North or South?
Palaces or beach?
Bustling cities or relaxed backwaters?
Kerala vs Rajasthan – which state will win in this clash of colourful culture? Here, we take a closer look at two of India’s most enticing states.
One of the most colourful and exciting states in all of India; Rajasthan conjures images of maharajas and palaces. This ‘Land of Kings’ came to union from the amalgamation of 22 feudal states. This glittering state is decorated with spectacular forts and palaces – the architectural legacy of the many Rajas (kings) who lay claim to the area following significant battles past. Tradition stands strong to this day, evident not only in the landmarks, but in the vividly coloured saris and turbans worn by the locals who call this exotic state home.
Geographically dominant, Rajasthan is a real powerhouse of in terms of ‘things to see and do’. UNESCO World Heritage listed forts serve as elaborate watchtowers perched above sprawling cities, with buildings assembled in towns of pink and blue. Vast stretches of desert form a beautiful sandy carpet – survey the stunning scenery from atop a camel. More wildlife awaits in Ranthambore National Park, where you can take a safari in search of majestic tigers, leopards, abundant birdlife and more.
The desert isn’t the only thing that is hot in Rajasthan – the local cuisine bears influence of the arid landscape, and north Indian curries are known for their heat. Many dishes are made with milk rather than water, and cooking here uses plenty of ghee, sugar and spices to build flavour that packs a punch. Vegetarians will be spoiled for choice, with meat-free dishes prominent due to the high population of Mawaris in the state. Meat-lovers fear not – there are still carnivore-friendly menu options, particularly chicken and mutton. If you have a sweet tooth, this is the place for you; the locals love sugary treats so much that they are served throughout most meals, not just for dessert!
Rajasthan’s maze of markets is full to bursting with colour and energy. Sparkling gemstones, ornate jewellery and a rainbow of textiles all compete for buyers’ attention. This is also a great place to pick up traditional crafts such as hand-made leather goods. Jaipur in particular is one of the best places for shopping; check out the lively bazaar in Choti Choper and spend to your heart’s content.
In contrast with the feudal history and dazzling monuments of Rajasthan, Kerala’s appeal is more visceral. Abundant bright, lush vegetation, peaceful backwaters and paradisiacal beaches team up to create a laid-back vibe. This coastal state is located at the southern tip of India, where the culture is an amalgamation of many ethnicities and religions. Its classical culture is best expressed in its distinctive performing arts, the most famous being the Kathakali, a riotous dance-drama featuring colourful make-up, costumes and face masks. A cosmopolitan and laidback place; Kerala is India’s most enchanting state.
Kerala’s leisurely pace is the main attraction here – supported by the stunning coastal surrounds – you will no doubt ease into a comfortable state of relaxation. Enjoy the slower pace as you recline on the warm sands of beautiful beaches; cruise Kerala’s backwaters on a traditional kettuvallam (houseboat) while listening to a soundtrack of nature; or indulge in an Ayurveda treatment to melt away any lingering aches. If you’re feeling more active, there is still plenty to explore in and around Kerala’s cities, including colonial architecture, colourful temples and traditional Chinese fishing nets.
Known today as the ‘land of spices’, Kerala was an integral port along the historic spice route between Asia and Europe. Keralan cuisine is full of tropical flavour. Coconut is a common ingredient, along with tamarind. The coastal location makes this a seafood-lover’s paradise. For a truly authentic dining experience, enjoy a meal served on banana leaves rather than ceramics.
If you fancy yourself as a chef, you might be tempted to take home some of Kerala’s famous spices, (make sure you check quarantine restrictions before you buy). Tea and coffee are also excellent purchases, both grown in Kerala’s fertile highlands. Kerala is also a great place to pick up unique handicrafts made by skilled local artisans, including wood, metal and woven items.
It’s a tough choice between these two unique states. Each offers a distinct taste of India’s vibrant culture and you will not be disappointed. Whether you choose the dazzling north or the laid-back south.
For the perfect holiday mix, we suggest starting in Rajasthan before heading down to Kerala, but if you do have to choose, go with the vibe you prefer. And plan a return trip to see the other soon!