Backwater trip to the Land of Kettuvallams – Kottayam to Alleppey

Kerala backwater is a bewildering labyrinth of waterways, composed of lagoons, lakes, rivers, rivulets, canals, streams and salty seawater. This complex crisscrossing network of brackish lagoons and lakes lie parallel to the Arabian sea coast of the Kerala. It is made up of five large lakes interconnected by numerous canals both man made and natural, fed by 38 rivers. The backwaters are formed as a result of waves creating a short barrier across the mouths of many rivers flowing down from the Western Ghat range. Kerala has around 900 Km of interconnected waterways that make up the backwaters.

Backwaters – the lifeline of the people around are also paradise for the tourists. Traveling in backwaters give glimpses of rural Keralite life style that is completely hidden from the roads. Our plan was to move from Thekkady to Kottayam or Kumarakom and then to cruise from there to Alleppey. Most of the local people and cruise operators discouraged us from going to Kumarakom. Finally we settled for the cruise from Kottayam to Alleppey. Getting an opportunity to cruise through the shimmering backwaters was like a dream about to come true.

We wanted to hire the houseboats. Houseboats or the Kettuvallams (boat with knots) as they are called are the main attraction of these backwaters. Traditionally these boats were used as grain barges to transport the rice grown in the fertile land of backwaters to far-flung areas. Sometimes it took sailors/businessman around 4-5 days and sometimes even a week to move from one place to another. They seldom get time to stop in between and to have their meals. It was a matter of pride and required plenty of culinary skills to cook what was found fresh in the backwater. At some point of time these rice boats were even used by royalty as their living quarters.

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Most basic forms of Kettuvallams are the boats created by making a thatched roof over the wooden hulls to cover it from rains and sun. A very unique thing about Kettuvallams is that not a single nail is hammered into them. They are made with wooden planks, joined and stitched together with coir (coconut Fiber) ropes and painted on the outside with cashew nut shell oil or fish oil. Design of Kettuvallam (Houseboats) suggests possible Chinese influence.

Recently, I read an excellant compilation of anthologies about Kerala – “Where the rain is born” edited by Anita Nair. In one of these – The power of one written by Bill Aitken – the author had written in detail that how even one person with dedication,conviction can change things around him.  There I came to know about the crucial role of Mr Babu Verghese in the revival of the Kettuvallams. These woven barges had almost gone out of the business, thanks to the faster mode of transports.  The craftsmen who built and gave them an annual overhaul were pessimistic about the success of any conversion attempt and Babu Varghese’s first job was to overcome their negativity.  The barges had to be redesigned and Babu undertook this task on his own, learning from his mistakes and improving on the last. The Kettuvallam was saved by him. My salute to this Hero. These Kettuvallams are one of the most beautiful site of the  backwaters.

That was the New Year eve and everything was exorbitantly priced. Usual rent of around 4000-5000 Rs one night in the Kettuvallam was skyrocketing to 14000-15000 Rs and even then they were not readily available. But, then it is life. Some dreams come true and others need some more time to be fulfilled. We decided to take the normal cruise of backwater from Kottayam to Alleppey.

We hired a taxi to drive us from Thekkady to Kottayam. It took us around 3 hrs and the drive was very comfortable. Once we reached Kottayam we did our preparation to travel with the kid. We bought ample mineral water and snacks to keep Rachit busy and happy. Generally we avoid buying junk food for him. But there are exceptions when we travel. Sometimes we buy these junkies to give him instant calories and sometimes to keep him in cheerful mode.

Kottayam is headquarters of Malayalam Manorama, regional paper with highest circulation. It is also first district of India to achieve 100% literacy and Arundhuti Roy, author of “God of Small things”, spent her childhood in a nearby village.

When we were waiting for the arrival of our ship, we noticed that the water around was not clean and that the African moss was growing around. African moss that often carpets the surface of the water bodies may look attractive, but they had killing effects on the fragile ecosystem. It is actually a menace for smaller boats and starves aquatic life of light and oxygen. It is also a symptom of serious ecological imbalances. The population density of this region has increased manifold in recent times. This has put pressure on the land and greater reliance on fertilizers. These fertilizers make their way to water bodies and supplement the growth of moss around.

Soon the ship arrived for boarding. It was a double decker ship. The lower portion was completely covered but the upper portion was covered with the fiber sheet and plastic chairs were kept on the top to enjoy the views. We eagerly occupied the front seats on the upper deck to enjoy the cruise.

The cruise started from narrow lanes of backwaters. There were small settlements on the bank of the canals. We were witnessing life in these small settlements/villages from close quarters. Here and there, we saw basic drawbridges. A few seconds earlier to our ship’s arrival we saw people crossing the bridge. The ship whistled and announced its arrival; the people crossing the bridge were stopped and the bridge was lifted to pave way for ship’s safe passage.

A basicdrawbridge

Daily life continues both on the water and palm-fringed shoreline. That was morning time and a few men with their fishing rods were patiently trying out their luck in the backyard of their houses. Some women were busy washing their clothes and pots. The passengers were waiting for water taxi at the stands. Most of the people rely on boatmen to ferry them across the waterways, sometimes simply to cross the canals and sometimes to connect them with roads and railways. These boatmen crisscross waterways from dawn to dusk and earn their livings. Some of the residents living along the backwaters have their own small boats for the same purpose.

Fishing in the backwaters

Waiting for water-taxis

The narrow canals of backwaters

Very soon we left the houses and initial settlements behind. The narrow lanes of the canal started to widen. The palm-fringed shores and vast dazzling green paddy fields welcomed us. Our eyes could see the green paddy fields spread far and wide and coconut trees protruding towards and away from canal at strange angles. Sea Gull were sitting on the overhead wires in perfect calmness matching to their serene surroundings.

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Earthen embankments surrounded the paddy farms around the backwater. Interestingly farms were below the sea level similar to low land of Netherland (Nether means lower). In both the cases land has been reclaimed from the sea for farming. The fresh water of the backwaters supports the irrigation of these paddy fields.

Paddy Fields

From wider canals we came to the open lagoons. In the beginning that was a welcome change. Very soon we realized that the cruise was more interesting when we were seeing the human life around us. In open vistas the only relief was the occasional sightings of Kettuvallams. A few Kettuvallams were parked in the corner and were about to start their journey. In the beginning when they were in shallow waters they were propelled by punting with long bamboo poles and were pushed like Gondolas.These floating cottages are powered by engine to provide smooth sail but they are slow moving to let the tourists on board to enjoy and experience the idyllic setting around.

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There were two stops in between. At first stop we were served with fresh coconut water that rejuvenated us. Then it was Rachit’s turn to complete the ritual of throwing stones in the world’s water bodies. These stops provided us an opportunity to stretch our legs. Sitting for long time on the deck with restricted movement becomes tiresome. The weather was very humid, as long as the ship moved we enjoyed the cruise but anytime it stopped, it was difficult to remain on-board.

Like all beautiful things come to an end, finally we reached Alleppey and the cruise ended. We took an auto to reach our accommodation – Tharayil Tourist Home. It was a family-run accommodation and was very green. That beautiful place relaxed our tired bodies & after taking lunch we crashed on our beds, dreaming of our fulfilled and unfulfilled dreams – the cruise on backwaters and a star studded night on a Kettuvallam.

41 Comments

  • Manish Khamesra says:

    Though we were suggested by Locals/tour operators that we should go to Kottayam and not Kumarakom. After reading this beautiful story by backpakker, I am sure that we missed Kumarakom.

    http://www.ghumakkar.com/2007/11/28/gods-own-country-kumarakom/

  • Cuckoo says:

    Excellent pictures. Never been to Kerala, always on my list but looking at these photos make me feel left out. The whole thing including boats look quite alluring.

    Any idea why were the cruise operators discouraging you from going to Kumarakom ? Lack of business probably ?

  • manish khamesra says:

    I am sure Cuckoo that the Ghumakkar in you, will bring you to the Kerala soon :)

    The lack of business was quite possibly the reason. Another factor could be that in case we would have gone to Kumarakom, cruise time would have increased by around 1.5 to 2 hrs more(with a small kid, that may be a little longer) and last not the least, I was asking them about Kumarakom as I read that many birds can be seen there and they said that if I will go there with this expectation, I would be disappointed.

  • backpakker says:

    lovely ..brought back great memories..so how long was the cruise ?

  • Patrick Jones says:

    Utterly ‘horrified’ to read your post, Manish

    You have the ‘audacity’ to mention Arundhathi Roy leaving me out when you write about Kottayam, the place where I grew up! Didn’t you hear the coconut plams calling out ‘pat, pat, pat’ when you passed them?

    Jokes apart, it is an excellent piece of work. The beautiful pictures brought back long-forgotten frames from the past; those boats were ‘kettuvallams’ and not houseboats then, though

    Less frequent boat service from Kumarakom could be a reason why you were discouraged

  • Manish Khamesra says:

    Backpakker,

    I was sure that it will bring back some good memories to you. If I remember well that cruise was of around 5 hrs.

  • Ram Dhall says:

    Manish,

    As usual, you have come out with yet another beautiful story with some exciting pictures. Though I have passed through Kottayam once, but being on an official visit, the focus was entirely diffrerent.

    I have a great wish to travel through the backwaters and also to visit the Holy Church of Malankara and pay obeisance at Mata Amritaanadmayi’s Ashram in the close vicinity of Kottayam. Your post has created an urge to visit these places soonest.

  • Manish Khamesra says:

    How can I miss u Patrick ? I indeed heard coconut trees calling “Pat, Pat, Pat” and I thought that my ears are misleading me. Good that I know the reason now :) Your comment brought a wide smile on lips that I think will remain there for long :)
    When I was writing about this trip, the Green Kerala & the life in and around backwater was dancing in front of my eyes. I can understand that being brought-up at that beautiful place, it would be so difficult to forget those fun-filled very happy years of life.

    Less frequent services from Kumarakom can definitely be another reason.

    BTW, Patrick you can see that how little we know about Kerala and places around. Can you give us some more inside pictures/stories/facts. A few days back I remembered that in Kerala, Idli and Dosa were available only at the breakfast time and they are not taken at meals(and were not even available during Lunch and Dinner). We tried many local dishes in Kerala and enjoyed them too, though I never asked their names.

  • bikerdude says:

    Manish, awesome read… a sheer pleasure and informative as well… that is the trade mark of your posts. Lovely snaps as well.

    Correct me if I am wrong, the small barriers which you mentioned… are they by any chance called Atolls which you get to see when there are Bays and Coves on coasts?

  • nandanjha says:

    African Moss was a new useful information. How do you identify that whether the moss you are looking at is actually an African one.

    That bridge was also pretty interesting thing. Never been to Kerela and not sure whether we will ever have enough time and money (by train it would take years to reach there, though I would prefer to drive down and thats like…..) to do it.

    Where to next in Kerela ?

  • Celine says:

    Manish

    Wow, Kettuvellam!! Going through those beautiful waterways in serene surroundings, passing through those quaint villages with picturesque scenery is a charming experience. Alleppey is fabulous and you have captured its spirit here.

    Staying overnight on the Kettuvellam has its added advantage of early morning sights of the backwaters. I cant forget the delicious food I’ve had that’s prepared and served with love and a smile by the locals, and oh, the taste of freshly tapped toddy. Have you tried it?

    A lovely post with beautiful pictures that brought back good memories. Thank you.:)

  • Patrick Jones says:

    Nandan

    African Moss is an exact translation from Malayalam and a misnomer. It is a floating weed called Salvinia molesta or Giant Salvinia having origins in South America. This along with water hyacinth has choked the waterways for years but was contained to a great extent, biologically.

    Driving down to Kerala isn’t a bad idea; one can see many places (including Goa) on the way. Low-cost flights are aplenty these days so all you need to do is to take a few days off.

    Manish

    There is a lot to talk about life style and food of Kerala. My own info is dated but I shall try to include a few in the due course. Prodded by Nandan, I was trying to put together something but then your wonderful post appeared and I beat a hasty retreat.

  • Manish Khamesra says:

    Patrick,

    I corrected my mistake. I am so sorry to missed you at the first place :)

    Thanks for your comment on African Moss, although it generated another curiosity that how is it contained biologically. Can you please elaborate ?

    I would not like that you get an excuse because of my post. We would like to hear from you (even if the info is dated) as what you can tell us about Kottayam and Kerala in general, I can never write in that detail.

    Looking forward to hear from you soon … remember that we are also eager to know more about you from the Authors list ;)

  • Manish Khamesra says:

    Ram Uncle,

    As ever your kind words are filled with support, enthusiasm and information. Thanks for being here, encouraging us on every small effort from us. I do read about Maa Amritaanadmayis Ashram, but not about the Holy church of Malankara. Anyway now as I know about it, I will google it, to know more about it.

    Thanks Uncle. Kerala is a beautiful place and wish that you would be able to travel there soon :) and on return we would get beautiful story/stories from you.

  • Manish Khamesra says:

    Dear Manish (Bikerdude),

    Thanks a lot for your generous praise :)

    I was not aware that barriers formed at the mouth of the Backwater are called Atolls? But after your comment, I read more about atolls and I think these barrier should be the Atolls :)

    Thanks for this information.

  • Manish Khamesra says:

    Nandan,

    Luckily Partick gave answer to the most difficult part of your query. I remember during my ME, when we used to give seminars we used to decided before hand that after presentation, which questions we will ask :) As you started to ask so difficult questions, so I think I have to do this deal with you ;)

    After so many low cost airlines started to operate in India, Kerala and in-fact any part of India is much closer to us than it was before. We are better and well connected now.

    Drive down :) I can never understand these driving crazy people. Its more fun being a passenger than being an attentive driver :)

  • Manish Khamesra says:

    Celine,

    Thanks for this vivid comment. In few lines you have expressed the essence of traveling in backwaters :), luckily comments comes after the post else someone would have definitely told me that I should be as crisp in conveying messages as you have done. At least one person(my wife) would have definitely commented so.

    You have increased the urge to spent a night in Kettuvallam.

  • manish khamesra says:

    Celine,

    What is tapped toddy ? I had not tried it in Kerala. Is it a beverage – Alcoholic, non-alcoholic ? Anyway you are definitely recommending it …

  • Celine says:

    Your post is good Manish.

    Toddy. I am not sure if it is called Neera in other parts of India.

    Toddy is basically sap collected from certain kinds of tall palm trees, and in Kerala (and coastal parts of Karnataka, where I am from) from the coconut trees as well. The sap is collected by a toddy tapper in containers fixed to the stump of the top part of the tree to collect the sap.

    When I say freshly tapped toddy, it is the drink that is fresh and collected by the tapper in the mornings which is sweet and almost non-alcoholic. During the course of the day, it gets sour and the alcohol content rises. So some people prefer to consume it later during the day, whereas children and others who prefer it sweet and non-alcoholic generally drink it in the morning as soon as it is collected. I believe it is good for health and is known to have medicinal properties too.

  • Celine says:

    And I’m tickled to think I’m giving information on such drinks from a place where even a tin of alcoholic beer is not available, let alone other exotic drinks like toddy.
    I’m sure you are aware that Kuwait is an alcohol-free state.

  • nandanjha says:

    Oh so its “Salvinia molesta”. I googled it and saw an image and its one of the most common things found in water bodies. Its called ‘kechuli’ back home. Infact there was a time in Patna when there were plans to make bio-gas out of it. I am happy with myself that I asked this question.

    Manish – Actually the deal seem to be there between me and Pat. I knew that he would know it :).

    Celine – The world is so small. ‘Toddy’ is called ‘TaaDi’ (d is more of r then d, as in khiladi) back home and its not a popular drink among intelligentsia, or so called intelligentsia. Never tried it but never liked the smell. I should at least take a gulp sometime though. Leave Kuwait, there are better things to do in life then to live in a alcohol-free state when you are young :)

  • manish khamesra says:

    Thanks Celine for the detailed description on how tapped toddy is prepared.

    and I know that this is not a bad article as otherwise you won’t have cared to post the comment on it :))

  • manish khamesra says:

    Nandan,

    We too are happy that you asked question about African Moss as luckily Patrick was there and now after the detailed discussion we definitely know more about it. If I am not wrong it is also called Jal-Kumbhi in Northern India and Lakes of Udaipur are affected by it most of the time.

    Its good to know that there were plans to generate bio-gas from it. But if the plans get succeeded, will it increase pressure on our water bodies to grow more of it.

    Is Toddy and Taadi are same ? In N.India almost every year you can hear news about people dying because of Taadi getting stale and I think all cheap liquor are the worst drinks as they really destroy the families because male members can’t live without them.

    I was reading Premchand, a few days back, and then I realized that how much our freedom fight struggle gained momentum by Congress demonstrating against Colonial regime’s policy of promoting Liquor. This great writer has the ability to transport you to the same era meticulously. Gandhiji might have been highly disappointed person knowing that the same Congress and for that matter almost all parties are behind Liquor in the name of revenues.

    Its highly distressing that the companies are able to manipulate clear signals of Lung cancers on the pack of cigarettes with mild warning through money power and their lobbying.

    So there are a few things we can learn from Kuwait too :)

    So at least now we know one person part of intelligentsia ;))))

  • Nandan says:

    Taadi and ‘kacchi sharab’ are different things. Taadi is natural where as the people who usually get affected by consuming liquor are the ones who are having ‘kacchi liquor’, the one brewed at home.

    If anyone really wants to know more about on how rum/whiskey/vodka is prepared, I would suggest that they read here
    . There are some nice articles there.

  • Patrick Jones says:

    Good discussion going on.

    Biological containment of Salvinia molesta was achieved by releasing a small insect imported from South America (again!). The weevil infested weed decayed and sunk, clearing the waterways.

    Driving is a passion whereas nature is love; the combination is one heady mixture which intoxicates you to the core. :-)) [that is Nandan smiling gleefully].

    Tried fresh toddy once but it didnt taste sweet. May be it wasnt that fresh. When a coconut tree falls to the ground (due to storm, say) people would eat the top soft part of it which tastes sweet. Toddy actually comes from that part. The area where Manish travelled by boat is famous for toddy and is dotted by Toddy Bars. These were popular before IMFL and Chandni bars happened.

    Manish, I prefer to work behind the scenes but inquisitive ones like Venerable Ram has already caught me by the neck. One day I might appear in the Authors List as well, who knows :-)

  • Celine says:

    Nandan:
    That was exactly my point. Freshly tapped coconut palm toddy has good taste, and a faint pleasing aroma. The toddy smells different after fermentation sets in.

    Hey, if you complain about the smell of toddy, what would you say about arrack, or feni or mahua? I disliked the smell of Mahua but of course had to try out a few drops, and boy, it was delightfully deadly. I do not mind at all if I do not fall in the category of such intelligentsia because trying out local food and drinks and learning about local culture of a new place has always been an endearing part of my travels.

    Leave Kuwait? Easier said than done..haha! There’s so much more to life and toddy/alcohol can wait till I’m on holidays. When finished with a few responsibilities (and some travels), then will surely return home permanently. :)

  • Celine says:

    Manish:
    I hope you did not refer to me in your last comment. No, don’t. I can’t be a part of the intelligentsia, as I consume toddy once or twice a year..haha!

    Freshly tapped toddy tastes almost as good as fresh fruit juice to me (and it has nothing to do with distillation process) but then that’s my opinion and no one need agree to it. :)

  • manish khamesra says:

    Celine,

    I never included anyone as part of intelligentsia. It was Nandan, who told us the signs of these so called Intelligentsia and then what he told about himself, brings him in that category. So please don’t blame me that I am categorising. I am inferring from my newly gained knowledge :) and thank God at least we have Celine among us who is trying hard to keep that Tag away and remain part of common man (by consuming Toddy once or twice a year). I am sure very soon we will hear from Nandan too that now he is no more part of that group. So Nandan any clue when we are going to get that news ;)

    Hahhahahahhahahaha.

    On serious note, I was not aware of Freshly tapped toddy, if its just like fresh fruit juice, I think its worth giving a try :)

  • manish khamesra says:

    Patrick,

    Thanks for very informative pieces about how African Moss is contained Biologically and also for the additions you made to Celine’s beautiful description about preparation of Toddy.

    You have to appear in Author’s list, otherwise everyone reading this article would be very disappointed.

    Thanks to all for detailed discussion about African Moss and Toddy.

  • nandanjha says:

    Celine – Taadi (and not Toddy) smelled not too inviting + the social taboo (and the bit about intelligentsia) deterred from trying. Its on my list. Feni smelled equally non-inviting, have tasted but thats about it. I plan to have better experiences with Feni when I visit that place, whenever. Mahua/arrack/gulabi/naarangi and so on are better to be avoided for the reasons which Manish mentioned initially (bad things might happen if you consume), though I have had them at some points of time in life but mostly as experiment or taste, though I dont remember much about these.

    Manish – I am feeling like left out among commoners. I wish there could be more people like me. I would get converted at first opportunity. Please be around, all of you.

  • Manish Khamesra says:

    I have heard of commoner posing as Intelligentsia, but its for the first time, I am finding intelligentsia trying to be a commoner at the first available opportunity :)

  • nandanjha says:

    Yeah, its an endangered specie. I am trying to find more people but not very successful so far, would keep on trying. Dont want to convert w/o at least finding one person.

    I know we have one part-time intelligentsia (Celine) but she also seems to be sipping some Toddy once in a while.

    Any one else ?

  • Celine says:

    Nandan,
    Part-time intelligentsia!? Gosh, from where do you guys come out with such terms?
    Hey, good to know you’ve tasted (or experimented with) Feni and Mahua, and listen to this… wow!! you claim you ”dont remember much about these”…haha..

    Manish,
    I loved your last comment. Listen, Nandan has tasted the stuff of the commoners he said. So, doesn’t that fact automatically strip him of his previously self-elevated status of belonging to the intelligentsia? Shall we welcome him to the world of commoners or reject him as he woudn’t fit amongst us? haha..

  • Rajeev Tivari says:

    Manish,

    This post is like “sood is as good as asal”- the discussion in comments was as enriching and fun top read as the post itself and that does not take anything away from your brilliant post taking us along through the little Venice and Netherlands of india.

    Your comment on the open lagoon reminds me of what I felt at Chilika lake – a vast water body connected to sea a kind of back water as well, this year.

    I have heard a lot about the backwaters of Kerala and I got a chance to travel with you. Those snaps are superb.

    Taadi, as I remeber, used to be the favourite drink of labourers in north India, probably due to its lower price, and was known to have worse side effects. Anyways, I am not equipped to discus further on this;-)

    When I first read in your post about the African Moss, the first thought that came to mind was whether it was Jalkumbhi, as was it to be eventually.

    Thanks again.

    Rajeev

  • manish khamesra says:

    Thanks Rajeev for going through it and leaving the comment. I fully agree with you that this post has got some of the brillant people giving their views and hence enhancing greatly the content for any reader. I envy most of them as they are so natural and I have observed them that they leave some of the best lines that I can imagine. Some of their views shows how well travelled, scholarly & erudite they are.

    Chilika Lake is the one of the few places I would like to travel in Orissa. I have heard that one can see many water birds too there.

    I was surprised to read Patrick’s comment about biological way to contain Jalkumbhi, as its a big mess for the lakes of Udaipur (My native place).

    Thanks again Rajeev for the generous praise. I am also travelling with you & enjoying your Himalayan Odyssy.

  • flight deals says:

    Really cool blog. I found it on yahoo. I am looking forward to read more posts.

    Can anybody tell me what

  • Manish Khamesra says:

    Thanks Kat_vicks (flight deals) :-) We would wait for some real comments.

  • Jerry Jaleel says:

    Manish,

    After seeing various queries raised by you and others about Kerala on the comments section of this post, I am obliged to try and answer some of the questions based on some of my experience in that part of the world.

    Kerala literally means the land of coconuts (Kera). Their language Malayalam is somewhat related to Tamil, yet many words are derived from Sanskrit. It was one of the very few states that was never under British rule and where the literacy rate boasts 100%.

    Kottayam is a busy city situated between Cochin and Trvandrum – the latter being the capital of Kerala. Kumarakom is only minutes away from here, and Alleppy is also close. Many tourists takes the Kettuvallam (House Boat) from Kottayam to Alleppy and enjoy a nice backwater trip including a cruise through the Vembanad Lake which connects many cities including Alleppy , Vaikom and Cochin.

    Although Dosa and Idli are primarily breakfast dishes in most parts of Kerala, you can indulge in Masala Dosa and Ghee dosa from lunch time till closing the eatery late at night in Kottayam where there are numerous vegetarian restaurants. Apart from the idli and dosa, you might have tried Appam (made of rice flour and yeast from coconut (sometimes toddy) which is served with boiled/ fried whole eggs with onion or potato or mutton curry. Poottu is another breakfast item, also made of rice flour and coconuts steamed inside bamboo shells and served with curried potatoes and meat. In cochin and Malabar area, the Muslim restaurants also serve delicious Idiyappam (thunder bread) made of steamed vermicelli and grated coconuts with non vegetarian curry dish. Popular snacks in Kerala includes plantain chips (Upperi), Murukku, Neyyappam, Parippu vada, Uzhunnu Vada, Sukhiyan, Jilebi, Ada and Kumbalappam. The Cochin/Malabar Biriyani and Halwas are one of the best in the world. (For more info on food, please refer to Kerala Kitchen cook books or google it)

    About Toddy, or poor man’s whisky: I have seen the process of making it. The young flowering pods of the cocunut trees are tapped, cutting their tips off by the toddy collector with a sharp knife, and then place a clay pot over it. The juice from the pod is oozed into this pot which is collected each morning, then allow it to ferment before it is supplied to the local toddy shops (locally known as kallu-shap). All the toddy shops in Kerala are auctioned off yearly by the government for huge amounts, and the business is supervised by the Excise department. To boost the profit, water and other items are added to it by shop owners. The toddy shops are generally visited by mostly laborers who enjoy a glass or two, after a hard day’s work, with fried karimeen (a popular freshwater fish), clams, prawns or cooked lobster. Toddy indeed has an unpleasant foul smell when fermented and it has brought calamity to many households in the past. The best alternative to non alcoholic and uncontaminated toddy is tender coconuts which offers a sweet drink and jelly like soft coconuts- available throughout Kerala practically every day.

    Water Hyacinth: I was astonished to find most of the rivers I came across during recent years in Kerala were chocked by the uncontrolled spread of water hyacinth which was originally brought in from South America by British colonials. Now they are seen in every lake, river and ponds and destroying the natural flow of rivers and eventually exterminating the marine life as seen in Lake Tanganyika.

    In closing, Kerala is one of the most beautiful places on earth. Many westerners visiting India never venture into that state. But for those who takes the risk will enjoy miles and miles of beautiful beaches, tall mountains and evergreen forests filled with exotic mammals, reptiles, birds and energetic people.

    • Manish Khamesra says:

      Dear Jerry,

      You are a wonderfully immense source of information. Thanks for updating all the readers about it. I was surprised to read that Kerala was never under the British rule.

      Information about so many varieties of dishes of Kerala will also help travelers to try various things while in Kerala.

      Thanks a lot Jerry.

  • anubhav says:

    Hi manish,

    first of all thanks for the stories, they are so descriptive, one cannot stop without visiting them

    i am planning a back water trip from allepey to kottayam. is it safe to travel with family and kids.
    how much does it costs and how much time does it take one way.

    i would be oblized if you could comment on the difference and similarites u experience between ur trip from kottayam to allepey and kollam to monroe island.

    thnks
    anubhav
    new delhi

    • Manish khamesra says:

      It is a pleasure Anubhav that these articles have allured you to make a visit to Kerala. And I am quite confident that Kerala will not disappoint you.

      Regarding a back water trip from Alleppy to Kottayam, it takes around 4 to four and half hour. Kerala is quite safe state and I don’t see any issue in travelling with family. The cruise boats are also very big and I don’t feel that there is any chances of them getting capsized or meeting any accident. Onboard, you never feel that you are unsafe.

      Its a long back that I travelled to Kerala, but the cost varies depending on season, mode of transport. Kettuvallams will cost more. Spending a night in Ketuvallams can cost even more, it may be a wonderful experience to watch a star studded sky from Ketuvallam, but some of my friends also complained of sea sickness. My feeling the normal cruise that we did should still be available in a range of 120-1200 (sorry for giving such a broad range).

      We rank our Monroe trip as the best backwater trip. I would give the second place to the backwater trip in local mode of transport again in Kollam (Please read a commoner in Kollam). Its preferable mainly because it brings a tourist closer to life.

      Alleppey to Kottyam is better than Allepppy to Kollam esp as the later one is eight hour long and after a few hours one start losing interest.

      Another possibility is to visit Kumarakom, I am giving link to one of our fellow travellers story on the same.
      http://www.ghumakkar.com/2007/11/28/gods-own-country-kumarakom/

      My friend visited kumarakom and had motor boat ride etc and he was very satisfied with the whole experience.

      I hope you will find this information useful. Please let me know, if you need some more information.

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