The green, sinuous, palm-hung backwaters of Kerala are unique. More beautiful than the canals in Thailand, infinitely less crowded than those in Milan, the backwaters of Kerala offer an enchanting experience of fun and relaxation and a chance to see authentic local life. Out of their uniqueness has been born a way of life that today is attracting thousands of travellers from all over the globe seeking serenity in this flowing, emerald land for vacations.
For many years the backwaters remained Kerala's best-kept secret. Once just the state's trade highways, the palm-fringed, tranquil waterways are now a major tourist attraction in Kerala. The best way to enjoy the Kerala backwaters is to take a cruise on a Kettuvallam (house-boat). The point is not to get anywhere, but to drift languidly through ethereal beauty. It is astonishingly romantic to watch the sunset from one Kettuvallam among several, as you pass a world of coconut trees, marshy groves, shallow lakes, deep canals, and long boats. Your backwater odyssey will have twittering kingfishers, eye-catching cormorants and gliding ducks. The coastline of Kerala is dotted with delightful backwater destinations.
Alappuzha is one of the major centres for backwater tour in Kerala. The intricate network of canals through this town has earned it the sobriquet "The Venice of the East". Small but long country boats are the taxies of the water. The coir workers present an interesting sight as they soak coconut fibre in pools, beat them and wind the strands on long spindles stretched between an endless line of coconut trees.
Veli Aakulam Backwaters
A short distance from Thiruvananthapuram, is the Veli Aakulam lagoon. Water sports, a floating restaurant, an amusement park, speedboats and other facilities make this a hot-spot tourist destination in Kerala. The east end of the lake is flanked by two scenic hillocks.
The charming old port city of Kollam on the banks of the Ashtamudi Lake is known as the centre of the cashew industry. It is one of the oldest ports of the backwaters, with the ferry to Alappuzha taking more than 8 hours.
A small village 12 kilometre west of Kottayam town, on the banks of the beautiful Vembanad Lake, Kumarakom is 14-acre bird sanctuary known for local varieties of water fowl, cuckoo, water ducks, and migrating Siberian storks. Just 80 kilometres from Kochi (Cochin), this area has unique Kettuvalloms, boat racing, motorboat and water sport facilities. The houseboats, plied by local oarsmen, are simply furnished with a living room, bedroom with attached bath and a raised central deck for lazing on cushions while watching the world go by.
In north Kerala, the cool backwaters of Kozhikode lie waiting to be explored. This old commercial town attracts travellers for its history, wonderful backwaters and leisure sports.
Alumkadavu, in the town of Karunagapally hardly 20 kilometres north of Kollam, is where Kettuvalloms are built. These huge, long and tapering barges were traditionally used to carry tonnes of goods, with a portion covered with bamboo and coir servicing as a rest room and kitchen for the crew. Gliding down the calm and serene backwaters in a Kettuvallom, embraced by green leaves and palm, see a rural Kerala preserved through the ages, completely hidden from the road, and it is not surprising that this is called God's Own Country.
Ernakulam - Kochi BAckwaters
Famous for its natural harbour, one of the best in the world, Kochi has earned the sobriquet "Queen of the Arabian Sea". All the islands that make up Kochi are well connected by ferry. The Chinese fishing nets, a method of fishing established in Kochi during the times of Kubla Khan line the waterfront.
Besides these backwaters, other equally beautiful water bodies elsewhere are Veli (in South Kerala), Kadinamkulam, Edava, Anjengo, Madayara, Peravur, Ashtamudi, Kayamkulam, Kodungalur, Chetuva and Valiyaparamba (in North Kerala).
In the monsoon months, the backwaters reverberate with the sound of the traditional snake boat races, featuring the 130-feet-long chundan boats. Up to 16 of them, with over a hundred rowers each, compete for the honours during the races. The most important of these races is the Nehru Trophy Boat Race. The Aranmula Boat Festival of the Parthasarathy Temple of Aranmula on the banks of the holy River Pamba, is the more traditional race. The boat carnival starts on the day of Thiruonam, the most auspicious day of the Kerala festival, Onam.
Whether by Kettuvalloms or by a simple vallom (river boat), the experience of gliding through the backwaters of Kerala is an experience that is undeniably unforgettable.