This is not somewhere you'll want to take the wheel yourself. Ask your hotel to organise you a driver, preferably in a 4x4 for lengthy journeys - and make sure to request a car with seatbelts. The more intrepid might want to hire an Enfield Bullet - the classic motorbike of choice.
Kochi (Cochin) and Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum) are the main airports. If you're flying from the UK, Emirates is a good option, as flies in and out of both from Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow via Dubai. Internally, South India has a busy network of air services. To access Lakshadweep, you'll need to fly from Cochin to Aggatti Island.
Trains are the most popular way to traverse this vast country, and most that travel through Kerala start or finish in Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum), the state capital. Visit the Indian Railways website to book tickets online: http://irctc.co.in. Try and avoid passenger trains; air-conditioned 'superfast' express services are advisable. First-class is recommended although by western standards not necessarily luxurious.
The code for India is 91.
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy; Selected Short Stories by Rabindranath Tagore.
Do go / Don't Go
Tourists tend to prefer Kerala from October to March, when it is sunny but not too hot. After April, temperatures really rise; then, from late June, the monsoon season strikes until early September. But don't be completely deterred by the rain - not only is Kerala still beautiful then, but in this July to September period, it is considered the ideal time to take Ayurvedic treatments.
Kerala has been supplying the rest of the world with spices for centuries, and folk flocked to the Malabar Coast (as this part of the world was known) for its pepper, once referred to as 'black gold'. The distinctive-flavoured curry leaf has a starring role in Keralan cuisine, which is a big celebrator of natural and nutritional spices. Onions, garlic, chillies, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon and cumin are among an aromatic cast of characters, featuring in meat dishes, fish curries and vegetarian cooking.
Ambassadors are the traditional taxi vehicle, and the cost of these is usually about INR 7 a mile. Ask your hotel to book one for you; for the sake of comfort you may want to ask for a Jeep fitted with seatbelts, although this will cost a little more.
In restaurants or hotels a service charge of about 10 per cent is often added, so tipping is optional. Drivers, porters and anyone who helps you will appreciate a monetary thank you - even if it's just a few rupees.
Indian Rupee (INR). And before you cash up ahead of your trip, remember that you're not really supposed to take Indian currency in or out of India.
India kit essentials include a torch, a nail scrubber, hand sanitiser. For dealing with the change in your diet, you may find bringing high-fibre snacks helpful, and, in case you do get an upset tummy, a product such as Floracare (0870 366 5729) is a great standby for restoring a healthy digestive system. Mosis are a big problem, particularly in Fort Cochin, so take lots of clothes that will keep you covered up, especially around the ankles. If you want to avoid chemical-based insect repellents, try Alfresco's Beauty Without Bites (www.alfresco.uk.com).
With such a fascinating history, which has had influences from so many cultures, Kerala's offerings are rich, both architecturally and artistically. If you get the chance to see a Kathakali dance performance, they're worth catching, just to ogle the theatrical headgear and brightly coloured make-up alone.
One anti-bug bite theory is to dose up on Brewer's Yeast, which is rich in vitamin B and then you just won't seem so tasty to the little bloodsuckers.
There are handicrafts emporia, to purchase the many artisan-produced goods such as Kathakali masks - based on the colourful traditional dance costumes. And don't go home without purchasing spices - every aroma and seasoning is on offer here, more than likely at a fraction of the cost back home. The antique shops of Fort Cochin's Jew Town are worth a browse, although the bargains are long-gone. For clothing and pretty toiletries, we love FabIndia (www.fabindia.com). In Alleppey, Maheshwari Fabric Shop on Mullickal Street for cotton shirts, saris, silk.
Take a trip to Kanyakumari, or Kanniyakumarithe, the tippy toe of India, or Cape Comorin, where the three seas meet: the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal.
Take a stroll through Fort Cochin and watch the Chinese fishing nets at work - a postcard-perfect photo opportunity if ever there was one.
January The Great Elephant March in Alleppey (Alappuzha) and Trivandrum (Thiruvananthapuram). April-May sees the most spectacular festival in Medom, Thrissur Pooram, the temple festival. August The second Saturday of the month sees Nehru Snake Boat Race in Alleppey: 100 men in a long, slim boats, rowing and chanting songs and racing along the famous Kerala backwaters. In 2006, a group of foreign women took part for the first time.