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Kerala is situated on the south-west coast of India, sandwiched between the Lakshwadeep Sea and the Western Ghats. The country is full of rice fields, mango and cashewnut trees and above all, coconut palms. Kerala is also an important center for spices and this has drawn merchants of spices to stop here. Its wide contact with the outside world has given the Malayalis (the natives of Kerala) their cosmopolitanism. This is also the state with the highest literacy rate

Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of Kerala, is a relaxed place and has a different culture from Kovalam or Varkala. There is, however, little in the way of 'sights' in the city. Kovalam, on the other hand, is a traditional Kerala village offering fresh fish, toddy and fruit and the ideal place for sun-bathing travelers.

Varkala is an embryonic beach resort 41 km north of Thiruvananthapuram. The town and railway station are two km from the beach which lies beneath towering cliffs and boasts a mineral water spring. The Janardhana Temple is another tourist attraction. In the Western Ghats is the famous Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary. It has a nice lake and has opportunities to see wildlife at close quarters. In the Eravikulam National Park you can see the rare, but almost tame Nilgiri tahr.

Places to visit:

SABARIMALA - in Pathanamthittha is the best known pilgrimage destination in Kerala. This holy shrine located high up in the Sahyadri mountains is dedicated to Lord Ayyappa and attracts pilgrims from all over India.

SRI PADMANABHASWAMY TEMPLE - Located in the capital, Thiruvananthapuram, it is dedicated to Padmanabha or Lord Vishnu. According to legend, it was built in stages to house an idol discovered in the forest by a devotee.

KOVALAM - is one of the most popular beaches in India. Kovalam means a grove of coconut trees and truly the coconut trees along the beaches gives it a ravishing look. The palm-fringed bays in secluded coconut groves, promises a relaxed stay. The boundless blue waters of the Arabian Sea and miles of white sands washed away by the surf at the feet of the stalwart palms and the rocky promontories makes Kovalam a beach paradise.

ALLAPUZHA - Earlier there used to be just one canal between the backwaters and the sea. Pathiramanal, 'the midnight sands', is a beautiful little island in the Vembanad lake, accessible only by boat. Ambalapuzha, the Krishna temple here, 14 km away, is a fine example of the state's architectural style and is famed for it's 'Payasam.'

BEKAL BEACH - Situated at the northern tip of Kerala, Bekal is a beach destination of the future. Bekal fort standing between two long, classically beautiful palm fringed beaches, is nearby. Its tall observation towers (huge cannon emplacements belonging to the Kadampa Dynasty), offers a panoramic view of the Lakshadweep Sea. This is one of the largest forts of Kerala and had been under the control of various powers including Vijayanagar, Tipu Sultan and the British.

KOLLAM - an old sea port town on the Arabian coast, stands on the Ashtamudi Lake. With a commercial reputation from the days of the Phoenicians and the Romans, it is a typically small Keralan market town.

KOCHI - The commercial capital of Kerala and the most cosmopolitan. Located strategically on the east-west route, it is also Kerala's major port. Fort Kochi, Santa Cruz, the Dutch Palace, Jewish synagogue and Bolaghatty Island are some of its landmarks.

PERIYAR WILDLIFE SANCTUARY - lies 60 km away from Idukki, 190 km from Kochi. The sanctuary is the natural habitat of elephants, deer, bison and wild boar. It is also a tiger reserve. There are opportunities for trekking, elephant rides and boating.

GURUVAYOOR TEMPLE - is one of the most sacred pilgrim centres of Kerala, 29 kms north-west of Thrissur. Its main attraction is the Krishna Temple or the Guruvayoorappan Temple.

KOZHIKODE - About 15 minutes drive from the city centre is a place called 'Dolphin's Point' where one can see dolphins playing in the sea, early in the morning. The Beach, is about 2 km from the town center.

VAIKOM - 40 km away from Kottayam, is famed for the Siva temple, which according to legend was built by Parasurama, the mythical creator of Kerala. The 12-day Ashtami festival falls in November/December

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