An experience of God's Own Country opened up by an enchanting maze of lagoons, lakes, canals and estuaries. Buoyed up by traditional houseboats and country canoes. Refreshed by lush paddy fields and coconut plantations, snake boat races and Village visits, fleets of duck and flocks of birds. Come, embark on a journey within.
There are various explanations for what actually makes a body of water a backwater. The most plausible was that they are inter-connected freshwater rivers and canals that feed toward the sea, through a couple of larger lakes, that seasonally get charged with saline water, when the sea backs up. Hence 'backwater'. The sea can do this, because Kerala's short-lived rivers, which originate in the Western Gahts relatively close to the sea, just don't have the strength of rivers to hold the sea back.
An old system of locks and sluices keeps the salt from the freshwater kayals , and obviously the people of Kuttanad have the system down to a fine art, because rice cultivation flourishes on the low-lying islands that dot the backwaters.
These islands are green, an entire palette of green, from the deep green of the coconut fronds that fringe the islands to the lighter green of the rice shoots themselves. Even the water of backwaters , reflecting all that colour, turns green. In some of the narrower canals, the trees meet overhead, and a cool shade pervade the scene.
The entire area forms a delightful tranquil landscape, dominated by the shimmering of water and studded with tiny villages of small homes. The house are oriented towards the kayals, since those are the 'roads' of the backwater economy. And the life of the people that live along these water is open to view.
The backwater mainly covers four districts of Kerala: Alappuzha, Ernakulam, Kottayam and Kollam. But the backwaters can be seen all along the Kerala coast. Among the main water bodies along the backwaters are two lakes of the region.
First one is Vembanad lake, which extends over 200sq km and it is the largest backwater stretch in Kerala. Vembanad spreads out over three districts- Alappuzha, Ernakulam and Kottayam and meets the sea at Kochi.
Another important lake that forms part of the backwaters is Ashtamudi Lake in Kollam, named for its eight 'arms'. Ashtamudi is the seceond largest lake in Kerala.
The backwaters today keep afloat many a life-like that of the local oarsman. Civilization once took away his livelihood, but tourism restored it to him, and today this network if his lifeline, the link to his sustenance. And making sure that this unique world of beauty and life remains unchanged are several initiatives that respect the environment and ecology-right from the introduction of inboard engines in houseboats to the use of eco-friendly materials in it's making.
No trip to the backwaters is complete without a taste of kappa (tapioca) and fried karimeen (pearlspot) washed down within a swig of toddy, freshly tapped from the coconut tree.
A delightful network of lagoons, lakes, canals and estuaries, Kerala's backwaters are home to a unique way of life over 900km of these emerald waters are navigable and the most exciting way to explore them is on a kettuvallom the traditional country craft.
Rare specimen of excellent craftsmanship the houseboats of Kerala are made by tying together pieces of wood. Not even a single nail is used in its construction. Once a goods carrier, the houseboats today come with bath-attached rooms. Deck, kitchenette etc
Experience life at 10km/hr on a houseboat(kettuvallom). Set out on a sunset, moonlight or island cruise. Opt for a village or ethnic tour to savour the art, culture and traditions of Kerala.
Sample backwaters delicacies like crab, mussel and karimeen (pearlspot). Enjoy the longest backwater cruise (8hr) from Kollam to Alappuzha. Surrender to an Ayurveda massage.
Whether fried, baked or cooked in coconut milk the pemearlspot a backwater delicacy, never fail to drive food lovers crazy.
There are a number of towns and even greater number of stretches of water that make for excellent backwater cruises, each of them offering wonderful glimpses of these stunning waterways. An almost innumerable list of travel agencies and tour operators, both large and small, offer cruises along the bacwaters. The cruises range from day-long trips to more extended voyages stretching over a few days.
Among the main destinations that form part of the backwaters and are take-off points for cruises are Kumarakom, Alappuzha(Alleppey), Kollam(Quilon), Kozhikode(Calicut), Kochi(Cochin), Kasargod and Trivandrum.
Kumarakom 10km from Kottayam
Bordered by the lofty Western Ghats in the east, the Vembanad Lake and the paddy fields of Kuttanad on the west is Kottayam, a land of unique characteristics. Here, nestled among lush padd y fields, highland and extensive rubber plantations is Kumarakom, one of the most popular and most beautiful backwater stretches of Kerala.
An enchanting picnic spot, Kumarakom provide boating, fishing and sightseeing experience that are truly exhilarating. An exclusive attraction is the Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary, a favorite haunt of migratory birds like the Siberian stork, egret, darter, heron and teal. A cruise along the Vembanad lake is the best way to view the bird life.
Located 71km to the north of Trivandrum, Kollam, one of the oldest ports on the Malabar cost is the gateway to the magnificent backwaters of Kerala. The eight-hour trip from here to Alappuzha is the longest and backwater cruise in Kerala. One of the most important stops in the cruise is the picturesque little village of Alumkadavu, home of the skilled artisans who craft the enormous kettuvalloms.
Referred to as the Venice of the East, this backwater country is a district of immense beauty with a vast network of lakes, lagoons and fresh water river crisscrossing it. Venue for the world-renowned snakeboat races. Alappuzha is also famous for its marine products and coir industry.
Kuttanad, known as the Rice Bowl of Kerala because of its wealth of paddy crops, is the very heart of the backwaters and is one of the places in the world where farming is done below sea level. The enchanting island of Pathiramanal (sands of midnight) on the backwaters is a favourite haunt of hundreds of rare migratory birds from different parts of the world.
A cluster of islands on the vast expanse of the Vembanad lake, Kochi, one of the finest natural harbours in the world, is more popular as the Queen of the Arabian Sea. Half the fun of visiting Kochi is going about in the local ferries. A conducted cruise through the winding waterways will take you to several quaint spots including the picturesque islands of Bolgatty, Vypeen, Gundu and Vallarapadam.
Unexplored and unspoilt, the backwaters of Kozhikode offer enchanting holiday options. Elathur, the Canoli Canal and the Kallai river are favourite places for boating. Kadalundi, with its beautiful bird sanctuary and Korapuzha, the venue of the Korapuzha Jalotsavam(water fiesta) are popular destinations.
Valiyaparamba is located about 30km from Bekal Fort in Kasargod. This is perhaps the most scenic bacwater stretch in Kerala. Fed by four rivers and dotted with numerous little islands, Valiyaparmaba is a much favoured backwater spot that offers enchanting boat cruises. Backwater trips on the Chandragiri river is also fascinating experience.
Thiruvallam is 6km away from Trivandrum. This serene backwaters stretch, en route to Kovalam, is famous for its canoe rides. A temple dedicated to Parashurama, the legendary founder of Kerala, is located here. While you are here, a visit to the Veli Tourist Village and the Akkulam Boat Club will worth the time.
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