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The state of Kerala, located on the Malabar Coast of southwestern India, is known for its geographic diversity and robust festival culture. (Photograph by Robert Harding World Imagery/Alamy Stock Photo)

Free-Wheeling India: Kerala By Bike

Time slows in Kerala.

This narrow state in southern India, between the Arabian Sea and the Western Ghats, is one of the country’s most diverse, crammed with colonial history, wildlife, and changing landscapes—from cool, verdant tea plantations to golden tropical beaches.

In the fall, the monsoon rains have passed, tourists are fewer, and prices drop. Another perk? Autumn’s cooler days allow visitors the perfect chance to take in Kerala like many locals do: by bike.

Peter Bluck, a Kerala cycling guide with Exodus, notes that most roads are paved, making it possible to wind through timeless villages, visit centuries-old forts of Hindu temples, spot elephants, watch the thatched kettuvallam houseboats drift downriver, or just enjoy a perfect cup of tea.

“It’s likely someone will invite you into their home,” says Bluck, who calls Kerala the “friendliest state in India.” He adds, “You can’t get a better experience than home cooking and Keralan hospitality.”

Kerala’s famous spices and abundant coconuts give the region a reputation for one of India’s most exciting cuisines, especially vegetarian food and spicy Chettinad curries—perfect for refueling after a tough, or even a very gentle, day’s ride.

Where to Stay: 

The slower pace of fall in Kerala will make it easier to book yourself a palace.

Live like India’s kings of old at Chittoor Kottaram in Kochi, Kerala’s second largest city after its capital, Thiravananthapuram.

Chittoor Kottaram is a single-key, three-room hotel, which means not having to share your temporary royal residence with too many other guests. The food here is vegetarian, based on the sadya, a regional style of cooking. There’s no alcohol, either.

All this reflects the simplicity of the traditional, almost minimalist lifestyles of the old rajahs who lived or stayed here, though there are clear signs of luxury, not least the pure silverware used at dinner.

This article was adapted from the National Geographic book Four Seasons of Travel.