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Kerala has been a favourite haunt of travellers for nearly 600 years; exhilarating, enchanting and enthralling with its top-notch beauty and culture. Here are our favourite 10 activities that get under the surface of this incredible state.

Cruise the backwaters
No trip to Kerala is complete without a languid boat ride on its idyllic backwaters. Lined by emerald coconut plantations and interspersed with turquoise lakes, these placid lagoons are the perfect place to shake off pent-up urban stress. For an extra-special experience, spend the night on board a houseboat, and witness a dreamy sunrise break over the serene bayous at dawn. Houseboats can be chartered through the District Tourism Promotion Councils in Kollam or Alleppey, or a multitude of private operators.

Live it up in Munnar
Green is the colour that swathes the lush mountain slopes of Munnar, Kerala’s answer to the fabled hill stations of north India. The crisp air and clement weather in this scenic hill town are perfectly engineered to give you the most restful experience possible. Order a steaming cup of tea from a nearby plantation to go with the breathtaking views.

Photograph Kochi’s fishing nets
Top among Kerala’s iconic photo opportunities are the cantilevered Chinese fishing nets – dating back to the 1400s – that line the harbour at Kochi. Crafted out of teakwood beams and resembling giant alien arachnids poised to sting, they form unreal silhouettes against the seascape and provide some dramatic camera fodder, especially at dusk.

Get beached in Varkala
You will wish you were an Alex Garland character the moment you set foot in picturesque Varkala. Perched on a precipitous cliff and overlooking the sapphire waters of the Arabian Sea, this beachy paradise boasts some dazzling and pristine sands to relax on.

Embrace Ayurveda
Centuries of Indian therapeutic wisdom and practices, perfected to soothe the body, mind and soul, can now be accessed at the many ayurvedic spas across the state. Feel your senses come alive with an invigorating panchakarma session, or pamper those knotty sinews with a revitalising aromatherapy or herbal massage. Try the Kannur Ayurvedic Centre, a small, government-certified, family-run clinic in Kalpetta.

Watch a Kathakali show
If you thought Kabuki was spectacular, think again. Kathakali, Kerala’s very own classical dance tradition dating back to the 17th Century, is a highly-celebrated performance art known for its colourful make-up, elaborate costumes and graceful movements, not to mention the trance-inducing music that accompanies each spirited performance. If you are inspired to give it a go, head to the Margi Kathakali School for courses in kathakali and kootiattam (traditional Sanskrit drama) for beginner and advanced students.

Know your spices
You will find a huge range of spices in this state, such as pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, mace, fennel, turmeric, cumin, coriander, aniseed, tamarind, allspice, saffron, poppy and mustard. Ambush your senses at the spice markets of Mattancherry in Kochi, and pack an extra bag for the inevitable shopping.

Meet Periyar’s tigers
Some 50 of India’s fabled Royal Bengal tigers can still be found in the virgin forests of the Periyar Tiger Reserve in inland Kerala. Keeping them company are elephants, leopards, Indian bison and myriad species of snakes, deer and monkeys. Head out for a wild day with the beasts.

Learn your Kalarippayat moves
The basics of this acrobatic and flamboyant 12th-century martial art are based on the science of attacking pressure points in the human body, Kalarippayat is known to be the fount of other revered martial arts such as kung fu and karate. If you want to see real professionals have a go at it, it is best to travel out to Ens Kalari, a renowned Kalarippayat learning centre eight kilometres southeast of Ernakulam.

Get a taste for Malabar
Fiery pothu (beef), fluffy appams (rice hoppers), aviyal (vegetables in aromatic coconut gravy), fish molee (spicy yellow curry) and payasam (semolina in caramelised milk) -- these are just a few of the delectable dishes that emerge from Kerala’s kitchens day after day. Pair a platter with a glass of the locally-tapped and deliciously refreshing toddy (coconut palm wine). Try Suprabhatham in Kovalam or Sreepadman in Varkala for cheap and truly authentic Keralan fare.

© 2011 Lonely Planet. All rights reserved. The article ‘Top 10 activities in Kerala, India’s deep south’ was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.

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