River cruises and an ambitious heritage project: How Kerala is drawing visitors back post-COVID

The Kerala government is set to welcome tourists back to God’s Own Country with new initiatives that focus on lesser-known destinations in the state. The Malanad-Malabar River Cruise Project will spotlight the northern districts of Kannur and Kasaragod, and the Travancore Heritage Tourism Project seeks to restore and preserve the rich architectural legacy of the historical Travancore region. 

Since mid-2020, the Kerala government has been working to revive its languishing tourism sector which was badly hit by the coronavirus pandemic. In August, the state tourism minister, Kadakampally Surendran, announced a Rs 455-crore financial package for the sector to provide aid to daily-wage and contractual employees and working capital assistance to tour operators and other travel enterprises. This year, the government has turned its focus to finding new ways to develop and highlight Kerala’s many attractions to draw visitors back to the state. 

The Malanad-Malabar River Cruise Project

In February, the state tourism department announced the Malanad Malabar River Cruise Project, which aims to showcase the northern districts of Kannur and Kasaragod to both domestic and foreign travellers. Thirty new boat jetties and facilitation centres have been developed by the Kerala State Inland Navigation Corporation (KSINC) along the banks of Mayyazhi, Valapattanam, Ancharakkandi, Kuppam, Perumba, and Kavvayi in Kannur and the Neeleswaram, Thejaswini and Chandragiri rivers and the Valiyaparamba backwaters in Kasaragod. Cruises will be operated out of 11 boats, beginning with a route along the Valapattanam river that will highlight the legends and heritage of the Parassini Muthappan temple, which is dedicated to Shiva.

“Tourism in the region is presently limited to largely tourists from neighbouring places in the northern parts of Kerala as well as weekenders from Karnataka. The Malabar-Malanad is expected to give a fillip to the tourism potential of the region by connecting local heritage, legends, traditions, art and culture apart from the natural attractions in the region,” explains a Kerala Tourism spokesperson. “This initiative is bound to attract more footfalls from travellers looking at less crowded places to visit in a post-COVID world,” they add The potential for tourism to Kannur is also buoyed by easy accessibility via Kannur International Airport, which began commercial operations in late 2018. “

Travancore Heritage Tourism Project

Another region on the Kerala government’s radar is Travancore, which covers the southern area of the state and the southernmost part of neighbouring Tamil Nadu. Ruled by the royal family of Travancore from 1729 to 1949, the area is a rich repository of historically significant architecture. After the success of the Muziris Heritage Project in Thrissur and Ernakulam, and similar initiatives at Thalassery and Alappuzha, the government has invested Rs 100 crores in the Travancore Heritage Tourism Project that seeks to conserve the region’s palaces, mansions and temples. Mumbai’s UNESCO-award-winning firm Abha Narain Lambah Associates, which specialises in restoration work, architectural conservation and museum design, has been roped in for the initiative.

Padmanabhaswamy Temple Kerala
The Padmanabhaswamy Temple at Thiruvananthapuram will be restored as part of the Travancore Heritage Tourism Project. (Photo: alionabirukova/Shutterstock)

The first phase of the project will give a facelift to the Padmanabhaswamy Temple at Thiruvananthapuram. Padmanabhaswamy, an avatar of Vishnu, is the tutelary deity of the royal family of Travancore. 21 heritage structures along the 14-kilometre stretch from the adjoining East Fort in the heart of the city to Enjakkal further north will also be lit up with laser lights. Authorities also plan to develop the transport infrastructure in the area. The second phase will see the renovation of several historical monuments in the region such as the Koyikkal Palace in Attingal; the 150-year-old Anantha Vilasam mansion; and the Ranga Vilasam and Sundara Vilasam palaces which date back to 1839. Kilimanoor Palace, which is the birthplace of Raja Ravi Varma, will also undergo restoration. 

Kilimanoor Palace Kerala
Kilimanoor Palace, the birthplace of painter Raja Ravi Varma, is among the historical structures under the Travancore Heritage Tourism Project. (Photo: Courtesy Kerala Tourism)

Apart from royal monuments, the Travancore Heritage Tourism Project will also include places of historical significance such as the Arattu Mandapam, an ancient stone structure at Shanghumugham beach, vintage institutional buildings in Thiruvananthapuram such as the State Central Library and Ayyankali Hall; Anjengo Fort, a former trade settlement of the East India Company; and the 16th-century St Thomas Fort built by the Portuguese at Kollam. “Travancore, with its iconic Kovalam beach and Varkala beach, has always been a great attraction among tourists. The Travancore Heritage Tourism Project, when completed, will enhance this appeal in the coming years,” the state tourism spokesperson tells us.

Virtual travel

Varkala Beach Kerala
Visitors can take a virtual tour of popular destinations in Kerala such as Varkala, Alappuzha and Kumbalangi. (Photo: f9photos/EnvatoElements)

For those who are still hesitant to travel, Kerala tourism has organised a virtual tour of popular destinations in the state. The initiative, which runs till June, will showcase different facets of the state such as its idyllic backwaters, rural life and local art and culture each month via photographs and videos. Armchair travellers can also vote on their favourite destination to be eligible for a monthly lucky draw, the winner of which can avail a four-night stay courtesy Kerala Tourism.

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