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TOURISM IN KERALA

Kerala is a union state located in the south western part of India. With an Arabian sea coastline on the west, it is bordered on the north by Karnataka and by Tamil Nadu on the south and east. Major cities are Thiruvananthapuram (the capital), Kochi and Kozhikode. The principal spoken language is Malayalam but many other languages like Tamil are also spoken.

Kerala is mentioned in the ancient epic Mahabharata (800 BC) at several instances as a tribe, as a region and as a kingdom. The first written mention of Kerala is seen in a 3rd-century-BC rock inscription by emperor Asoka the Great, where it is mentioned as Keralaputra. This region formed part of ancient Tamilakam and was ruled by the Cheras. They had extensive trade relations with the Greeks, Romans and Arabs. In the 1st century AD Jewish immigrants arrived, and it is believed that St. Thomas the Apostle visited Kerala in the same century. The Chera Kingdom and later the feudal Nair and Namboothiri Brahmin city-states became major powers in the region. Early contact with Europeans later gave way to struggles between colonial and native interests. The States Reorganisation Act of 1 November 1956 elevated Kerala to statehood.

Social and educational reforms enacted in the late 19th century by Cochin and Travancore were expanded upon by post-independence governments, making Kerala one of the most literate, healthiest, and gender-equitable regions in India. Kerala has one of the most advanced educational systems in India. Unlike the other Indian states, Kerala's basic human development indices are roughly equivalent to those in the developed world, and the state is substantially more environmentally sustainable than Europe and North America. A survey conducted in 2005 by Transparency International ranked Kerala as the least corrupt state in the country. Nevertheless, Kerala's suicide, alcoholism, and unemployment rates rank among India's highest.

It is not certain if the region was inhabited during Neolithic times. However, there is evidence of the emergence of prehistoric pottery and granite burial monuments in the form of megalithic tombs in the 10th century BC; they resemble their counterparts in Western Europe and other parts of Asia. These are thought to be produced by speakers of a proto-Tamil language. Kerala and Tamil Nadu once shared a common language, ethnicity and culture; this common area was known as Tamilakam.

According to legend, Kerala was an Asura-ruled kingdom under Mahabali. Onam, the national festival of Kerala, is dedicated to Maveli's memory. Another legend has Parasurama, an avatar of Mahavishnu, throwing his battle axe into the sea; from those waters, Kerala arose.

The ancient Cheras, whose mother tongue and court language was Tamil, ruled Kerala from their capital at Vanchi. They were constantly at war with the neighbouring Chola and Pandya kingdoms. A Keralite identity, distinct from the Tamils and associated with the second Chera empire, became linguistically separate under the Kulasekhara dynasty (c. 800-1102). By the beginning of the 14th century, Ravi Varma Kulasekhara of Venad established a short-lived supremacy over southern India. After his death, Kerala became a conglomeration of warring chieftaincies, among which the most important were Calicut in the north and Venad in the south.

The Chera kings' dependence on trade meant that merchants from West Asia and Southern Europe could establish coastal posts and settlements in Kerala. The Jewish, Christian, and Muslim immigrants established Nasrani Mappila and Muslim Mappila communities. The Jews first arrived in Kerala in 573 BC. The works of scholars and Eastern Christian writings state that Thomas the Apostle visited Muziris in Kerala in 52 AD to proselytize amongst Kerala's Jewish settlements. However, the first verifiable migration of Jewish-Nasrani families to Kerala is of the arrival of Knai Thoma in 345 AD . Muslim merchants (Malik ibn Dinar) settled in Kerala by the 8th century AD and introduced Islam. After Vasco Da Gama's arrival in 1498, the Portuguese gained control of the lucrative pepper trade by subduing Keralite communities and commerce.

Conflicts between Kozhikode (Calicut) and Kochi (Cochin) provided an opportunity for the Dutch to oust the Portuguese. In turn, the Dutch were ousted by Marthanda Varma of the Travancore Royal Family who routed them at the Battle of Colachel in 1741. In 1766, Hyder Ali, the ruler of Mysore invaded northern Kerala, capturing Kozhikode in the process. In the late 18th century, Tipu Sultan, Ali's son and successor, launched campaigns against the expanding British East India Company; these resulted in two of the four Anglo-Mysore Wars. He ultimately ceded Malabar District and South Kanara to the Company in the 1790s. The Company then forged tributary alliances with Kochi (1791) and Travancore (1795). Malabar and South Kanara became part of the Madras Presidency.

Kerala saw comparatively little defiance of the British Raj. Nevertheless, several rebellions occurred, including the 1946 Punnapra-Vayalar revolt,[30] and leaders like Velayudan Thampi Dalava, Kunjali Marakkar, and Pazhassi Raja earned their place in history and folklore. Many actions, spurred by such leaders as Vaikunda Swami[31], Sree Narayana Guru and Chattampi Swamikal, instead protested such conditions as untouchability; notable was the 1924 Vaikom Satyagraham. In 1936, Chitra Thirunal Bala Rama Varma of Travancore issued the Temple Entry Proclamation that opened Hindu temples to all castes; Cochin and Malabar soon did likewise. The 1921 Moplah Rebellion involved Mappila Muslims rioting against Hindus and the British Raj.

After India gained its independence in 1947, Travancore and Cochin were merged to form Travancore-Cochin on 1 July 1949. On 1 January 1950 (Republic Day), Travancore-Cochin was recognised as a state. The Madras Presidency was organised to form Madras State several years prior, in 1947. Finally, the Government of India's 1 November 1956 States Reorganisation Act inaugurated the state of Kerala, incorporating Malabar district, Travancore-Cochin (excluding four southern taluks, which were merged with Tamil Nadu), and the taluk of Kasargod, South Kanara. A new legislative assembly was also created, for which elections were first held in 1957. These resulted in a communist-led government through ballot - the world's first of its kind - headed by E.M.S. Namboodiripad. Subsequent social reforms favoured tenants and labourers. As a result, living standards, education, and life expectancy improved dramatically.

Geography
Kerala is wedged between the Arabian Sea and the Western Ghats. Lying between north latitudes 8 degree 18' and 12 degree 48' and east longitudes 74 degree 52' and 72 degree 22', Kerala is well within the humid equatorial tropics. Kerala's coast runs for some 580 km (360 miles), while the state itself varies between 35 and 120 km (22-75 miles) in width. Geographically, Kerala can be divided into three climatically distinct regions: the eastern highlands (rugged and cool mountainous terrain), the central midlands (rolling hills), and the western lowlands (coastal plains). Located at the extreme southern tip of the Indian subcontinent, Kerala lies near the centre of the Indian tectonic plate; as such, most of the state is subject to comparatively little seismic and volcanic activity. Pre-Cambrian and Pleistocene geological formations compose the bulk of Kerala's terrain.

Eastern Kerala lies immediately west of the Western Ghats's rain shadow; it consists of high mountains, gorges and deep-cut valleys. 41 of Kerala's west-flowing rivers, and 3 of its east-flowing ones originate in this region. Here, the Western Ghats form a wall of mountains interrupted only near Palakkad, where the Palakkad Gap breaks through to provide access to the rest of India. The Western Ghats rises on average to 1,500 m (4920 ft) above sea level, while the highest peaks may reach to 2,500 m (8200 ft). Just west of the mountains lie the midland plains composing central Kerala; rolling hills and valleys dominate. Generally ranging between elevations of 250-1,000 m (820-3300 ft), the eastern portions of the Nilgiri and Palni Hills include such formations as Agastyamalai and Anamalai.

Kerala's western coastal belt is relatively flat, and is criss-crossed by a network of interconnected brackish canals, lakes, estuaries, and rivers known as the Kerala Backwaters. Lake Vembanad-Kerala's largest body of water-dominates the Backwaters; it lies between Alappuzha and Kochi and is more than 200 sq km in area. Around 8% of India's waterways (measured by length) are found in Kerala. The most important of Kerala's forty four rivers include the Periyar (244 km), the Bharathapuzha (209 km), the Pamba (176 km), the Chaliyar (169 km), the Kadalundipuzha (130 km) and the Achankovil (128 km). The average length of the rivers of Kerala is 64 km. Most of the remainder are small and entirely fed by monsoon rains. These conditions result in the nearly year-round water logging of such western regions as Kuttanad, 500 sq km of which lies below sea level. As Kerala's rivers are small and lack deltas, they are more prone to environmental factors. Kerala's rivers face many problems, including summer droughts, the building of large dams, sand mining, and pollution.

Tourism
Kerala, situated on the lush and tropical Malabar Coast, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in India. Named as one of the "ten paradises of the world" and "50 places of a lifetime" by the National Geographic Traveler magazine, Kerala is especially known for its ecotourism initiatives. Its unique culture and traditions, coupled with its varied demographics, has made Kerala one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Growing at a rate of 13.31%, the state's tourism industry is a major contributor to the state's economy.

Until the early 1980s, Kerala was a relatively unknown destination; most tourist circuits focused on North India. Aggressive marketing campaigns launched by the Kerala Tourism Development Corporation, the government agency that oversees tourism prospects of the state, laid the foundation for the growth of the tourism industry. In the decades that followed, Kerala's tourism industry was able to transform the state into one of the niche holiday destinations in India. The tagline Kerala- God's Own Country, originally coined by Vipin Gopal, has been widely used in Kerala's tourism promotions and soon became synonymous with the state. In 2006, Kerala attracted 8.5 million tourist arrivals, an increase of 23.68% over the previous year, making the state one of the fastest-growing destinations in the world.

Popular attractions in the state include the beaches at Kovalam, Cherai and Varkala; the hill stations of Munnar, Nelliampathi, Ponmudi and Wayanad; and national parks and wildlife sanctuaries at Periyar and Eravikulam National Park. The "backwaters" region, which comprises an extensive network of interlocking rivers, lakes, and canals that centre on Alleppey, Kumarakom, and Punnamada (where the annual Nehru Trophy Boat Race is held in August), also see heavy tourist traffic. Heritage sites, such as the Padmanabhapuram Palace and the Mattancherry Palace, are also visited. Cities such as Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram are popular centres for their shopping and traditional theatrical performances. During early summer, the Thrissur Pooram is conducted, attracting foreign tourists who are largely drawn by the festival's elephants and celebrants.