CHERUTHURUTHY, on the banks of the Bharatpuzha (aka “Nila”) River 32km north of Thrissur, is internationally famous as the home of Kerala Kalamandalam, the state’s flagship training school for kathakali and other indigenous Keralan performing arts. The academy was founded in 1927 by the revered Keralan poet Vallathol (1878–1957), and has since been instrumental in the large-scale revival of interest in unique Keralan art forms. Non-Hindus are welcome to attend performances of kathakali, kudiyattam and mohiniyattam performed in the school’s wonderful theatre, which replicates the style of the wooden, sloping-roofed traditional kuttambalam auditoria found in Keralan temples. You can also sit in on classes, watch demonstrations of mural painting, and visit exhibitions of costumes by signing up for the fascinating “a day with the masters” cultural programme (Mon–Sat 9.30am–1.30pm; $20, including lunch).
Buses heading to Shoranur from Thrissur’s Priya Darshini (aka “Wadakkancheri”) stand pass through Cheruthuruthy; the nearest mainline railway station is Shoranur Junction, 3km south, served by express trains to and from Mangalore, Chennai and Kochi. The former palace of the Raja of Cochin, the three-star hotel and ayurveda spa occupies an idyllic position on the banks of the Nila, where you can admire a crystalline pool, partly shaded by coconut palms.
GURUVAYUR, 19km west of Thrissur, is the site of South India’s most revered Krishna temple, with hundreds of thousands of Hindu pilgrims pouring in year round to worship at the shrine. As usual, non-Hindus are barred from entering, but it’s still worth coming on a day-trip to visit the Punnathur Kotta Elephant Camp, 4km north of town, where the temple’s elephants reside. Some 67 pachyderms, aged from 8 to 95, live in the park, munching for most of the day on specially imported piles of fodder. They’re cared for by their personal mahouts, who wash and scrub them several times a week in the sanctuary pond. As with domestic elephants everywhere, only approach an animal if the wardens allow you, as they can be unpredictable and dangerous.