The New York Times recently published their list of '52 places to visit in 2023'. From South Asia, Kerala & Sri Lanka have made the curation. The South Asian landscape is abundantly diverse in its topography, from mountain ranges to deserts and luscious ghats to islands; there are plenty of scenic destinations in and around India alone, but let's take a took at how these two are special.
Both Kerala and Sri Lanka are filled with lush greenery, rainforests, tea-plantations, rivers, waterfalls, beaches and wildlife sanctuaries. They share a moderate climate throughout the year although summers recently have been hotter due to global warming. While Kerala is sandwiched between Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea, Sri Lanka lies between its own mountains and the Indian Ocean. Similar tropical weather conditions and rainfall leads to similar flora and produce in both regions.
Coconut is prevalent in both the places. 40% of Kerala's land is covered by coconut trees and Sri Lanka is the fourth largest producer of coconut in the world. Their cuisines are heavily coconut-based whether in the form of oil, desiccated or scraped coconut, or coconut milk.
Rice is also the staple food for both Kerala and Sri Lanka. Rice and curries made with coconut are found abundantly in these regions, as are tropical fruits such as pineapples, mangoes, bananas and jackfruits. Curry leaves, turmeric, chilli and mustard seeds are also frequently used in cooking here.
Fish is vital to the cuisines of Kerala & Sri Lanka as well. One of Sri Lanka’s favourite hot and peppery fish dishes is the ambul thiyal, prepared with halibut or tuna in a bath of gravy. Similarly, the Malayali fish curries are also popular from fish mappa to meen alleppey, and the karimeen (pearl spot fish) fry, served on a banana leaf.
If you are a fan of fauna, Kerala & Sri Lanka have plenty of wildlife sanctuaries like Idukki, Periyar, Udawalawe & Wasgumuwa for example. You can check out tigers, the great Indian hornbill, Indian bison, panthers and the lion-tailed macaque in Kerala, or head over to Sri Lanka and look at sloth bears, chitals, jungle fowls, elephants and the critically endagenderd hog deer.
Both Kerala and Sri Lanka are rich in culture, cuisine, wildlife and natural beauty. They offer the perfect escape especially for people living in concrete jungles. But South Asians already know this. I think these places may have been the only ones to make NY Times' list due to their 'exotic' nature. Serene backwaters, dense rainforests, colourful vegetation, elephants, the market flaunting native street foods, a variety of curry-based dishes sizzling with herbs and spices, Ayurvedic massages, intricate Dravidian architecture and vibrant cultural festivals is how I'd imagine India if I was of the caucasian persuasion.
Looking at it from a global perspective, it's also worth noting that both Kerala and Sri Lanka come under UNESCO's biodiversity hotspots. They're one of the few places in the world that haven't lost their natural heritage and their water bodies, forests and wildlife are protected.
So while it's great to see their names making the respected NY Times' list as a South Asian, we should always ensure that tourism is done sensibly, sustainably and responsibly.