Watch wild elephant herds in the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary
This astonishing national park is one of India’s best places for spotting herds of elephants. These gentle giants thrive in the 925 sq km protecting area due to lack of poaching. However, it’s not just elephants that can be spotted here. Indian wild dogs, deer, pigs, langurs, macaques and an estimated 40 tigers live in the park.
Visit the tea plantations in Munnar
Retreat from the sticky lowlands to the hill station of Munnar in the mountainous Western Ghats. Used by the British Raj during the summer months, the town is surrounded by rolling tea plantations, hiking trails, waterfalls and Eravikulam National Park.
Watch a martial arts fight
One of the world’s most ancient martial arts, Kalaripayattu was first written about in Tamil literature in 300 B.C. Watching a well-choreographed sequence of kicks and strikes is mesmerizing. Much of the art form was lost under British colonial rule, but went through a period of resurgence during the 1970s and is now firmly established once again.
Drink toddy with locals
Palm wine, often called toddy, is made from the fermented sap of palm trees. Toddy tappers climb trees each morning and cut the coconut flower buds, attaching clay vessels below to catch the sap. This is quickly delivered to toddy shops where its left to ferment. Fresh toddy has relatively little alcohol content, but left in the jugs, it can turn lethally strong. Accompanied by eye-wateringly spicy fish curries.
Watch a Kathakali dance
A classical Indian dance from the Malayalam speaking region of India is notable for its story-telling and brightly coloured make-up and costumes. Though the origins aren’t clear, it is through to be over a 1,000 years old with the most modern style having fully developed by the 17th century. The best places to see a show are the temples in Kochi, though more touristy shows can be found all over.
Spend a night on a converted rice barge
Once used to deliver rice along the backwaters of Kerala, these jackwood barges are now used by tourists to meander through the lagoons, lakes and waterways near Cochin. These simple but elegant private boats are crewed by a captain, housekeeper and cook. A seriously comfortable way to see the landscapes and wildlife along rural Kerala.
Enjoy a soothing Ayurvedic massage
Travellers will find Ayurvedic treatments being offered throughout the state of Kerala, but they vary in quality, so do some research before booking. It shouldn’t just be a massage, but a whole body holistic treatment that works to balance the mind, body and spirit. Ayurvedic medicine is believed to be more than 3,000 years old.
Ride the Indian train network
Nothing makes you feel freer than riding on India’s railways. Used by 22 million people a day, the network is the fourth largest in the world, its tracks stretching almost 120,000 kilometres. Though it’s possible to stay in comfortable air-conditioned cabins, be sure to try Sleeper class. Here you’ll maximise your interaction with locals and enjoy the best views from the open windows.
Get beached in Kovalam
Many end up in the southern town of Kovalam and find it hard to move on. It’s easy to see why. The three golden sand beaches, some of the best preserved in India, surround a calm bay which is perfect for swimming and bathing. Lazy days hanging out on the beach, swinging in hammocks and eating fresh catches can easily be lost as you ease quickly into life here.