BACKWATERS AND HOUSEBOATS CRUISES IN KERALA

BACKWATERS OF KERALA

Kerala is famous for its backwaters, a massive network of meandering, palm-tree-lined canals that lie in the coastal strip between the Arabian Sea and the Western Ghats, intersecting rice fields and farms and linking towns and cities. Forty-one rivers and more than a thousand shallow backwater canals crisscross Kerala, nourishing rice plantations and providing thoroughfares for shallow-bottomed boats throughout the state. People can travel slowly between cities, towns and villages on these canals, which provide a nice alternative to the crowded, dangerous buses. You can relax in the Kettuvallims, houseboats made from jackwood planks sewn together with ropes. Many of the canals in the Kochi area and central Kerala are fed by the 83-kilometer-long Vembanad Lake.

The backwaters are the setting for “The God of Small Things,” by Arundhati Roy. Davin O'Dwyer wrote in the Washington Post: “The vast rice paddies of this area are an almost luminous jade, fringed with palm trees and banana plants. The wetlands area around Kuttanad is a dense maze of canals, rivers and lake, largely south of the Vembanad lake, one of the largest in India. The mythology has it that Kerala was created when Parasurama, an incarnation of Vishnu, threw his battle axe into the sea, resulting in this conflicted countryside, neither all water nor all land. [Source: Davin O'Dwyer, Washington Post, March 8, 2014]

“A voyage along the backwaters on one of the traditional thatched boats is one of the quintessential Kerala experiences; the kettuvallam, as they are known, were once used to carry rice and passengers around the waterways and are now being adapted as houseboats, many extremely luxurious. They come in all shapes and sizes, the roofs usually bowed, curving gracefully toward the water.

Vembanad Lake

Vembanad Lake is one of the biggest freshwater lakes in Kerala and lies at the heart of the state’s backwaters. Surrounded by forests and coconut trees, the lake has a mirror-like sheen, and is great place to kick back and enjoy a leisurely-paced houseboat ride. These cruises let tourists explore the interiors of the region, taking them to tiny hamlets and lagoon islands. The tranquil backwater cruises in the lake are a unique experience, be it short ones in small canoes or boats, which meander through narrow canals, or longer stays on luxurious houseboats, which let you float along the emerald waters in style as palm and coconut trees and lush green countryside glides by.

Vembanad Lake is the longest lake in India, measuring 83.72 kilometers in length and 14.48 kilometers wide at its widest point. Separated from the Arabian Sea by less than five kilometers of land in some places, it contains a small and beautiful island called Pathiramanal (meaning midnight sands. A birdwatcher's haven, the island seems to float on the backwaters and boasts around 50 species of migratory and 91 types of endemic birds. Some of the common birds one can sight here include common teal, pintail ducks, cormorant, night heron, darter, Indian shag, whistling duck, little cormorant and whiskered tern. The island is also home to many medicinal plants.

The best time to visit the lake is in August and September, when it becomes the focal point of several festivals. During the harvest festival of Onam, snake boat races are organised and it is amazing to see about a hundred people in one boat, slicing their way through the waters. An important feature of the lake is the Thanneermukkom Bund, a saltwater barrier and the largest mud regulator in the country that divides the lake into two - one half with perennial salty water and the other with fresh water enriched by the rivers.

Houseboat Cruising in the Kerala Backwaters

The backwaters of Kerala, running parallel to the Arabian Sea, are one of the most popular tourist destinations in India. Alleppey, or Alappuzha, is especially popular for its houseboat cruises. It is possible to explore the backwaters for a short time or a day trip in small canoes, kayaks or boats, or indulge in a multi-day luxurious houseboat tour, with first rate meals, Ayurvedic treatments and organized activities and sightseeing on the shores.

The houseboats that ply here are modified kettuvallams or large traditional trading vessels used for transportation of rice and spices to nearby towns. As road transport gained importance, these graceful sailing behemoths faded away, only to re-emerge as floating hotels offering tourists all the luxuries of modern life. While the scenic beauty around the waterways is mesmerising, these spacious and well-decorated houseboats add to the charm of the experience.

Traditionally, a kettuvallam would be around 60 feet long and about 15 feet wide at the beam. Some of the new houseboats have a length of more than 80 feet. Constructed from locally sourced natural materials such as jackfruit tree wood, palm wood, coconut fibre, bamboo poles, ropes, bamboo mats etc, these boats offer guilt-free tripping. They are constructed by tying together (rather than nailing) wooden planks with coconut coir. The planks are coated with resin extracted from cashew nut shells. Bamboo poles and palm leaves are used for constructing the roof. Some of these boats also have solar panels for generating electricity. If carefully maintained, these boats can last for decades.

Traveling By Houseboat in the Kerala Backwaters

On a short overnight stay on the houseboat, one traveler wrote in the Washington Post: “Some friends have recommended it, saying the boats are very comfortable and the experience quite romantic. It certainly is a booming business, with all of the old rice barges now turned into houseboats, scores of them heading off into the backwaters every evening. [Source: Washington Post, September 14, 2009]

“But we learn the hard way that not all boats are created equal. Our travel agent in New Delhi had contracted with a subagent in Kerala for the boat, and somehow we end up with a fully crewed four-bedroom boat that is neither clean nor comfortable. It’s an exceedingly quiet night, but none of us sleeps a wink. The noisy air conditioning barely functions, the beds are uncomfortable, and the sheets and towels are covered with dust; we all feel — or imagine — bugs crawling over us.

“The ebb and flow of river life are interesting: screaming babies being bathed by their mothers, schoolchildren coming home in canoes in drenching rain, young couples paddling home with their daily purchases. But unless you are sure the boat you hire will be clean and comfortable, I would make this a day trip...We had a bad experience, but others have loved it. If you are game, you might try renting a houseboat at the Coconut Lagoon (www.cghearth.com/coconut””lagoon/index.htm), which is on Vembanad Lake and offers luxury options.

Alappuzha (Alleppey): the Center of Houseboat Tourism in Kerala

Alappuzha (also known as Alleppey) (65 kilometers south of Kochi, 80 kilometers north of Kollam) is sometimes called the "Venice of the East." Situated on Vembanad lake, it lies in the middle of a region laced with a multitude of vegetation-choked canals and channels, which can be explored on 60-foot diesel powered boats. One can stay here on a houseboat or hotel on the lake or even a beach hotel like the Raheem Residency, crafted out of a colonial villa dating to 1868 and situated on the Arabian Sea,.

Snuggled in the heart of Kerala's backwaters, Alappuzha is home to over a thousand houseboats. Known for its Arabian Sea beaches, calm backwaters, enthusiastic boat races and sea food, this green, tropical town is one of Kerala’s most popular tourist destinations. Ayurvedic spas and wellness centers are almost as plentiful as the houseboats.

Former viceroy of British India, Lord Curzon, was enthralled the beauty of Alleppey, as Alappuzha was known in colonial times, he said, "Here, nature has spent upon the land of her richest bounties. Alleppey, the Venice of the East.” And that is how this city earned its nickname. Cruising through the backwaters in simple canoes or the more ostentatious houseboats is Alappuzha's most prominent attraction. Flanked by emerald green paddy fields, punted canoes and quaint villages, these cruises are a must-try.

The town itself is more like a typical Indian city. Davin O'Dwyer wrote in the Washington Post: “The busy coastal city of Alleppey...is one of those chaotic, choked Indian towns that thrum with an anarchic energy, where speeding rickshaws and mopeds play real-life dodg―em on the streets before being held up by the occasional elephant progressing along in stately fashion.” [Source: Davin O'Dwyer, Washington Post, March 8, 2014]

Popular destinations include Pathiramanal Island, the small town of Ambalapuzha (12 kilometers away) and Arthunkae (a major pilgrimage center for Christians), Chettikulangara Bhagavathy Temples supposedly contains a deity with miraculous healing powers. Krishnapuram Palace is a beautiful double-story building with antique sculptures, paintings, bronzes and one the largest mural panels in Kerala. Mannarsala (32 kilometers from Alleppey) is one of the most important centers of serpent worship in India.

Getting There: By Air: Kochi is the nearest airport from Alappuzha around 82 kilometers away. By Road: The railhead at Alappuzha is connected to all the major cities of the country. By Train: The city is well-connected with good roads and national highways within the state and other cities in India. Hotel: The 10-room Raheem Residency (Beach Road, 011-91-477-2230767, www.raheemresidency.com) offers a beach-side location with large rooms in a converted colonial villa. The restaurant, with its views over the Arabian Sea, is spectacular, with a new menu every night. Prices range from $115 to $215 depending on room size and season. [Source: Washington Post, September 14, 2009]

Backwater Travels Around Alleppey

Cruises around Alappuzha happen in the waters in and around the Vembanad Lake. These cruises take tourists the interiors of the region, allowing them to explore tiny hamlets and lagoon islands. On the boats themselves one can enjoy traditional cuisine and Ayurvedic massages. Davin O'Dwyer wrote in the Washington Post: “We take an overnight cruise, meeting our charming crew of three at the busy coastal city of Alleppey... Once you’re on the water, the delirium of Alleppey fades to a dim memory, replaced by a pervasive calm. A cruise along the canals is captivating — so serene, so tranquil that it weaves a kind of meditative spell, like a deep-tissue massage for the soul. We slowly glimpse the quotidian charms of local life here — the beautiful little cottages along the waterways, with moored boats instead of parked cars; small shops and toddy bars; numerous churches, some daringly modern in style, others tracing their roots back to the time of St. Thomas, the doubting apostle, who is said to have arrived in these parts in the 1st century. [Source: Davin O'Dwyer, Washington Post, March 8, 2014]

“As the houseboat chugs along, we regularly hear the slap-slap-slap of cloth smacking against stone as mothers do the family laundry by the water’s edge while children pause in their games and wave in our direction. The captain docks the houseboat beneath some palm trees as we stop for lunch, and we become distracted by a most unusual sight: A lone duck herder on a canoe is expertly chaperoning a flock of hundreds of quacking ducks along the water, steering them this way and that with the use of a very long stick, both paddle and conductor’s baton, with which he propels himself and splashes the water to keep his charges on course, corralling them toward his colleagues on the riverbank. With the ducks safely home, the herder moves on to do it all again with another flock, an act of Sisyphean patience.

“Later, we pass a cramped cricket game unfolding in the space between some palm trees, a scrawny wicket worn on the wiry grass. The boys wield their bats expertly, accounting for the tree trunks as if they were rival players. They, too, stop and smile and wave, the sense of hospitality boundless.

“As the afternoon draws to a close, we take a canoe along a narrow canal, passing small, pretty cottages, and then walk along the small dams near the rice paddies, bending to duck beneath the broad leaves of banana trees. With the sun setting to the west, the rice paddies before us glow an iridescent green. It’s a dazzling sight, a vivid example of Kerala’s natural beauty. We return to the houseboat as darkness falls and the vibrant colors fade to black. Whirring bugs accumulate in the air around us, and we catch a faint call to prayer echoing from a distant minaret and enthusiastic singing drifting over the water from a nearby church. God’s own country, they call it. We close our eyes on the natural splendor, and believe.”

Alappuzha to Kollam Houseboat Cruise

A popular Kerala backwater experience is the eight-hour boat trip between Kollam and Alappuzha. Kollam (66 kilometers north of Thiruvananthapuram) is a modest city famous for palm-lined canals. Marco Polo stopped here on his sea journey from China to Venice in 1291-95. It was once a major trading center that served Chinese, Romans, Arabs and — possibly — Phoenicians mariners and welcomed Portuguese, British and Dutch merchant ships. Marco Polo and Ibn Batuta described it as a commercial hub. But these days ended a long time ago when the port silted up. Many people today are in the shrimp or cashew business.

Kollam (also known as Quilon) lies between the Arabian Sea and a maze of lagoons and streams. The city is known for its historical ruins, beautiful Taj Mahal-like mosque with pink trim and temples built in the tradition ornate Kerala style. There are bustling markets with farmers selling cashewnuts and spices. At its heart is the picturesque Ashtamudi Lake lined with cashew plantations, palm trees and quaint villages. Kollam is fondly called the cashew capital of the world as it is home to over 600 cashew processing units. The city also acts as the southern gateway to the tranquil backwaters of Alappuzha.

Ashtamudi Lake is fringed by swaying coconut palms and lush foliage. This 16-kilometer-long pristine lake is an idyllic site to enjoy serene houseboat cruises and boat rides. The cruise takes you from Kollam to Alappuzha in over eight hours. The boat ride not only offers you glimpses of abundant flora as it takes you through coconut groves, red cliffs and palms, but also introduces you to the village life of locals residing by the lake. This tranquil lake gets its name from its eight arms or channels (ashta means eight). The lakeis connected to the sea through the picturesque Neendakara estuary.

Munroe Island (at Ashtamudi Lake) is nestled in the beautiful backwaters of Kollam. Surrounded by the serene Ashtamudi Lake and Kallada river, the island offers amazing views of verdant coconut plantations. The best way to enjoy the tranquillity of the island is to take a canoe ride through the narrow canals of the backwaters. The ride takes you through tiny hamlets located along the backwaters and provides a glimpse of the daily life of villagers. The best rides are the ones taken during early morning and evening because they offer you a chance to witness ethereal sunrises and sunsets. The authentic food joints located at the island provide tempting delicacies made from coconut oil. The island is also famous for hosting the Kallada Boat Race, which is held here during the 10-day long Onam festival. The island has been named after Resident Colonel John Munroe of the former princely state of Travancore who is credited with integrating several backwater regions by digging canals. The island is located on the outskirts of the city and makes for a great one day trip.

Thevally Palace is a popular stop on houseboat tours in Ashtamudi Lake. This palace was once the residence of the king of Travancore. A blend of Portuguese, British and Dutch architecture, the palace speaks volumes about the glorious past of the princely reign. Nestled amidst coconut groove and palm trees, it boasts picturesque surroundings that can be enjoyed from the top of the building. It is also an engineering marvel and has been plastered using laterite and lime to keep the interiors cool during the summer season. The palace was constructed between 1811 and 1819 during the rule of Gauri Parvathy Bai, queen of Travancore. It was used for conducting meetings of the rulers with British officials. According to legend the palace was witness to the beautiful love story of a British official and a local woman. While the British man lived across the palace, the woman resided in the palace. It is believed that the two lovers communicated through a dog, in whose memory, a monument was raised in the Thevally Palace.

Kumarakom

Kumarakom (50 kilometers south of Kochi) is sprawled along the shores of Vembanad Lake and is noted for its tranquil backwaters. Cruising in houseboats along the lake and checking out the splendid beauty of the surroundings and absorbing the local culture of the quaint hamlets lying on the fringes, is an unforgettable experience. Kumarakom is renowned for a bird sanctuary, which is home to hundreds of species endemic and migratory birds, including larks, flycatchers, parrots, teals, Siberian cranes, owls, water duck, and waterfowls.

Some cruises specialize in birdwatching. There are also wildlife-viewing towers. For a more comprehensive experience, tourists can stay in independent cottages built on stilts at the backwater resort of Kerala Tourism Development Corporation (KTDC).To explore more of the rural culture of Kumarakom, you can book homestays or hire a local guide to take you through the village. Sample authentic dishes, go fishing with a fisherman or watch as artisans transform a rough wooden block into a work of art.

Getting There: By Air: Kochi is the nearest airport, which is connected with major Indian and international cities. By Road: Good roads connect Kumarakom with all major towns and cities in South India. By Train: Kottayam is the nearest railhead that is linked with all major towns and cities in the country.

Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary

Spread over 14 hectare, the Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary is located on the banks of Lake Vembanad in Kottayam. It is a popular destination for birdwatching as migratory birds flock here in large numbers from Siberia and the Himalayas. The best season to visit the sanctuary is between June and August as it is the breeding season for wetland birds like white ibis, herons, egrets, little cormorants, Indian darters and kingfishers. Some other not-to-be-missed avian species are wood beetles, larks, flycatchers, parrots, teals, Siberian cranes, owls, water duck and waterfowls.

An intriguing way to visit the sanctuary is on a boat trip that gives a closer look of the birds flocking around the water body. For a more comprehensive experience, tourists can stay in independent cottages on stilts at the backwater resort of Kerala Tourism Development Corporation (KTDC).

Tourists can also head to Vembanad Lake, which is one of the biggest freshwater lakes in Kerala. A serene spot for a family picnic, boating, fishing and sightseeing, it makes for a perfect conclusion to your visit to the bird sanctuary.

Kumarakom Backwaters

Kumarakom is home to a number of luxury resorts that offer a lot of options to explore the pristine backwaters of Kumarakom. Tourists can either take a motor boat or choose between a houseboat and a country boat. The Government Boat Jetty is the most pocket friendly and offers a chance to soak in the scenic beauty of Kerala's villages. Kerala Tourism Development Corporations backwater resort, Waterscapes, offers independent cottages that are built on stilts in the middle of coconut groves. Tourists can either take an early morning ride or an evening ride.

For an unforgettable experience in the backwaters of Kumarakom, hire a houseboat for a full day trip and wander through the gorgeous greens and deep blues of nature. The picturesque lake in Kumarakom is best visited during Onam when the place comes alive with exciting snake boat races. It's an amazing experience to watch large teams of rowers slicing their way through the backwaters singing songs and competing to win. At any given point of time, the alluring backwaters of Kumarakom are occupied by traditional country rafts, boats and canoes. The backwaters are also blessed with a rich variety of flora and fauna and a rich marine life. The popular karimeen or pearl spotted fish is exclusively found in Kumarakom. Other marine creatures found in the region are tiger prawns and crabs.

Aymanam ( on the outskirts of Kumarakom, near Kottayam) is a quaint hamlet set amidst delightful views of lush paddy fields and the pristine Meenachil river, This scenic village, located by the Vembanad Lake, was backdrop for Arundhati Roy's Booker Prize winning novel, “The God of Small Things.” Tourists can explore the area in a canoe that passes through the winding canals around the lake. Dotted with gorgeous houses built in typical Kerala architecture, Aymanam also provides great homestay options for tourists, which allow them to interact with the hospitable locals and get a glimpse of their culture. Tourists can also visit a Kathak master's house in Aymanam, which makes for a quintessential Kerala experience. You will not only get introduced to the traditional theater form but the hosts would also be kind enough to invite you to share a home cooked meal with them.

Another good to explore the area is walking past swaying coconut trees and observing the daily life of village folks. Aymanam is also home to a few temples and churches. The St George Jacobite Syrian Christian Church located in Kallumkathra is known for its splendid architecture. The modern red and yellow tile flooring of the well maintained church complex leads you to the magnificent white building surrounded by lush coconut trees. The church was built two centuries. Then, there is St Mark's CSI Church in Olassa, which is surrounded by lush lawns and is one of the most beautiful spots in Aymanam. Another attraction is Sree Narasimha Swamy Temple, dedicated to Narasimha, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. The temple draws huge crowds during the months of August and September when the main festival of the temple is celebrated and a ritualistic procession called Arattu is held on the day of Thiruvonam. Narasimha Jayanthi is celebrated with great fervour in May. Another popular temple is the Pandavam Sree Darmashasta Temple. According to legend, the temple was built by the Pandavas during their exile. Check out the imposing murals of Hindu deities, which are the temple's most arresting feature.

Kumarakom Lake Resort

Patricia Leigh Brown wrote in the New York Times: “On the way to Kumarakom Lake Resort, accompanied by George Joseph, an astute cultural observer and steely-nerved driver, we passed women with jasmine garlands in their hair, open-air trucks bursting with warty brown jackfruit, markets where men balanced green bundles of curry leaves on their heads, their aromatic trail hanging in the moist air. By a narrow bridge we saw a road sign I took to heart. “Hurry Causes Worry,” it said. [Source: Patricia Leigh Brown, New York Times, August 13, 2006]

“The resort is situated on the backwaters, a languorous tropical labyrinth of lakes, lagoons and shady channels brimming with village life, navigable by dugout canoe or traditional Keralan longboat, called a kettu vallam. Kumarakom Lake mixes no-nonsense ayurveda and palm-fringed restaurants with piped-in Glen Campbell and Kingfisher beer. Fishermen drift past in dugout canoes propelled by poles. The contrasts that make India India are here in abundance.

“Like Kalari Kovilakom, Ayurmana at Kumarakom Lake plays up its historic pedigree: its “heritage” building, which was moved to the resort from its original location, is said to be the ancestral home of renowned ayurvedic practitioners. Exhibited in the open-air courtyard, Japanese in its simplicity, is hallowed ayurvediana, including ancient clay vessels storing medicated ghee.

“I actually had a vision of Dick Cheney when I finally experienced sirodhara, a signature ayurvedic treatment that Dr. Sreelatha and others had cautioned could lead to emotional melt-down. Warm oil is released above you in a steady pendulum stream, your forehead a windshield and the oil, the wiper. “Feelings of deep panic were eventually supplanted by one of utter defenselessness in which, I was certain, all dark information about my past could be gleaned. Sirodhara struck me as an immensely powerful tool for extracting secrets.

“Kumarakom Lake Resort, Backwaters. Room rates for doubles range from $250 to $650 plus tax through September, higher beginning in October; ayurvedic treatments extra; packages available; (91-481-2524900 or 2524501 or 2525431; www.klresort.com).

Kottayam

Kottayam (50 south-southeast of Kochi. 10 kilometers east of souther Vembanad Lake) is a major commercial center sandwiched between the Western Ghats and palm-line backwaters with brackish water lagoons, emerald paddy fields. The landscape is so dominated by rivulets and canals it almost seems like an island. From cruising gently along the waters in a houseboat to sailing in canoes, there are a number of ways to explore the beauty of Kottayam, which is also a birdwatcher's haven. Traversing across the Vembanad Lake, one can come across some rare avian species like egrets, darters, herons, teals and Siberian storks.

Bordered by the lofty Western Ghats on the east and the tranquil Vembanad Lake on the west, Kottayam was the first Indian town to achieve 100 per cent literacy in 1989.Kottayam also occupies an important position on the cultural map of Kerala. The first autobiography in Malayalam by Vaikom Pachu Moothathu, a scholar, was published from Kottayam in 1870. It is also called the city of latex, as most of the country's rubber comes from the plantations here. The word 'Kottayam' means the interior of a fort. It is called so as it was formerly a part of the princely state of Travancore.. It is popularly known as Akshara Nagari, which means the city of letters, considering its contribution to print media and literature.

Getting There: By Air: The nearest airport is Kochi Airport, 53 kilometers away from Kottayam. By Road: There are regular buses from other major cities of the country to Kottayam. By Train: One can easily get regular trains to Kottayam from other major cities of the country.

Sights in and Around Kottayam

Among the places of interest in Kottayum are Thirunakkara, an interesting Kerala-style temple with a lovely dancing hall and a multitude of painting on he wall; St. Mary's Church (Valiapally), believed to have bee constructed in 1515; and St. Mary's Church (Cheriyapally), with exquisite paintings of Biblical and non-Biblical themes. Mannanam (eight kilometers away) and Bharanangnanam (five kilometers away) are both important Christian centers.

Outside of Kottayam you can see Ettumanoor (13 kilometers away), a Kerala-style Shiva temple with a circular copper-plated shrine, a copper-plated stupa, and exquisite mural paintings and sculptures; Thikkodithanam (24 kilometers away), a temple believed to be one the original five Vishnu temples of the Pandvas; Pund Areekapuram, small temple famous foe exquisite wall paintings of Hindu myths;

Poonjar Palace (in Meenachil taluk) is one of the most interesting heritage sites in the area. With mesmerising architecture that includes walls featuring sculptures with warfare stories from the Puranas, it houses an extraordinary collection of antiques and furniture that includes a palanquin, a droni (wooden table) carved out of a single piece of wood and used for Ayurvedic massages, huge chandeliers, palm leaf engravings, jewel boxes, a variety of lamps, sculptures of Nataraja (dancing Lord Shiva), statues and weapons. The palace also houses a unique and well-preserved couch that is taken out every year during festivals and rituals. Another special feature of the palace is the chuttuvilakku (row of lamps) carved out on the stonewalls of the Sastha Temple nearby. Such rock-cut lamps are rare in India.

Ilaveezha Poonchira (60 kilometers northeast of Kottayam) is a beautiful hill station located between three hillocks — Mankunnu, Kudayathoormala and Thonippara. The beautiful valleys of Poonchira are spread across thousands of acres, with the lush landscape surrounded by gigantic hills reaching up to an altitude of about 3,200 feet. The name 'Ilaveezhapoonchira' means valley where leaves don't fall. It is called so as the area has no trees. Monsoon is the best time to visit this area as the town transforms into a surreal landscape, enveloped in rainy mist. Ilaveezhapoonchira also invites trekkers as there are many challenging trails in the hillocks nearby. According to legend there was once a pool here, which was used by Panchali, the wife of the Pandavas from the epic Mahabharata, for bathing.

Thiruvallam Backwater in Southern Kerala

Backwaters can be found inland from the Arabian Sea along almost the entire length of western Kerala. Thiruvallam (south of Thiruvananthapuram) has a scenic stretch of where the Rivers Killi and Karamana meet, before becoming one with the sea. Situated in southern Kerala, south of the state’s capital, are ideal for kayaking, canoe rides and cruises in kettuvallams.

While the scenic beauty around the waterways is mesmerising, these spacious and well-decorated houseboats add to the charm of the experience. Traditionally, a kettuvallam would be around 60 feet long and 15 feet wide at the beam. Some of the new houseboats have a length of more than 80 ft! Constructed from locally sourced natural materials such as jackfruit tree wood, palm wood, coconut fibre, bamboo poles, ropes, bamboo mats etc., these boats offer guilt-free tripping.

Regular trips are organised by the Boat Club to the nearby islands of Edayar and Pozhikara, as well as to a few coir manufacturing units. The Akkulam Boat Club offers facilities for boating on Akkulam Lake. A short distance from Thiruvallam lies Veli Lagoon, another great place for water sports. The lagoon comprises a waterfront park and a floating bridge as well.

Valiyaparamba Backwaters in Northern Kerala

Valiyaparamba Backwaters (300 kilometers north of Kochi, 30 kilometers from the coastal town of Bekal) is a secluded and stunning span of backwater stretches in northern Kerala with lush green flora, sparkling blue backwaters and an unspoilt beach. Valiyaparamba has emerged as a premier tourist backwater resort, thanks to the gorgeous islands dotting it but it is still very peaceful and non-commercialised. Take a soothing boat ride at sunset and witness the place at its scenic best as you pass through pretty islands adorned with swaying coconut trees. Tourists can either hire house boats or take the public jetty to explore the natural beauty of the backwaters. You can also picnic along the shores.

Mallikarjuna Temple (near Ullal) is dedicated to Lord Shiva and fringed by swaying coconut and palm trees.The Kumbala river flowing close by, adds to the picturesque beauty of the place. According to legend, the idol of Lord Shiva in the temple was installed by Arjuna, one of the Pandavas from the Hindu epic Mahabharata. The temple is also popular for hosting the annual Jathra Mahotsavam during the month of March. One of the major attractions here is the Yakshagana performance, which takes place every evening in the temple premises. Another highlight of the temple are the yearly Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations that invite thousands of pilgrims from all parts of the state. The temple is located at the heart of Kasargod town and can easily be reached from Bekal.

Ananthapura Lake Temple (30 kilometers from Bekal) is strikingly beautiful 9th century temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu situated in the middle of a lake. Devotees need to cross a bridge to reach the sanctum sanctorum of the temple. The temple is also noted for being home to a 150-year-old crocodile, who is called Babia/ Babiya, and is considered to be the guardian of the temple. Visitors to the temple make sure to get a glimpse of the crocodile.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: India tourism website ( incredibleindia.org), India’s Ministry of Tourism and other government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.

Updated in August 2020

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