Kerala is one of the most beautiful places on earth. It is blessed with high mountains, beautiful coastlines, dense rainforest, aromatic tea, coffee and spice plantations. The cultural heritage of Kerala goes back thousands of years, but one aspect of Kerala that I liked most during my recent trip was the backwaters in Kerala. Though you have backwaters in places like Trivandrum, Kollam etc. also it is in Alleppey that you find the labyrinth of the densest network of lakes, lagoons, canals and rivers that is unparallel in the world.
Indeed a lot of people like to call Alleppey (official name Alappuzha) as the Venice of India. I was in Alleppey last month and was fortunate enough to experience the unique life that people in the area lead. As there is water ways everywhere of all sizes, people have adapted to the same just like fish to water. We took a few houseboats as well as small boat rides in the backwater and the experience was an eye-opener. Nowhere in India are people so much adapted to a life of using canals and boats in their day to day life as in backwaters of Kerala, which is also the home of famous snake boat race.
Just like you and I will have a bike or a car, almost every house hold in the area will have a small canoe or boat that is used for all day to day activities. Our day started on a small boat and we went to some villages situated on both side of the internal canals. It was a very interesting experience to watch the day to day life in the backwaters of Kerala. Most of the internal canals are not very wide and only small boats can go into them, leaving the bigger houseboats only on the main water ways. As it is difficult to reach these small villages quickly by road transport, people use boats to carry their produce to the main canals, from where trucks come and carry the rice to the wholesaler. This is not only cost effective but also quicker.
As we entered the smaller canals the canopy of the trees casts a permanent shadow on the waters and even in the middle of the day you don’t feel the sun as the sun rays are blocked by the dense canopy of coconut, mango, jackfruit, banana and many other trees that grow in abundance in the fertile land. But the plants were not limited to growing fruit trees, one family has their own lotus garden in the water! Every now and then some kids enjoying a bath in the waters of the canals will wave at us, with their toothless smile.
Indeed even very small kids are great swimmers in backwaters. I guess you need to learn swimming when you are surrounded by water from your childhood.
One of the most interesting aspects of backwaters is complete harmony with which the local communities, tourism and nature coexist and respect each other. One of the mornings I got up to photograph birds and found two of them right on the next houseboat peacefully waiting for passing by fish, and at just a few meters away a fisherman was laying his net to catch some crabs. I was happy to click pictures, the fisherman was happy catching his crabs, and the birds were happy knowing that I am only there to click pictures and not to harm them in any way.
Most of the houseboats and hotels in the area employ only locals, generating employment for the community and it keeps everybody happy.
As we continued our journey in the narrow canals we saw some housewives sitting on the edge of waiting to catch a fish for dinner, while the neighbors chatted blissfully. Where else in the world women meet in the afternoon to catch fish? A little further a couple was doing the same, and we also saw some kids with their own little fishing rods made of twigs trying to catch fish.
Just like we have our kids going to school in bus in Alleppey kids go to school in School Boat, look at this school boat with kids inside, the boat as the two teachers stand guard at the gate with the bags kept on the roof f the bus….err I mean the boat.
But the most interesting character that I found in the backwaters of Alleppey was this duck farmer who was taking his herd probably for a swim in the backwaters. Hundreds of ducks were swimming peacefully in front of him as he managed the herd single handedly. This must be the daily routine as when a turn came in the canals the ducks took the right canal without the duck herd telling them. It was sight to watch hundreds of ducks swimming and going as a group with one lone man in a small canoe following them.
Next time you are in Kerala I would strongly recommend that you visit the backwaters of Alleppey and watch the life there little more closely, I can assure you will discover a few things on your own in the Venice of East.
When to go: As Alleppey is in Kerala, the weather is hot through out the year, I would suggest you go during August when the annual Nehru Snake boat race is held. Otherwise anytime from August to April is good to visit.
How to reach: Nearest airport is Cochin ( 85 KM 2.5 Hours). Direct trains to Alappuzha are available from most big cities in India.
Where to stay: For an authentic backwaters experience I would suggest you stay on a House boat and then take smaller boats to the narrower canals. You can book online on Lakes and Lagoons ( PH: 0477 2266842) or Rainbow Cruises (+91 9447444077) packages start at around 8000 RS per night for twin sharing, including meals.
For more economical options starting from 1500 per night you can look at various Home stays in the area.
Places to see:
- Champakulam Church is one of the oldest Portuguese Church in India and is on the route of Boat Cruises.
- Alappuzha Beach With its historical pier extending into sea it is a popular picnic spot both for tourists and locals
- Karumadi Kuttan buddhist site from 11th century with a old statue of Lord Buddha
- Mannarasala Nagaraja Temple 32 KM south of Alleppey, this temple dedicated to the serpent god or Nagaraj is considered to have wish fulfilling powers, specially for those wishing for a child.
- Village Tour Your boat man should take you to some local village to show local activities like coir spinning, toddy making, thatch roof making etc.