The more I travel, the more I realise that my feelings about somewhere do not only come into being because of that ‘place’. My feelings about the cities, towns, beaches, and villages where I end up on my journeys are shaped by the locations I visited immediately beforehand, by the anticipation of the places that I will travel to afterwards, as well as my current feelings about work, relationships, and family.
A place, a time, and my wandering thoughts all converge to give me a true sense of somewhere. I’m sure there are many who have mastered the art of living in the present far more effectively than me, but I have a wandering mind and that means I tend to live in the past, present and future all at once.
This way of being doesn’t seem very conducive to finding a sense of ‘freedom’, and though I can live in an apparently freer way than most, my passport providing me with the luxury of being able to visit pretty much everywhere around the globe, and my ability to work on the road offering endless travel opportunities, would I say that I feel free? Perhaps not.
But there is one place on this earth that inspired a greater sense of freedom in me than I have ever felt before – the state of Kerala in south India. In fact, there was one point on my trip, as I was strolling along the waterfront of Odayam, a stunning coastal fishing town, when the thought crept up on me that I had never felt so relaxed before in my whole life. Relaxation doesn’t necessarily equal freedom for everyone, but for me and my jittery mind, I had never experienced that kind of escape before – the kind of slowing down of your mind that somehow also focuses it and provides you with a greater clarity about the things in your life that suddenly seem unimportant and unworthy of clouding your brain.
So what is it about this tiny state in south India, which so many people like to tell me is “not the real India”, that made me feel such a sense of freedom where other destinations have failed?
Kerala provided a convergence of all of my favourite things about travel with very little of the rubbish stuff. By rubbish stuff I mean dorm rooms and hippies, both of which put me on edge. The culture of homestays in Kerala allowed me to experience a little bit of family life, a home away from home with freshly cooked family meals and dinner table chat, and I’m guessing that the ukulele touting hippies were somewhere in “the real India”, wherever that might be. This laid the foundation for a month long visit to the state of Kerala where there is a truly staggering breadth of landscape.
The beaches of Varkala are an ideal spot for beach bums who can choose to have relaxed days of swimming and massages and fun nights of partying should they wish, the port town of Cochin has an incredible café culture and the smell of ginger and cardamom are always present on the streets, the backwaters promise unforgettable boat trips amongst the endless green of the waterways, and the hill stations provide ample opportunity for trekking and learning about life in the coffee and tea plantations.
Beyond the beauty of Kerala, it is the kindness and openness of Keralan people that focused my newly relaxed mind on wanting to be a better person. In Kerala, it is impossible to walk down the street without locals trying to make conversation with you, to openly smile at you, to offer you a cup of masala chai – and always simply because that’s the nice thing to do, because kindness is so important to the people there.
Kerala is not somewhere in India that has a great deal of poverty, but people aren’t rich either, and the population’s feeling of contentedness that derives from living in the moment and putting your best food forward is something that rubbed off on me, gave me a sense of freedom, and when the pressures of life start to weigh heavy, I remind myself of that feeling and what inspired it – the heart filling kindness of the people who live in the most beautiful place I ever visited, Kerala.
About the Author: David is a twenty-something travelling writer from London, documenting his travel experiences at ThatGayBackpacker.