backwaters and lagoons stretch over 1900 km. Kerala lives along
these backwaters. They snake over the state physique, bestowing
paddy fields with good harvests, and provide the whole village with
drinking water and other facilities. The backwaters refer to the
large inland lakes of Kerala. Today these backwaters act as vital
water ways for the transport of people and produce. They are often
the only link between remote, isolated villages and crowded town
pockets. It's an incredible experience to float on these soothing
waters in a country craft to absorb this unusual representation of
along the calm and serene backwaters flanked by green leaves and
palms, seeing a rural Kerala preserved through the ages and
completely hidden from the road is an enchanting experience to any
visitor, more so while sailing a slow-moving, spacious Kettuvallam.
Alumkadavu, a quiet spot in the town of Karunagapally - hardly 23
kms. north of Quilon (travel time: 30 min) has become a hot point of
Kettuvallam building, with more than a hundred people involved.
These huge, long and tapering barges were traditionally used to move
tones of goods across kingdoms, with a portion covered with bamboo
and coir serving as a rest room and kitchen for the crew. A familiar
sight on the waters, these vessels are built entirely without using
of jack wood are joined together with coir rope and coated with a
caustic black resin made from boiled cashew kernels. With careful
maintenance they last for generations.
Today, widely and appropriately called houseboats, they carry
furnished bedrooms, modern toilets, cozy living rooms, a kitchen and
even a balcony for angling. Some are powered by a 40 HP engine. At
Alumkadavu, you can even find a floating conference hall, designed
to seat 35, with a dais and a sophisticated public address system.
north in Kerala, the meandering backwaters of Calicut (Kozhikode)
lie waiting to be discovered. With a bewitching beauty of its own.
North east of the city, Elathur offers an ideal jump-off base into
the Canoly Canal - a name taken after its British builder and
administrator. The canal links itself to the Kallai River which
unhurriedly threads through the city and offers its shores to
Calicut’s historic timber trade. The produce of which is believed to
have even adorned the courts of King Solomon and Queen Sheba a few
Further south lies Kadalundi with its charming bird sanctuary -
haven to an amazing assortment of delightful water birds.
Another river of the region - Korapuzha - is fast gaining popularity
as the venue of the water sports festival - the Korapuzha Jalotsavam
- staged every August.
you could sail the backwaters in rented houseboats, which are poled
by local oarsmen
and are simply furnished with a living room, a bedroom and bath,
together with a raised central platform creating a private sit-out
for the passengers. Sections of the curved roof of wood or plaited
palm open out to provide shade and allow uninterrupted views. Boat
trains - formed by joining two or more houseboats together - make
for a convenient mode of sightseeing when the company is large. You
could even take a canoe out into the quiet lagoons and spend time
angling. Make sure you sample Karimeen and fresh Toddy - the
favorite fresh-water food and the local wine.
This is an ideal place for backwater cruises. A beautiful backwater
spot accessible from Kumarakom is Alleppey.
shores of the enchanting Vembanad lake, 14 kilometers from Kottayam
(travel time: 20 min), lies Kumarakom in its small-town hush.
Redolent of restful ease.A boat ride into the countryside offers a
close look into an engaging rustic life. Skiff-fishermen launching
their cockleshell boats. Large flotillas of ducks waddling down to
the water from thatched houses on the banks. Women, neck-deep in
water, with their waist-length hair heaped in a crown, searching for
fish with their feet.
A 14 acre bird sanctuary is situated on the eastern banks of the
Vembanad Lake. The sanctuary adds to the natural beauty of Kumarakom.
Birds (waterfowl, water ducks, cuckoos, wild ducks etc.) nest and
spend happy summers here. Birds like Siberian Storks migrate here
every year. The sanctuary is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
network of canals, honey-combing the town of Alleppey (Alappuzha)
has earned for the place
its sobriquet - "The Venice of the East." Small, low-slung country
boats are the taxis of this waterland..
It is a heart-warming sight to see them carry a motley assemblage of
cycles, goats, fisherwomen with cane baskets, school children,
toddy-tappers with their knives and pots, duennas in white with gold
earrings, Syrian Christian priests and a bare-chested boatman
miss out on a ride into Kuttanad through shimmering, green paddy
fields and tail-wagging, head-bobbing groups of ducks. The
coir-workers too present an interesting sight as they soak coconut
fibre in pools, beat them out and weave the tough brown strands into
long ropes on spindles stretched between endless coconut trees.
Alleppey becomes the cynosure of the eyes of the world in August -
September, every year, as it plays host to the celebrated Snake Boat
Races - a water regatta unique to Kerala.
Cochin (Kochi), Queen of the Arabian Sea.
to be the finest natural harbour in the world. With ferry rides
commanding its breathtaking view. Cruise around man-made islands
with lush green lawns sloping down to the water's edge.
Cochin is the oldest European settlement in India. Recording a
history of visitors who came, saw and stayed for hundreds of years.
Layered impressions - Chinese, Arab, Jewish, British, French and
Portuguese, are contained within its environment.
Giant Chinese fishing nets that billow from massive teak and bamboo
poles dot the entrance to the harbour. Silhouetted against the
setting sun, they present a magnificent sight at the waterfront.
A narrow, palm-fringed island, easily accessible from the mainland
is where the Bolghatty Palace is situated. The palace was built by
the Dutch in 1744. Later, it became the seat of the British Resident
of Cochin and today this has been converted into a hotel run by the
KTDC. The palace has a golf course on its grounds.
charming old port city of Quilon (Kollam) on the banks of the
picturesque Ashtamudi Lake is now known more as the centre of cashew
industry. Traces of a once prosperous trade with China are still
seen in the form of Chinese fishing nets, huge Chinese water pots,
blue and white porcelain and sampan-like boats.
Quilon is an inviting gateway to Kerala's backwaters. For an
interesting backwater experience, take the regular ferry to Alleppey
- a rigorous ride lasting more than 8 hours. As the old ferry
putters from one village on the waterfront to another, you are
treated to a full range of lives and activities and some of the most
beautiful scenery imaginable. For the less intrepid, shorter cruises
can be made in the larger comforts of the houseboats with idyllic
villages such as Alumkadavu as your launch base.
The nearest airport, Trivandrum, is 71 kms. away. It takes
fractionally over an hour to get to Quilon by road or rail from
Veli - Akkulam
distance of the capital city Trivandrum (Thiruvananthapuram), is the
Veli - Akkulam lagoon with a delightful waterfront park growing
increasingly popular among the natives and tourists alike.
Only a narrow sandbar separates the lagoon from the sea. You can opt
for rides in motor-driven safari launches, power boats, pedal boats
or row boats. Kayaks and hovercraft attract the brave-hearted. A
floating bridge and a floating restaurant add to the overall
excitement. The eastern end of the lake is flanked by two scenic
hillocks coming through as a perfect hiking ground.
kms. from Trivandrum Airport. The Veli Tourist Village on the
outskirts of Trivandrum is a delightful waterfront park which has
become extremely popular with Trivandrumites. It is a nice place for
tourists with young children to spend an afternoon. There is lots
for the kids to do, and they will meet many of their young Kerala
counterparts, all of whom will be eager to make new friends and try
out their English.
The main attraction at Veli is water - a large inland lake,
separated from the ocean by only a narrow sandbar. For a few rupees,
rides can be had in motor-driven safari launches and power boats, or
a family can drift about in a pedal-boat or a row boat. There are
kayaks, and even hovercraft, for the more intrepid. While skimming
over the lake, visitors will see the local fishermen readying their
boats, working on their nets, or poling sand-laden barges.
is a floating bridge, and a floating restaurant too. Open every day;
boat rides available until 6.00p.m., after which the lake reverts to
the sole use of fishermen.
For your tots, there is a tiny lake within the park, with sturdy,
round "tub boats", equipped with miniature paddles. A small
cafeteria serves ice-cream, cold-drinks and snacks, and the grounds
are dotted with interesting climbing sculptures designed by the
well-known sculptor Kanai Kunjiraman.
are pony rides, and an open air theatre. This serves as a center for
cultural performances and, with the ocean as a backdrop, provides
the setting for an annual arts festival. Check with the Government
Tourist Office in Trivandrum for schedules of any special events.
The park can be reached in a 15 minute taxi ride from Trivandrum.
There are also special bus services to Veil from the city.
is one of the first picnic spots in the suburbs of Trivandrum City.
This place is only 10 kms away from the Central Railway Station. The
spot is developed on the banks of Aakkulam Kayal (lake), which is an
extension of the Veli Kayal (lake). The calm and serene atmosphere
and its unique natural beauty is fascinating for the tourist. The
village consists of the Boat Club, Swimming Pool, Children's Park,
an Anthurium Project and a Snack Bar.
coconut palms and meandering waterways create a magical charm to the
land. special magic of the backwaters: a great and glistening web of
rivers ,canals, lakes and estuaries where time flows at a measured
pace and yesterday and tomorrow merge into an ever-lasting ,
The bluish waterways and the green land mélange to create a mood
that begger description. When you first encounter the backwaters
they look unreal: slow flowing watery highways meandering between
palm-hung banks. Clearly, the best way to encounter these water
lands is to hire a houseboat. These long, broad-beamed, boats were
once rice boats carrying mounds of grain from the Kuttanad , rice
bowl of Kerala, to the great voracious cities. Then a complex of
roads feathered out across the State and the rice boats lost
business to the trucks.
This is when the bright entrepreneurs of Kerala said: "Anything
Kashmir can do, we can do better!" They bought rice boats from the
out-of-work owners, made stately rooms, bathrooms, open-sided
lounges, and kitchens, on board; employed the original owners as
captains and crew on their own boats; brought in a chef and a guide,
and were in business.
can, for instance, choose either to be part of the scene or,
detachedly, away from it. Your houseboat, except when it ties up
alongside in the firefly haunted night, is never so far away from
the banks that you cannot share, vicariously, in the lives of the
people of the backwaters. Yet, you are never really close enough to
become intimately involved in their trials and tribulations. You
can, with complete freedom, pick and choose your passing involvement
as if you were plugged into a Virtual Reality experience.
For the passengers, the backwaters' houseboat experience is a step
further on the rejuvenating trail. The environment of Kerala, the
atmosphere of this green State, is therapeutic in itself. Just being
in Kerala, as we've said, is a health-enhancing experience. But when
you experience it in the peaceful drifting of a houseboat through
the backwaters, you're adding a deep dimension of serenity to your
Squadrons of brown and white ducks paddle past, arrowing for little
thatched-and-tiled settlements on the palm-shaded embankments. Women
hang out bright pennants of washing while their husbands, with bare,
bronzed, bodies, fish with rod and line, or flared filigrees of
nets, or with bows and harpoon arrows, or even with spiked bamboo
probes, extracting skulking crabs from water-lapped eaves of the
here has a water-bias. The morning newspaper, an essential
accompaniment to the first cup of tea, is delivered by skiff; water
taxis convey spade-bearded Syrian Christian priests, school girls in
blue skirts and white blouses, the fish-wives with plastic-lined
baskets filled with mackerel; and a placid buffalo chewing the cud.
All through the day, chug-chugging water-buses hoot and dock gently
against coconut-trunk jetties; a multi-cared racing canoe flees in a
flurry of spray; a fisherman in a circular straw hat bobs in his
dugout, his lines stretched behind him in the late afternoon.
The light softens and the sun is low and gold through the palms and
you realise that you've drifted a whole day away: sipping coconut
water, dining on fresh fish, crabs, steamed idlis and freshly
roasted bananas with the taste and consistency of baked custard.
A church bell peals the evening angelus and women, with scarves
draped over their heads, hurry into a backwaters church. Lights
begin to appear in the thatched and tiled houses of the backwaters,
a dog barks, a cow moos asking to be milked, the sun sinks in a
blaze of golden glory. Constellations twinkle bright over the palms,
thrusting silver starlight into the dark water.
Your houseboat nudges the bank and a boatman leaps ashore, carrying
an electric lead. Soon lights and fans come alive in your floating
home and crickets and frogs, disturbed by your boat, pluck up
courage again and, tentatively at first, and then with increasing
confidence, begin to sing their welcome to the approaching night.
You fall asleep wrapped in tranquillity and to a little night music
from the tiny, green choristers of the backwaters. Generally, a
short session of backwaters serenity is enough to cure most of the
ailments of urban "civilisation," but if you have deeper
disabilities of the mind, the heart, and the body you can walk
further on Kerala's rejuvenating path. You must seek out one of
Kerala's yoga, massage and Ayurvedic healing centres.