My family and I had seen about enough of northern India, said Glenn Kessler in The Washington Post. In two thrilling but exhausting weeks of travel, “we had been to the Taj Mahal” and checked the old stomping grounds of the Rajput kings. We’d wound our way through high, circuitous Himalayan roads and “gorged on rich north Indian food.” But then, on the recommendation of a colleague, we determined to head to the country’s south for the final week. Life is more laid-back there, he told us—and he was right. When we stepped off the plane in Kerala, a four-hour flight from Delhi, “we immediately felt we had traveled to a different country.”

Could this really be India? “The pace was more leisurely, the food was completely different, and the people were friendlier.” Where Mumbai and other cities have been roiled by terrorism, the southern coastal state of Kerala, where we were, seems comparatively “peaceful” and undisturbed. “Kerala is famous for its backwaters, a massive network of meandering, palm-tree-fretted canals that intersect rice fields and farms.” Many tourists come for ayurvedic massage treatments at the area’s “swank resorts.” We had something more adventurous in mind: a night spent in a “converted rice barge” on the backwaters themselves, drifting beneath “a brilliant, star-studded sky.” As it turns out, however, our boat was disappointingly dirty and uncomfortable. We soon concluded that we preferred watching boats to sleeping aboard them.

In the town of Alappuzha, host site for the annual Nehru Trophy Boat Race, we had the chance to watch teams of 100 or more men race across a lake in “massive wooden ‘snake boats’ that are at least 150 feet long.” I couldn’t tell you what the rules are, exactly, but “none of that matters, because the ambience is so wonderful.” A similar spirit of festivity suffused our final stop, Kochi, where we watched performances of kathakali, the region’s distinctive form of dance drama. This strong dose of Hindu culture mixed beguilingly with Kochi’s “overlapping” legacies of Dutch, Portuguese, and even Jewish settlement. Best of all, you can explore Kochi’s historic district entirely on foot—“a welcome change from most sprawling Indian cities, where a walk around town is a virtual impossibility.” We were lucky to have found our way to India’s serene south—and loath to leave.