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Backpacking in Kerala: Travel-Experiences from South India

Crowds, noise and smells – that is the general idea of a country with more than one billion inhabitants. We have often been asked why we chose India of all places to begin our journey to Southeast Asia.

We have always been fascinated by photos and stories of this huge country and so it came that we wanted to get a picture of it ourselves –  after all, we experienced a very special version of India.

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On our way to India, there were hardly any people on the plane and at the airport. A yawning emptiness welcomed us instead of hustle and bustle. Empty arrival halls and extremely friendly passport controls, who made jokes about Timo’s unusual height and wanted to know the latest results from the German Soccer League. We never imagined our entry to the country to be so relaxed!

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The hospitality of the people of Kerala, India

On our journey through India, we got to know some new, unusual and funny characteristics of the people of India.

Indian people at the Meenakshi Amman Temple in Madurai
The people of India are generally very hospitable

As a two-meter giant and a blonde girl we had unjustifiably expected many curious as well as suspicious looks. Indeed, we were very positively surprised by the noticeable openness and friendliness of the locals.

How do the people of Kerala react to tourists from Europe?

At least 8 out of 10 locals smiled at us as soon as they saw us! The 9th smiled at the latest when we smiled at him or her! And the 10th? Well, he or she probably didn’t know exactly what to do with these unusual tourists 😉

Is it safe to travel in Kerala?

In just under 3 weeks of traveling through the south of India, we have never had a stupid or unpleasant situation with the locals. In fact, we even posed for selfies and as soon as we told them that we came from Germany, they usually nodded approvingly. Especially the children and teenagers visibly started whispering, laughing and often waving to us from far away.

Eine Gruppe indischer Kinder spielt ein Spiel in Madurai
Children playing in Tamil Nadu

Can a woman travel alone in Kerala?

Anni has never felt unsafe in Kerala. There was not a single situation where she was bullied by men. However, we have always been on the road together. But we can not answer with certainty whether you can travel alone as a woman.

Cheap and safe through Kerala, India

We had the feeling of being welcomed everywhere. Therefore, on our second day in India, we decided not to spend our money on relatively expensive Tuktuk trips. We rather wanted to be part of the Indian hustle and bustle on the public buses.

Travel through Kerala by bus

So it happened that we learned that the bus connections in India are even better than in Germany! The buses do not always follow the given schedule if there is one at all. But anyway, (it felt like) there is always a bus passing by every second, on which you have to jump up and down more or less while driving.

The survival trick for crossing roads in India

In the beginning, it was not easy to get around on foot without being driven over.

delhi, road, india
Indian roads are always busy

Thus we first simply hung on the heels of a local to cross the street until we got the trick: One has to walk slowly and steadily, always at the same speed, purposefully to the other side of the street. It is important not to stop abruptly or to go faster/slower! So all car-, motorbike-, tuk-tuk- and bus drivers know how to turn around you and you will arrive safely on the other side!

The head shaking of the Indian people

It was an unusual custom for us that each of our questions was answered with the same head wagging – no matter whether their answer was “yes” or “no”. So it could happen that we had to ask ten or more people until we finally got a halfway clear and reliable answer.

However, it must be added that almost everyone we asked for help immediately did his best to help out. Only with the correct interpretation of the answer was often difficult for us.

Indian – the kitchen of a thousand spices

Let us come to one of our highlights of India: Indian food! For “India freshmen” it is helpful to know that at least in the southern part of India, restaurants are usually called “hotels”.

Can you eat street food as a tourist in India?

We went almost exclusively to traditional Indian street stalls for eating and we were never disappointed. To choose the right restaurant it is important to consider that many locals eat there and it is not a tourist shack. You just have to expect to be photographed or filmed from time to time while eating.

Indian female vendor at a street food stall in Kerala
Street Food in India

Can you drink the water in Indian restaurants?

In Indian “hotels” and/or restaurants it is also common that there is a pot of water on every table. The water is safe to drink even with a European-style stomach, as it is boiled tap water. But touching the edge of the cup seems to be a hygienic risk, as we have regularly watched people who tipped the water from the cup into their mouth without touching it.

Indian coffee

The really good Indian coffee is made with little and at the same time weak coffee, but with a lot of milk and sugar. On explicit requests and causing some confusion, we usually got our coffee without sugar.

Samosa and Snacks in India

The many fried dough snacks that can be bought everywhere at the roadside are also very recommendable. We did not like the sweet variants so much, but everything salty was very tasty and also relatively cheap – one piece costs approximately 15 cents and corresponds to the size of a sandwich.

During our entire time in India, we have never had any gastrointestinal problems. A decisive reason may have been our purely vegetarian diet. Even the majority of locals prefer vegetarian dishes.

Eating with your hands in India

A strange practice for us Europeans is eating with our hands. This explains why there are no toilets in any restaurant, but an extra area with washbasin everywhere.

chapati, bread, indian
Indian Chapati

Eating with your hands is actually not as easy as you might think. Especially since a large part of the food consists of sauces and you eat with your right hand only. The left hand is considered unclean and is exclusively used for drinking.

And then one should tear such a tough parotta bread with one hand …

Eating with the fingers like an Indian: the right technique

After a few attempts we got the hang of it: You put it all together into a mush and then you make a little pile. Next, you lift a portion of the pile onto four fingers (like on a shovel) and finally shove everything into your mouth with your thumb.

Beginner’s mistake when eating with your hands

It is not right to let the food fall into your mouth with your head resting on the back of your neck. But burping and licking your fingers is the order of the day 😉

India: A paradise for budget travellers

With our accommodations, we mostly had good luck! It is not the price that matters (our most expensive accommodation was also the worst), but rather the owner.

Budget Hotel Tip for Kerala and India

If you travel on a small budget, as we do, you should always look for “homestays“. Thanks to the family accommodations we also got to know a lot about the Indian culture.

Kerala – the perfect start for India

All in all, we enjoyed India very much! However, one must add that the southwestern state of Kerala is very special. By this we mean the friendliness of the locals, the cleanliness, the relatively quiet traffic and also the variety of landscapes.

Clouds hanging in the jungle mountains of the Western Ghats in Kerala
Jungle in the West Ghats of Kerala

In Madurai we quickly noticed a difference – directly we noticed that the people are much poorer, there are some beggars, the streets are even more littered, it stinks almost everywhere and the people are a little pushier and partly unfriendly… But this does not mean that the days in Madurai were less pleasant. It was just different from our time in Kerala.

More articles about India on our blog:

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Anni and Timo
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