The Magic of God's Own Country: Kerala, India

Even in monsoon season, the beauty of Kerala (aptly nicknamed God's Own Country) in south India is incomparable. From the emerald greens of the landscape to the vibrant yellows of tropical fruit to the radiant purples of sari fabric, color swirls all around you and invites you to experience this part of the world like you've never experienced before.

India as an entire country is made up of juxtapositions: chaos and organization, hot and cool, lush tropics and dry desert. And in Kerala, it's like a giant orchestra, and everyone knows the musical notes to play. Cars, trucks, pedestrians all dance, and everyone commits to the steps as they melodically weave in and out. Houseboats peacefully glide through the backwaters, and the genuine warmth from the locals is a much needed song in today's tired world.

There is a very special kind of tranquility here that you won't find many other places. Different species of animals resting together in peaceful cohabitation, Hindu families giving land for a Christian church to be built as a display of united community, local Jewish history always honored. All of this without a second thought to be anything else but.

For U.S. citizens, India is a visa-requiring country which means you need the government's permission to visit. Good news is that it is super easy to apply for a tourist visa! This should be done at least 3 weeks (and no earlier than 4 months) before your trip and can be taken care of online via India's e-Visa website. The visa fee for the United States is $75 and can be paid securely through their website. For honeymooners who might be changing their last names, it's best to wait until after your trip to avoid any potential identity confusion with your passport and with visa applications.

What about cash? You will definitely want to bring it. Some more modern boutique shops will accept credit cards, but India is still very much a cash-based economy. To make things even more tricky, unfortunately, you cannot pre-order Indian rupees from any U.S. bank due to a recent Indian currency ban on specific large bills. So you will need to bring your dollars with you and exchange at the local Indian airport. In Kerala, Kochi (Cochin) Airport has a few different currency exchange kiosks to assist you with this that are open 24/7; ask for a mixture of small and large bills to help with shopping and tipping. If you have any cash leftover, be sure to sell it back at the airport because you won't be able to when you get back home.

Editor's Tip: Gratuity in Kerala is not required, but it is appreciated for excellent service. A general rule of thumb for 10% in restaurants, private drivers, and so forth. So when exchanging for rupees, ask for bills in the 10, 50, and 100 demoninations.

In early August, the monsoon season is headed towards its end, but still be prepared for wet, humid days and nights in south India. For resortwear, especially if you're staying at Indian Summer House, anything that you would wear on vacation is more than welcome while you're relaxing by the pool or around the private property. Shorts, swimwear, and thin strap dresses are the usuals amongst travelers -- keeping cool and hydrated is a necessity.

However, out of respect for this part of the world though, it's always a good idea to also pack conservative wardrobe options (e.g., maxi dresses, palazzo pants, scarves to double as shoulder covers, et cetera) though when venturing in the public realm. As for footwear, sandals are the standard. You'll rarely see anyone in anything but unless for dressing up! Consider bringing a variety of sandals for your Keralan adventures -- trekking, lounge, pool, chic, et cetera -- and leave your ballet flats and heels at home.

Editor's Tip: If you have temperature-sensitive medication, be sure to secure it in plastic ziploc bags and include food/pharmaceutical grade dry packs with silica gel inside. I brought sinus congestion medicine, and let's just say they looked like cotton balls at the end of the trip because the moisture loved them! Even if you're in air-conditioning, the humidity is thick in India and is part of the experience. There's no avoiding it!

Because of the length of this international adventure or 16 hours on a plane, be sure to pack portable chargers so you're never without a communication device. I brought my Raden A28 Check luggage that is essentially a portable charger, and I don't know what I would have done without it! I loved it so much that I did a video review on our YouTube channel. Be sure to check it out! If nothing else, the suitcase itself was definitely a conversation piece at the Richmond, Boston, Dubai, and Kochi airports!

About an hour's drive from the Kochi Airport, there is a luxury haven nestled in a small village called Muvattupuzha, and when you arrive, Indian Summer House quietly surprises you every way. From the ultra-comfortable memory foam beds after a very long international flight, to Chef Rajesh's delectable Indian dishes, to the intricate stone and wood carvings all over the property, utopia exists, and it's at Indian Summer House.

In exquisite Balinese meets Keralan style, the resort shares its architectural story with all guests because no detail was missed by renowned landscape designer and architect, Made Wijaya. The handcarved columns, swooping gables, and terracotta roof ceiling tiles take you into its romantic spell of old world craftsmanship made modern. It sets the tone that elegant tranquility is the language spoken here, and you will be forced to speak it during your vacation.

Tropical fruit trees line the gardens, cozy nooks in various lounges, and canopies of ivy drape over the poolside pergola. While it was still monsoon season, the amount of peaceful rests just listening to the rain dance on the water was countless. Imagine the most high-end spa you've been to, pretend that's been transformed to an entire outdoor property, and you have exactly what it feels like to just be at this sanctuary from everyday life.

Editor's Story: There really are no adequate words to describe my personal experience at Indian Summer House in Kerala. I was invited as a media guest, and I left changed that had nothing to do with my business as an editor. I would be remiss if I didn't share my side story beyond the itinerary and travel tips. Those who know me know I'm a huge advocate for mental health awareness as I live with chronic depression and anxiety. People told me India changes you in ways, and I shrugged casually. I'm not much of a yoga person nor did I think I could eat traditional Indian food due to food allergies (more on that later), so I thought I'd be missing those life-changing opportunities. After all, India was honestly never on my bucket list because of my Celiac Disease/dietary restrictions and general uncertainty.

Kerala had other plans for me, though, and it spun its magic through its people, food, landscape, making it the perfect gateway destination to India. The tranquility that reverberates through the culture is soft, yet crushingly felt. I still have trouble processing my memories into words, but what I do know is that I haven't needed to take one of my optional prescriptions to help me sleep since I left India... and that's everything.

Most everywhere you will want to go will need car access, especially when exploring the different parts of Kerala. You'll find motorized tuks tuks in most towns as well, and those are always fun for a short trip from A to B. Albin, the general manager at Indian Summer House, can also arrange a trusted private driver for you, but it's highly recommended to consult with Don, the hotelier and host, prior to your trip for a custom tailored itinerary. Love wildlife (hello, land of elephants and tigers)? There are great local eco-minded day trip options available. Looking for history? Fort Kochi is an ideal place to start, and Don can assist in securing a wonderful tour guide.

With so much to do in such little time, one of the must-do Keralan experiences to have is a luxury houseboat cruise on the backwaters of Alleppey. Complete with a lovely afternoon on the water and traditional Kerala lunch cooked on board, you'll watch dozens of iconic thatched-roof boats move through the series of canals that link the south Indian coastline with quiet village life. Whether you choose to nap, read a book, or just cuddle up with each other watching the scenery pass by, it's a day trip to not be missed.

For those wanting a quiet day in, yoga in the morning followed by an ayurvedic spa massage is just what travel-worn minds and bodies need. Ayurveda was developed more than 3,000 years ago as a holistic healing system, and all over the world, people travel to Kerala annually for what is claimed to be the most authentic and superior ayurvedic experience. Because there's a spa on property at Indian Summer House, it's no trouble at all to book last minute massages or healing treatments.

Editor's Tip: Massages in Kerala might be a change from what you're used to at home! They take ayurvedic treatments seriously here with most massages involving a yellow oil, and they rub it literally everywhere. Literally. Everywhere. Because I have poor blood circulation and generally a sore back from my wedding photographer days, I chose an Elakizhi treatment (also known as Pathra Podalam Massage). Imagine a warm cloth bag filled with herbal leaves being pounded into your body. Doesn't sound like it's for you? Oh, but it was glorious and healed my right shoulder blade area from weeks of pain. For a chuckle, immediately after the massage, you will look like you have a fatal case of jaundice (particularly if you are pale like I am), but after a nice long hot shower, you're back to 50 shades lighter and oh so relaxed.

For foodies and flavor connoisseurs, Kerala does not disappoint, even for food allergy sufferers or those with dietary restrictions. The air just seems to always be touched with cinnamon, masala, cardamom, or other popular Indian spices. Traditional breads like roti (a flatbread) and dosa (a fermented Indian crepe) and Keralite cuisine like butter chicken, dal (a thick lentils soup-like dish), and goat curry are only the tips of the deliciously exotic smorgasbord you'll find in south India along with all the tropical fruit like bananas, mangoes, and pineapples.

To really immerse yourself into the food culture here though, one must experience a traditional sadya meal that is typically served for special celebrations such as weddings. On a giant banana leaf plate, this multi-course vegetarian feast includes rice and pappadam wafers to be eaten with the various curries, chutneys, and side dishes that are artfully arranged on the leaf. Be sure to wash your hands before eating because this meal is meant to be enjoyed local style -- with your hands! (Don't worry, there are forks and spoons to use for those who might need a little help!)

Because of Kerala's coastal location, seafood is also a specialty even in the inland town of Muvattupuzha. Prawns and white sea fish are frequently on the menu served up with coconut-infused ingredients or chili peppers grown locally. Built between the 13th-14th century, the iconic Chinese Fishing Nets in Fort Kochi are a visual of that importance of seafood in Keralite diets.

Editor's Tip: Research your food options ahead of time and communicate with your resort staff multiple times. For someone with literally a novel of food allergies, going to India and finding meals that wouldn't make me sick was initially a high source of anxiety. I knew I would find seafood- and beef-free dishes since the vegetarian diet is a norm in India. And I even knew I could likely find gluten-free food since a lot is rice-based, but it was the pepper allergy of mine that had given me mental hives just thinking how I was going to avoid this one in the land of culinary heat.

If I wasn't already a cheerleader for Indian Summer House before, the food factor alone made me one for life. Prior to the trip, I was reassured by Don repeatedly that I would be taken care of and that I would not be a burden (#travelerwithissuesguilt). Because of Chef Raj, our personal hotel chef, I was able to eat Indian food for the first time. He accommodated every single allergy (which came to find out was easy by just eliminating the culprits out of the dishes) and made me fall in love with vegetable dishes (like thoran and kalan) and all things Indian. Not only on property, Chef Raj accompanied our group on the boathouse cruise as well and effectively communicated to the boat chef my dietary restrictions so I could enjoy lunch with everyone. (My attempts at learning a few Malayalam words were a bit of a failure, so major three hoorays for Raj!). Like the state of Kerala itself, the attention to guest comfort at Indian Summer House is incomparable.

Kerala prides itself for how a culture can respect its past but also move forward with progress, and it shows. For couples looking for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, south India will quiet your hearts and bring a beautiful new appreciation for life and well-being.

- Chelsea

Disclosure: Accommodations, transportation, activities, and meals were provided so we could experience Indian Summer House and Kerala. All love and opinions for what's been mentioned in this feature are our own. Some of the above product links are affiliate-linked and purchasing through these links helps support Tidewater and Tulle and its wonderful partners! You can find our full disclosure policy here.

Review for Indian Summer House on You.TheWorld.Wandering
One Week in Kerala, India on Expat Getaways
Yoga and Massage at Indian Summer House on You.TheWorld.Wandering


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