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The Kurious Kase Of Kerala Tourism

It truly is an oasis of calmness and serenity, and even though we couldn’t unfortunately partake of its backwaters due to a packed schedule, the capital city itself lends itself into a cornucopia of colours (a la Henry Ford’s black, but here with more and more hues of green).

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Returning from a recent trip to God’s Own Country, one can’t help but marvel at the apt adage coined a decade+ ago. It truly is an oasis of calmness and serenity, and even though we couldn’t unfortunately partake of its backwaters due to a packed schedule, the capital city itself lends itself into a cornucopia of colours (a la Henry Ford’s black, but here with more and more hues of green).

But what came unstuck is the parochial nature of the natives who view tourists as “Keralites” and “Non Keralites”. Is it ok to be a non-vegetarian Non-Keralite, rather than being a vegetarian one, one wonders? The star hotel where we stayed (and perhaps, just perhaps resemblant of that attitude was embodied everywhere else in the state) - from the car chauffeurs to the cabbies (many of whom seemed to drive ‘car at will’, rather preferring to drive around out of town tourists on a ‘package’), taxi drivers to the waiters / housekeeping staff at the hotel - who simply, in a not-so-unobtrusive manner asked “Saar is from Kerala,ano”, Saar referring to the spouse who accompanied me, and who might have a name and surname similar to that of Keralites. 

And then the hotel menus belied everything you dreamt about Kerala on a maiden trip for all of my co-tourists. Two thirds of the dishes on every menu - be it In-room dining, Mall Food courts (even the 1.8 million square feet one that was touted to be one of the sub continent’s biggest but wasn’t appealing enough) and even speciality restaurants are NOT built to serve vegetarians, even more teetotallers. When 60% (or more) of the state’s revenue comes from these two streams - F&B and tourism, it is quite surprising to note both on the decline.

Veganism (and perhaps vegetarianism) is front and centre now. No tokenism. In that direction, Kerala (and its menus + attitude) requires a HUGE leap of faith in the right direction. This is in no means offensive to any other cuisine / personal choices that a person needs to make. 

Yet, food can be a game changer for those in the luxury business, and those tourists seeking a change from a change when they travel for leisure / family vacations. Nothing can perhaps beat the comfort of Ghar ka Khana, but for a seasoned traveller, a welcoming smile at all touch points at a hotel, including good food (and ample variety at that) can hit the right spots.

Which also means that deep fried snacks (especially for that peckish 4-6 pm slot) maybe augmented with healthy options too - a bake at times. In this direction, I dare say that many hotels haven’t dared to convert the deep fried to baked (equivalents, well almost!) with much success. But in this demand-led economy with even OTTs grabbing the eyeballs rather than (boring) TV channels in a hotel room, a Gobi Au gratin would perhaps do well compared to a deep-fried Gobi dripping in calories. But again, the Executive Chef at a star hotel has his/ her own limitations with local flavour dominating the palate than health would be, a tuned in balance required to tread the fine line between popularity, room occupancy and profit after tax.          

Perhaps it is the post-covid resurrection, suggested the spouse.  Which beats the old saying that when Americans landed on the moon, they already found a Malayali running his “Chaaya kada (tea shop)” and ensconced comfortably for many weeks there. That was the enterprising Keralites we read about. The risk taker (and not referring to 90% of the populace not wearing masks, or rather even chin masks as they are popularly known as), the Gelf (no typo) returned businessman who sets up an IT compeny (again no typo) where Keralites (and non) make a Beehive for the next big pub right on Friday evening. Not the ever resilient Malayali who makes so much of humble backyard produce like Spices, Jackfruit, Banana, Coconut and catapults it to the world Trade exchange. From what we saw and heard,every evening is “bottoms up” for the upwardly mobile.  

Packages are passe, experiences soaking the local nuances are in - be it a local coconut coir processing unit, a Jewish synagogue relating the arrival of Vasco da Gama, different varieties of Kerala Plantain and the plantations... these are experiences that are sure to reign in the new tourist as well as entice the repeat visits. 

These suggestions are not prescriptive but quite expected for more Value for Money, as more and more Indians begin to loosen the purse strings as (without tempting fate one must add) the Covid slowly seems to retreat in India. 

It is another milestone to see the younger under 16/under 18 populaces get their vaccinations quick and soon that might endear the parents to return to the original volumes of the Indian Traveller playbook. A playbook where buffet menus are the first things off the list - an activity of the eat-all-you-can dishes piled so high on the plate that breakfast seems to be the last time we are eating. An activity Indians seem to only indulge at star hotels staying anywhere between 2 nights and 2 months, and never seem to tire of it.           

In this age of materialism where gold is equated with status and marriages break or make based on how many kilograms the bride wears on her wedding, we are missing the point entirely. The real gold (even considering Dhanteras is just behind us) lies in tolerance of other cultures, notwithstanding that India is indeed a melting pot of cultures (and cuisine). But to be closed to the various opportunities and the evolving palate of the well-travelled customer is perhaps akin to missing the woods for the trees. 

Perhaps we stayed in an island hotel (literally so), or even haven’t ventured to the “real” Kerala landscape. But for a piece of “God’s own country” that we saw, it had more equity in checking out its tourist’s antecedents rather than serving the tourist milieu. 

But as a super talkative but interesting cabbie said to us on one of the rental car trips we took, “Medem (again..yeah. No typo) , there aren’t any clean beaches here, you need to travel a minimum of 40-60 kms from the city not to have sewage first swirling around your legs when you enter the beaches.” Perhaps the state needs a shot in the arm to revive tourism, to welcome tourists - regardless of their point of origin :-)    

As the song from Dil Se movie goes “Hey ajnabi tu bhi kabhi, aawaaz de Kahin se”, this oft-overlooked chasm of Kerala Tourism needs a makeover, and soon!  

(Disclaimer - The author promises to present a tongue-in-cheek version of his/her own travel stories. No animals were harmed during the writing of this piece, or any greens plucked out from the surface of the Earth)

(The author is an avid foodie + food blogger/ Youtuber at Sizzling Tastebuds. All opinions expressed are entirely personal)

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


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Kalyani Srinath

The author is a keen observer of social behaviour, an L&D (Learning and Development) Professional and an avid blogger at www.sizzlingtastebuds.com

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