the perfect place to shake off pent-up urban stress. For a special experience, spend the night aboard a houseboat, and witness a dreamy sunrise break over the serene bayous at dawn.

Live it ‘up' in Munnar

Green is the colour that swathes the lush mountain slopes of Munnar, Kerala's answer to the fabled hill stations of North India. The crisp air, clement weather and relaxed grain are all perfectly engineered to work up a restful experience in this scenic hill town. Order a steaming cup of tea from a nearby plantation to go with the breathtaking views.

Snap Kochi's fishing nets

Tops among Kerala's iconic photo ops are the cantilevered Chinese fishing nets – dating back to the 1400s – that line the harbour at Kochi(Cochin). Crafted out of teakwood beams and resembling giant alien arachnids poised to sting, they form unreal silhouettes against the seascape and provide some dramatic camera fodder, especially at dusk.

Get beached in Varkala

You'll wish you were an Alex Garland character the moment you set foot in picturesque Varkala. Perched on a precipitous cliff and overlooking the sapphire waters of the Arabian Sea, this backpackers' paradise boasts some dazzling and pristine sands (try Black Beach) to relax on.

Embrace Ayurveda

Centuries of traditional Indian therapeutic wisdom and practices, perfected to soothe the human body, mind and soul, can now be accessed at the many ayurvedic spas across Kerala. Feel your senses come alive with an invigorating panchakarma session, or pamper those knotty sinews with a revitalising aromatherapy or herbal massage.


Watch a Kathakali show

If you thought Kabuki was spectacular, think again. Kathakali, Kerala's very own classical dance tradition dating back to the 17th century, is a highly-celebrated performing art known for its colourful make-up, elaborate costumes and graceful movements, not to mention the trance-inducing music that accompanies each spirited performance. Sit in and be charmed.

Know your spices

Pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, mace, fennel, turmeric, cumin, coriander, aniseed, tamarind, allspice, saffron, poppy, mustard – that's some seriously spicey vocabulary. Ambush your olfactories at the spice markets of Mattancherry in Kochi (Cochin). Pack an extra bag for the inevitable shopping.

Meet Periyar's tigers

Some 50 of India's fabled Royal Bengal tigers can still be found in the virgin forests of the Periyar Tiger Reserve in inland Kerala. Keeping them company are elephants, leopards, Indian bison and myriad species of snakes, deer and monkeys. Head out for a wild day with the beasts.

Learn Your Kalarippayat moves

Want to keep the bad guys at bay? Drop by at a Kalarippayat school and pick up the basics of this acrobatic and flamboyant 12th-century martial art. Based on the science of attacking pressure points in the human body, Kalarippayat is known to be the fount of other revered martial arts such as kung fu and karate.