Information on Kerala Land
¤ The Geographical Features of
The Land Kerala is a dramatic, narrow, leaf-shaped strip of land,
flanked by the formidable Western Ghats on the east, and the Arabian
Sea on the west.A land of unabashed wealth,its people are amongst the
most progressive and literate of the Indian populace.
This tropical spice garden has lured the Arabs, Chinese and Europeans
for many centuries. Christianity and Judaism entered the subcontinent
through the legendary white sand beaches of Kerala.
The region is also home to Indias only virgin tropical rain
forest the Silent Valley National Park, supporting an
overwhelming range of life forms, many of which are highly endangered,
and endemic to this part of the planet.
The backwaters are a time capsule; a glimpse of a lifestyle
reminiscent of an era gone by.
climate of Kerala can be classified into roughly three categories
from March to May, when it is hot and humid, with March being the
warmest month. This season is followed by the onset of the southwest
monsoons that last till the end of October.
The northeast monsoons take over the relay around this time and
linger on till the month of February. The intensity of the northeast
monsoons is more or less on the wane around December, leaving behind a
spell of cool and comparatively dry weather.
Temperatures in Kerala seldom rise above 320 C, while the minimum
temperature in the coastal region remains mostly around 200C. The flow
of the wind in most of Kerala, besides the Palghat Gap, is governed by
the differential heating of land and water mass.
¤ The Monsoon Season
In Kerala, when it rains, it pours! The state receives two monsoons
in a year. The total annual rainfall in Kerala ranges from
approximately 180cm in the southern parts to 380cm in the extreme
northern parts. The Western Ghats draw more than 3,000mm of rain,
annually. Kozhikode District receives the maximum rainfall in the
state, while Thiruvananthapuram receives the minimum. During the
monsoons, the azure Kerala skies of December give way to thick inky
clouds and spectacular son-et-lumière operas of thunder and
Humidity goes up to an average of 85% during the monsoons. The rains
are fundamental to Keralas bountiful life forms, and turn the
land into a botanists delight. Scores of tiny insects scurry
about the place, fresh little saplings pop out of every imaginable
nook and cranny, and the replenished rivers and rivulets gurgle and
dash forward with a crisp, newfound enthusiasm.
The boundary walls around homes and places get ready for their yearly
slumber, and hibernate beneath the soft, spongy blankets of ivy, moss
and algae. Even your jeans get fungus if left undisturbed for a couple
of days! If you are in Kerala during the monsoons, be careful not to
fall into long spells of lethargy, or else
There are broadly 44 rivers and streams in Kerala. Though tinier in
dimension, compared to the major rivers of the country, they drain a
surprisingly large quantity of water and sediments into the Arabian
This is due to the heavy rainfall and physical relief of the terrain
of Kerala, which slants from the Western Ghats to the plains to
finally merge with the Arabian Sea. A distinct characteristic of the
rivers in Kerala is that they flow in an almost straight course,
further facilitating drainage.
41 of the 44 rivers in Kerala are west flowing, and originate mainly
from the Western Ghats. They fuse with the Arabian Sea either
directly, or through the medium of the backwaters. Some smaller
rivers, like the Kumbala, and Bekal, have separate watersheds, and
drain into the sea through the channel of the backwaters.
¤ Periyar-The Longest River In Kerala
One of the important rivers in Kerala is the Periyar the
longest and the largest river in the state. The river is 244km long,
and covers a drainage area of 5,398sq. km. Formed at a height of
1,853m, where a number of rivulets merge together in the Sivagiri
Hills, the Periyar flows towards the north and later turns to the
northwest, to finally lose itself in the backwaters at Munamban in
Ernakulam District. Floods caused by the Periyar in 1341 completely
destroyed the once important Cranganore Harbour. As a result, the
Kochi Harbour gradually took over and became an important port in its
own right. During Tipu Sultans incursion into Travancore through
Aluva, the floods of 1789 forced him to retreat.
River flows for 209km before merging into the sea, and is Keralas
second longest river. The river originates from the Anamalai Hills at
an elevation of 1,964m. It gurgles from Coimbatore (Tamil Nadu) into
Kerala, and slides down through Palakkad, Thrissur and Malappuram
Districts to eventually slip into the sea, near the town of Ponnani.
The Pambayar River, formerly known as Pampa River, is the third
longest river of Kerala. After branching off into several channels,
the Pambayar River finally joins the Vembanad Lake. The river runs a
course of 176km and covers a basin of 2,223km.
¤ Hills & Mountains
Kerala is bounded on the east by the Western Ghats that constitute a
formidable natural boundary to the state. The Western Ghats engender a
terrain of highlands that support a wide variety of animal and plant
life, and shelter some of the richest biodiversity reserves in the
The mountain range runs in a series of hills, ridges, buffs, and
peaks. The higher peaks generally stand alone, rolling down to meet
glens and valleys that intersperse the lofty peaks. The mountains
gradually give way to smaller hills towards the west and the south.
The Western Ghats roll along almost the entire length of the state,
with the exception of one major break of 32km, in Palakkad District
called the Palakkad Gap.
¤ Palakkad Gap
The Palakkad Gap served as the artery through which Kerala kept in
touch with the rest of the mainland, and was also the highway that
witnessed the arrival of the Cholas, Cheras, and later
Tipu Sultans army, into the heartland of Kerala. The pass also
provides the necessary passage for monsoon clouds to move in and spend
themselves over Central Kerala.
¤ Anai Mudi Peak
The Anai Mudi Peak in Idukki District is the highest peak of South
India, soaring to an altitude of 2817.06m. It is also the highest
mountain in the country, outside of the Himalayan Range. The Anai Mudi
Peak is better known as the home of the gravely endangered Nilgiri
Thar. Other peaks higher than 2500m are the Makurit, Sholeamala,
Devimala, Kattumala, Kumarikal, Korumpara and the PambadumcholaPeaks
The Mysore Plateau extends into Kerala to merge with the east-sloping
and picturesque Wayanad Plateau. The Wayanad Plateau also meets the
Sigur Plateau on the southeast. Wayanad literally means land of
swamps. Located south of the Nilgiri Hills, the Waynad Plateau
stands at an average height of 900 to 950m.
It envelops the Kannur and Kozhikode Districts. The western border of
the Wayanad Plateau dramatically gives way to steep escarpments. The
study of the hypergranulite nature of these escarpments, reveals that
perhaps the cliffs emerged in various stages from great depths to
become what they are today.
The Wayanad Plateau is drained by a number of perennial streams,
flowing eastwards into the Kabini River and supports moist deciduous
Topographically, the plateau is dotted with some abrupt peaks that
rise dramatically above the surrounding area. The noteworthy ones are
the Banasuramala (1608m) and the Brahmagiri Peaks (1608m). According
to local lore, the citadel of the legendary character Banasura, is
situated on the summit of the Banasurmala Peak. The Brahmagiri Peak is
believed to be the abode of Brahma (Creator of the Universe according
to Hindu Mythology).
The backwaters of Kerala are a labyrinth of rivers, rivulets, lakes,
canals and lagoons, dotted with tiny patches of densely inhabited
land. The kayals (backwaters) are home to a colourful people who have
an intoxicating and distinct lifestyle. Modern day transportation can
hardly rival the romantic way of getting around through the
The geological setting of the coastal plain is such that the
backwaters can be classified into three major categories. The kayals,
within the beach ridge complex are most popular on the tourist circuit
and include the longest stretch of backwaters in Kerala, formed by the
Vembanad Lake, which connects Alappuzha to Kochi. Then there are the
backwaters that lie in the Warkalli terrain, but have undergone
morphological changes on the throats, due to growth of spits.and
finally we have backwater terrains that stretch out to the eastern
margin of the coastal plain within the Warkalli.
Kerala has 29 major lakes that constitute the backwaters, seven of
which drain into the sea. There are only two permanent outlets to the
sea at Kodungallur in the north, and at Kochi in the south. The
third opening at was artificially created to drain stagnant water into
the sea during the southwestern monsoons.
Fed by a series of perennial rivers, the drainage of the kayals is
controlled singularly by tidal action. During the monsoons, the
backwaters overflow and discharge sediments into the sea, while
towards the end of the rains, the seawater rushes in, as much as 20km
inland thus altering the salinity and rate of sedimentation and
organic transport of the backwaters. The backwaters get increasingly
brackish during the dry season. This seasonal variation is essential
to the aquatic life of the kayals.
¤ Backwater Cruises
While in Kerala, do not miss sailing down the backwaters. No other
means of transport can provide you the up close and personal
experience of life in the kayals, as a cruise could. The boat glides
on the salty waters, and takes you through a crisscrossing maze of
wide and narrow water channels bordered with dense vegetation.
This alluvial stretch supports a variety of grasses and ferns,
flowers and fruit trees like mango, tapioca, jackfruit, papaya,
hibiscus and most prominently the coconut palm. Coconut trees are
definitely the most curious and friendly trees about the
backwaters. They stand out, not only by their balmy beauty, but
also by the manner in which they seem to compete with each other to
stretch out and occupy a spot, to keep an eye on all activities;
sometimes almost at gravity-defying angles.
The backwaters are dotted with little patches of land that form the
habitat of a sizeable population. The cruise offers the single most
opportunity to get an introductory peek at the fascinating lifestyle
of these people. They inhabit islands that are more often than not,
barely a few metres wide. It is curiously interesting to see how this
primarily Christian populace, lives in the water-locked terra firma.
¤ Islets Living
On the islets, people live in whitewashed houses with little red
terra-cotta-tiled roofs, and thrive in considerable comfort, with a
supply of cattle, poultry, pigs and ducks.
Some families also have boats. Islets close to each other are often
connected with small, high bridges that your ferry shall pass under,
time and again. A group of islets often have a rudimentary shopping
centre, with the local café and restaurant serving hot appams
(a kind of a salty dosa or crêpe) amongst other things.
The little shopping centre also serves as the local hangout, and
striking a conversation with people out here is fairly simple. The
bigger islands often have some beautiful churches, with steps leading
right down to the water point.
¤ The People
The backwaters will keep your head spinning like a top. Men covered
from the waist to the knees in bright flowery, orange, green and
purple lungis (a dress, consisting of a long cloth wrapped around the
waist), glide past on their wooden boats, which they navigate with the
help of a long bamboo stick.
Shy little girls prance about in pigtails, wearing colourful long
skirts with golden motifs, and smiles as sunny and round as their
bindis (a motif - generally a little dot, glued or painted on the
forehead, by Indian women). Ladies, sitting in little groups on the
water steps, or going about their daily household chores, shyly look
up and smile as you pass by.
¤ Attraction of Unique Boats
Long dark snake boats, sometimes loaded with coconut fibre, copra
(dried coconut meat) or cashew, rest on coconut islands. You might
also spot people transporting refrigerators, motorcycles and such, to
their respective islands and homes. Cantilevered Chinese fishing nets
speck the backwaters around Kochi. If you are lucky, you might also
see boats with elongated dragon-shaped prows, topped with colossal
sails, moving gracefully on the shiny water, under the burnt orange
Boats and ferries shuttle between islands and the nearest town, at
regular intervals. Children go to school, and people go about their
business, travelling in this truly unusual fashion. Note These
local rides are an interesting alternative to the regular tourist
cruises. Ask, and you might even be allowed to sit on the roof of the
¤ Attraction of Migratory Birds
The backwaters have been a favourite haunt of migratory birds, so do
carry your binoculars. Keep your eyes open for jellyfishes,
mischievous wild otters playing in the water and other happy
The backwaters and the mesmerising world they contain, may cease to
exist sooner than we can imagine. It is estimated that the total area
covered by the backwater lakes, has fallen from 440sq km in 1968 to
approximately 340sq km, today. Compared to the middle of the 19th
century, only one-third of the backwaters still remains!
Reclamation of land for agriculture and industries, overpopulation
around the coastal region, pollution, unhealthy fishing practices like
poisoning, exploding dynamite in water and the use of very fine nets
that make it impossible for even the baby fishes to escape, have
contributed largely to this crisis. The near extinction of mangroves
and various forms of aquatic life like crocodiles, migratory
fish, the destruction of oyster beds, reduced exchange of water
between the sea and lakes, building of granite barriers to enclose the
lake area, excessive use of fertilisers, and tourism, to some extent,
have nearly choked the backwaters.
¤ Organizing Boat Cruise
The KTDC (Kerala Tourist Development Corporation) and privately run
cruises, have various organised backwater tours for travellers. The
most popular is the eight-hour trip from Alappuzha to Kollam and vice
versa. For a less touristy experience, you could try the State Water
Transport ride of three hours, from Alappuzha to Changannassery, or,
simply take a local ferry to the little islets furthest from Alappuzha
and back. It is possible to hire houseboats, complete with a chef
cooking delectable Kerala cuisine; motorised boats are also available.
¤ The Shore
Kerala is a 560km long promenade along the Arabian Sea. The shoreline
runs more or less straight, with the exception of a few offsets in the
east, and others north of Azhikkod and south of Vadakara. The
coastline curves towards the northeast, from north to south and moves
slightly inwards, between Kotikkad and Alappuzha. The coastline of
Kerala is subject to constant sea erosion. In separate reaches, 360km
out of the 560km shoreline is exposed to active erosion. A belt of
approximately 700m is said to have been lost in the past 200 years.
Another phenomenon of the Kerala coast, is the formation of mud
banks, seen most prominently around Alappuzha and Narakal in the Wipin
Islands. Sandbars appear around the onset of the monsoons due to tidal
action and collection of sediments that are displaced during the
monsoons. The formation of these mud banks makes the sea in the
surrounding region comparatively calm. This facilitates fishing
prawns; the tiny creatures that have come to be termed as the pink
The network of estuaries, lakes, backwaters and other water bodies,
retain a perennial supply of water, almost parallel to the coastline.
Blocked by the Western Ghats on the east, Kerala turns to the Arabian
Sea for outside contact. This tropical spice garden held the Arabs,
Chinese and Europeans, spellbound. The ancient ports of Muziris,
Tyndis, and a few others that flanked the Kerala coast, flourished
with trade. Thus, external influences coupled with a certain amount of
isolation vis-à-vis the rest of the subcontinent, gave Kerala
its prominent cosmopolitan flavour.
Christianity, Judaism and perhaps Islam, were introduced to the
Indian subcontinent through the shores of Kerala. The coast also paved
the way for the imperialist enterprise of the Dutch, who played an
important role in shaping the history of the state.
Flora & Fauna
Stretching from the white sand beaches, to some of the highest peaks
that crown the Western Ghats, Kerala is home to a mind-boggling
diversity of life forms.
The wet forests of the foothills, and the fecund tropical conditions
support a myriad species in the boundaries of Kerala. The upper
reaches of the Western Ghats form evergreen and semi-green forests,
while the foothills support deciduous forests. There is a marked
similarity between the fauna found in Kerala, and that of the Eastern
Himalayas and the southwest region of Sri Lanka.
The Silent Valley and the Eravikulam National Parks, are amongst the
richest biosphere reserves in India, and form the prime habitat of
some highly endangered species. Various other parks and sanctuaries
like the Periyar, Wayanad,Parambikulam and the Neyyar Wildlife
Sanctuaries, along with the mangrove swamps, form reserves of
But the distribution of flora and fauna in Kerala is not restricted
to these patches. The terra firma of Kerala is an impossible web of
unabashed greenery, in the folds of which thrive innumerable
creatures. Through the ages, Kerala has been a storehouse of medicinal
herbs, and has been closely associated with the ancient medicinal
science of Ayurveda. But all is not hunky dory. The all-encompassing
pressures of industrialisation and agriculture, to name but two, have
taken their toll on this highly fertile topography, sparking off some
rather serious environmental dilemmas.
Kerala grows an abundant quantity of cereals, pulses, spices,
vegetables such as yam and arrowroot, and fruits like coconut, jack
fruit, banana, custard apples, mango, pineapple, tapioca (originally
from Brazil), cashew. Tea, coffee and cardamom are grown extensively
on the highlands.
Kerala produces the maximum quantity of cardamom in the world. 97% of
Indias pepper is grown in the moist lowlands of Kerala, mainly
in Kozhikode and Kannur Districts. 64 countries import turmeric from
the state. Kerala also produces the maximum quantity of ginger in the
country. Rubber, Clove and Cashew are other important products that
rake in foreign exchange.