Including a tour to Kerala in your gap year means you can look forward to exploring one of the most exciting states in India. If you're into culture you'll really be in your element - but what are the top things to see while you're here?
Ritual theatre and martial arts
One of the reasons Kerala's such an interesting place to visit is that while it's got a reputation for being among the most modern states in the country (particularly with things like literacy), when it comes to cultural traditions it's really conservative. Of course, this makes it one of the best places to experience India at its most authentic.
In terms of must-sees, you absolutely have to check out some ritual theatre, dance and martial arts while you're here. It comes in lots of different forms, but traditional performances tend to be all-night affairs. You can either seek out these during your travels (if you're in the north of Kerala, head to the beaches just south of Kannur, where dancers perform a wilder style, Theyyan, all night long) or visit shorter demonstrations designed for visitors.
These are often staged in hotels, but schools that teach the disciplines sometimes hold them too. Ens Kalari, where Kalarippayattu can be learned, holds one-hour shows every evening from Monday to Saturday. You'll find this in Nettoor, but it's worth bearing in mind you'll need to give a day's notice if you want to attend one.
There are loads of temples in Kerala, all of which will typically hold a minimum of one festival a year. When it comes to size, there can be massive differences, but generally speaking, you can expect to see ritual art performed (like the theatre and martial arts mentioned above), as well as firework displays and elephants draped in colourful cloth. If you're keen to go to one of these, it's well worth talking to your tour operator about what's on where at the time you'll be travelling.
Ok, on the face of it, a spa doesn't sound like a particularly cultural thing to do. And perhaps in most cases it's not - but that's not so in Kerala. You see, many of the spas here use traditional Ayurveda medicine techniques, which means you get to experience a little slice of history - and relax at the same time.
Everywhere from hotels to traditional carved-wood Keralan cottages offer ancient treatments like this, which can involve things like oil massages. Again, it's a good idea to chat to your tour operator about where the best places to visit will be near where you are, but since they're fairly common - and can often be found in hotels - it shouldn't be a problem to find one.
This is a great place to visit if you want to learn more about the things that have influenced Kerala's and India's overall culture. This is because it sits by the state's busiest harbour and it's packed with buildings that give clues to the European colonisation that characterised the area for roughly 500 years. While lots of these are now things like cafes and hotels, you can still look out for the old architecture, which includes Dutch merchants' houses and Jewish synagogues.