Backwaters of Kerala
Kerala's centuries-old, palm fringed and picture perfect backwaters and mirror still lagoons stretch over 1900 kms. Kerala lives along these backwaters. They snake over the land, 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 goods, 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 Kerala.
Gliding 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 nails. Planks 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.
Up 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 Calicutís historic timber trade. The produce of which is believed to have even adorned the courts of King Solomon and Queen Sheba a few millennia ago.
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.
On the 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.
At Kumarakom, 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.
Birds like Siberian Storks migrate here every year. The sanctuary is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Alleppey - Kuttanad
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 apiece.
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.
Come into Cochin (Kochi), Queen of the Arabian Sea. Believed 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.
The 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 Trivandrum.
There 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 little 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.
There 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.
Tourist Village At Akkulam