Only after I had returned home, I learned about the fact that apart from the emblem – the traditional symbol of countries or regions – there are other state symbols of Kerala. This means that I did not look for these symbols at all during my trip. Nevertheless, I met most of them in Kerala. This proves that these objects were not chosen randomly as symbols, but that they are truly the right representatives of this southern part of India. In addition, I like that all these symbols come from nature. This proves how amazing, colourful and unique the nature of Kerala is! I am sure that it is also thanks to that, that Kerala is called God’s Own Country.
There are seven of those symbols:
Coconut Tree – Cocos nucifera
India is one of the three largest producers of coconuts in the world. In Kerala, you will find coconut trees everywhere. In some places, there are just more or less isolated trees, slightly bent in the trunk, that open fans of their huge leaves in the height.
In other places, there are dense forests of palm trees, heavy with fruits. Up to 75 fruits can ripen on one coconut tree in one year. In the gardens of luxury hotel resorts, nets are stretched just below the crown of the coconut trees so that the coconuts do not fall on the guests’ heads. After all, a full-sized coconut weighs about 1.4 kg! By the way, did you know that the word coconut comes from the Portuguese word coco? Portuguese sailing ships under the command of Vasco de Gama landed in the territory of present-day Kerala in 1498. The three notches on the coconut shell reminded them of a human face, so they named it coco which means head or skull. And in Malayalam, coconut is called keram, which served as the basis for the name of Kerala.
When I was walking around a garden in Cochin, I heard strange noises behind the wall. I peeked through the gate and saw a man climbing a palm tree with the help of some metal structures attached to his legs and knocking coconuts down to the ground.
We saw coconut sellers on every corner, they cut off the top with skilful movements of a knife, inserted a straw and thus offered a refreshing cold drink – coconut water. And even in a 5-star hotel, they prepared it the same way for us as a welcome drink.
The coconut palm and its fruit play a major role in Kerala cuisine. Coconut oil is used for cooking and there is hardly any dish that is not softened by coconut milk or grated pulp. Mats, carpets, but also bowls, brooms and other objects used at home are made from coconut fibres – a total of up to 250 products!
Indian laburnum – Cassia fistula
Indian “Golden rain”! The local name is kanikkonna. I also remember these flowers from the 20-rupee Indian postage stamp. I was lucky to be in Kerala in May when these popular decorative trees are just beginning to bloom. In Kerala, their yellow flowers are used in ritual ceremonies during the Vishu Festival and also in Ayurvedic medicine.
However, I couldn’t get enough of other beautiful flowers in Kerala! I enjoyed them the most at the Jeevess Ayurvedic Center in a wonderful natural environment, which was the best bonus to the Ayurvedic treatment. Every day I went for a walk and I kept discovering new and new flowers. Look at some of them in the photos.
I have to admit that I had a big problem making a selection from the amount of my photos of flowers because all the flowers seemed beautiful and unique to me. By the way, there will be a separate article on Ayurveda in Jeevess – coming soon!
Jackfruit – Artocarpus heterophyllus
This tropical tree really fascinated me. Sometimes, we only saw a smaller tree, but it was already carrying gigantic fruits – they can weigh more than 10 kg! And a mature tree produces around 200 fruits per year!
In Malayalam, this tree is called chakka, the Portuguese adopted it as jaca, which probably later gave base to the English name Jackfruit.
The huge fruits have many seeds inside, the seed coat is sticky and waxy. This juicy part is a popular dish. We also tasted excellent spicy (but a bit hard) jackfruit chips.
Apart from the flowers, various bushes and trees also caught my attention while walking through the Kerala gardens. Of course, we also know exotic fruits in Europe, but seeing carambolas, guavas or large papayas hanging on a tree is a different experience. However, many fruits were unknown to me and I can’t even name them.
Again, I have the most photos of interesting fruits from the Jeevess Ayurvedic Center. The guest chalets there are named after different plants and fruits, and the corresponding bush or tree grows by the door. My house was called Avocado. The tree was also growing there, but at the time of my visit, unfortunately, there were neither flowers nor fruit on it.
Great Hornbill – Buceros bicornis
This photo of this interesting bird was made available to me for this article by hobby-naturalist Shibu Bhaskar from the Marari Beach Resort, which offers butterfly watching in a special garden with flowers that are very popular with butterflies as part of the activities for their guests. Shibu is also a passionate (excellent) photographer – not only of butterflies but also of birds.
Anyway, I had to settle for only a relative of this symbolic bird. It is also a hornbill (Malabar Grey Hornbill) and differs from the symbolic bird not only in colour but also in not having a casque on the top of its bill. It is also very common in Kerala.
Shibu knows his resort very well and he also took me to the trees where different species of owls live. If he had not been with me, I would never have noticed those birds, they were perfectly hidden in a hollow tree or in the thick branches of a mango tree.
But it was again the Jeevess Ayurvedic Center where I saw these two hornbills. Actually, during my walks, I always saw some pretty birds there, perhaps most often this cute bird with a punk haircut. Even its name is amazing – Red Whiskered Bulbul!
Monsoon season was approaching and it rained all day on the last day of my stay. I spent most of the day sitting on the terrace of my chalet. In the tree in front of me, a small bird hid from the rain under the bend of the trunk and hung there motionless until his friend flew to him who also wanted to hide.
And then it was as if all the birds made an arrangement and performed an amazing show in front of me. As if I had been at a bird fashion show. First, a bird in yellow “clothing” appeared, swung on a branch and flew away. Little by little, birds of different colours took turns in front of me – grey with a pink belly, several yellow, green and orange birds, and even one completely blue flew in! They were too far away for my zoom, but close enough for me to see. After all, they were performing the show for me, not for my camera. I did not understand at all how the birds were so active in the rain. It was the most beautiful farewell to this place for me…
Pearl Spot – Etroplus suratensis
Locals call this nice fish karimeen. Its body reaches about 22 cm, is silver with a light green tint and has eight transverse bands. Most of the scales above the lateral line have a white pearl spot – hence the name Pearl Spot. It is one of the most sought-after fish, a favourite delicacy. It is commonly found in Backwaters, where I also saw it – albeit only on a plate. While we were sailing in the houseboat, the cook prepared it for us in the traditional way – fried, with a delicious crispy, slightly spicy coating.
The fish is very nutritious, low in fat and high in protein. When I was walking around Fort Cochin and admiring the catches of the local fishermen, I noticed that several of them had also caught these fish.
Malabar Banded Peacock – Papilio Buddha
It is a large butterfly, black with green triangular spots and blue stripes. Unfortunately, I have not seen this butterfly in Kerala, not even in that special garden at Marari Beach Resort. However, I was lucky with other butterflies and some of them really posed beautifully for my camera. And in my opinion, some were even more beautiful than that symbolic butterfly.
Indian Elephant – Elephas maximus indicus
The elephant should actually be symbol no. 1. For the people of Kerala, this massive animal is a symbol of pride and elegance. Unfortunately, I didn’t see a single live elephant on my trip to Kerala.
However, I saw Ganesha very often here – the cheerful god with the head of an elephant. Parvati, the companion of the god Shiva, was often alone because Shiva had to fight with demons. According to the legend, she created a son out of clay to protect her or simply so that she would not be lonely. When Shiva returned, he did not recognize his son, got angry, tore off his head and threw it away. When everything was explained, he wanted to redress his act, but because he was very strong, he had thrown the head quite far. So he decided to take the head of the first creature he came across instead. And that was an elephant. Ganesha is one of the most famous and most worshipped gods in India.
All of the mentioned symbols and their “substitutes” are wonderful memories of Kerala for me. If you, too, go to this part of India, be sure to spend at least 1-2 days observing Kerala’s nature and its inhabitants. You will not be disappointed, Kerala is the greenest part of the Indian subcontinent. There are several national parks. The remarkable Backwaters ecosystem is also worth a visit, you can read more about it in the article: Cruising the Backwaters
And that I haven’t seen a live elephant? Never mind! At least I have something left for my next visit! 🙂 🙂 🙂
More information about Jeevess Ayurvedic Center: Jeevess
More information about Kerala: Kerala Tourism
Text: © Copyright Ingrid, Travelpotpourri
Fotos: © Copyright Ingrid (and Shibu Bhaskar), Travelpotpourri