God’s Own Country
Kerala, situated on the lush and tropical Malabar Coast,, enjoys unique geographical features that have made it one of the most sought-after tourist destinations in Asia. Fondly referred to as ‘God’s Own Country’, Kerala was selected by the National Geographic Traveler as one of the 50 destinations of a lifetime and one of the thirteen paradises in the world. 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.
Popular attractions in the state include the beaches at Kovalam, Cherai, Varkala,Kappad, Muzhappilangad and Bekal; 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, Kollam, 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.
An equable climate, serene beaches, tranquil stretches of backwaters, lush hill stations and exotic wildlife are the major attractions of this land. A unique advantage of Kerala is that most of the destinations here are only a two – four hour drive from the other.
Flora and Fauna
Much of Kerala’s notable biodiversity is concentrated and protected in the Agasthyamalai Biosphere Reserve in the eastern hills. Almost a fourth of India’s
10,000 plant species are found in the state. Among the almost 4,000 flowering plant species (1,272 of which are endemic to Kerala and 159 threatened) are 900 species of highly sought medicinal plants.
Its 9,400 km² of forests include tropical wet evergreen and semi-evergreen forests (lower and middle elevations—3,470 km²), tropical moist and dry deciduous forests (mid-elevations—4,100 km² and 100 km², respectively), and montane subtropical and temperate (shola) forests (highest elevations—100 km²). Altogether, 24% of Kerala is forested. Two of the world’s Ramsar Convention listed wetlands—Lake Sasthamkotta and the Vembanad-Kol wetlands—are in Kerala, as well as 1455.4 km² of the vast Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve. Subjected to extensive clearing for cultivation in the 20th century, much of the remaining forest cover is now protected from clearfelling. Kerala’s fauna are notable for their diversity and high rates of endemism: 102 species of mammals (56 of which are endemic), 476 species of birds, 202 species of freshwater fishes, 169 species of reptiles (139 of them endemic), and 89 species of amphibians (86 endemic). These are threatened by extensive habitat destruction, including soil erosion, landslides, salinization, and resource extraction.
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