In his popular travelogue Chasing the Monsoon,Alexander Frater writes: “In Thiruvananthapuram, you actually see this entity coming. At least 40-50 people make a chain, holding hands and welcoming the monsoon! It is sent to nourish India. The sheer joy of watching the advancing monsoon! It is an event.”
The entity that Frater describes so eloquently is the magnificent landfall of the South West monsoon. This awe-inspiring spectacle was offered to the world only 10 years ago when Kerala Tourism packaged the beauty of the rainy season, now monsoon tourism, throwing open an entirely new panorama for holidayers.
Since then, the drama of the clouds and the rain, the dance of the drizzle and the downpour, have been attracting travellers, if only, to savour the intense beauty of this natural phenomenon.
Monsoon tourism is an offshoot of a successful tourism campaign that began in 1992. In a master-stroke, Kerala packaged the scenic charm of its land — a criss-cross of backwaters, smooth hills, valleys, forests rich with wild life, deep beaches — and opened wide its doors to the world. It offered these hitherto unseen parts as one from ‘God’s Own Country’. A catchy tag line, it caught the imagination, especially, of the western world, bringing travellers from faraway countries to these shores. Kerala became one of the top destinations in the world.
Since then, season after season, from October to April, guests came and returned before the onset of the rains.
But things changed with smart packaging of the beauty of the rains in God’s Own Country. What seemed a wet blanket so far, the monsoons, was recast as an unmissable experience.
Traditionally, monsoon is also Karikkadam, a time for internal detoxification and rejuvenation, a time for Ayurveda. The beauty of the rains, the dropping of temperature, the intake of medicinal cuisine and a time to cut off from the routine could be sold as a package to attract travellers. And it has paid off.
Suresh Mathews, who introduced Kerala Monsoon Packages seven years ago, in his itinerary for holidayers, says monsoons are the most beautiful time to be in the State. He lists out three top spots: Athirappilly waterfalls, the hills of Munnar and the houseboat cruise in Vembanad lake, as most preferred rain-time experiences. The Athirappilly waterfalls, called the Niagara of India, two hours away from Kochi, he says, is most popular, with the river cascading around rocks and falling in three plumes. The falls attract visitors round the year, but during the monsoons, from June to September, they acquire an ineffable beauty — falling rains on falling waters. “Standing above the waterfalls, or below them, you get a fine spray on you. It is quite simply an unforgettable experience,” he says. “How many people have seen the beauty of such rains?” asks Shakzil Khan, a tour guide, who says that West Asian holidayers book themselves in hotels for the entire season just to experience the rains. “They are not frustrated that they cannot venture out, as on a bright sunny day. They just want to see and feel the rains.”
A walk in the rain is all that his clients desire, says Jihad Hussain, MD, Gateway Malabar, a travel company that receives a steady group of travellers to soak in the beauty of the season. His guest, Abu Sami and family from Riyadh, have been coming down to Kerala “only to experience the rains” for the last eight years. In their latest report, Monsoon 2017, the Green Season of India, Australian travel agency, Flight Centre Travel Group (FCTG), announced an overall increase of 41% in monsoon tourism, that includes 30% of domestic tourists. Principal Secretary of Kerala Tourism, V Venu, is pleased that the monsoons have caught the fancy of the holidayer, the most conspicuous among them being the Arab. Despite a slowdown in arrivals due to factors outside tourism, June 2015 had a footfall of over eight lakh, that went up by another lakh in 2016.
Noticing the popularity of Wayanad as a monsoon destination, Kerala Tourism started Splash, a monsoon carnival, last year. The festivities combine outdoor activities like mud football, bamboo rafting, monsoon cycle splash and cultural activities.
Sejoe Jose, MD, Marvel Tours, says monsoon is also low season, when compared to the months from October to March. To counter the off season, hotels offer attractive deals that draw travellers. “We get honeymooners and domestic tourists. West Asia is a new market and a strong one, but what ties all these different markets and holidayers, at this time, is definitely the charm and beauty of the rains in Kerala. It is one of its kind.”