Cruising Kerala's backwaters

by Anthony Ryan

Cruising Kerala's backwaters


India is a land offering diverse experiences, but one that should not be missed is the opportunity to escape the hustle and bustle and cruise the backwaters of Kerala. Travelling by boat gives a different perspective on the landscape and slows life down to be thoroughly enjoyed.


The backwaters


The term backwaters refers to a network of interconnected canals, rivers, lakes and inlets that allows visitors to travel around an expanse stretching for some 900 kilometres. The region can be found parallel to the Arabian Sea in a part of India known as the Malabar Coast.

At the heart of the backwaters are five lakes - Ashtamudi, Vembanad, Paravur, Kumarakom and Punnamada. They are linked by 38 rivers and a series of natural and manmade canals. The number of possibilities for itineraries in the region is infinite, so no trip to the Keralan backwaters is ever the same.

Waves and shore currents mean that many of the rivers have low barrier islands at their entrance. Exploring these and the towns and cities dotted across the landscape is all part of the experience of cruising the backwaters of Kerala.


Cruising Kerala's backwaters



Highlights


The charm of this type of trip lies in the journey through the waterways, as well as the places that you stop along the way. There are a wide range of these to choose from, but here are some of the highlights.


Kumarakom


Known as the gateway to the backwaters, Kumarakom is a village surrounded by islands. It is characterised by its lush vegetation, which helps nurture both avian and aquatic wildlife. Those keen to spot the kingfisher and other resplendent birds should include the Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary on their agenda.


Cruising Kerala's backwaters



Alleppey


A destination does not get the nickname 'Venice of the East' for nothing and Alleppey more than lives up to its name. The network of waterways in this area of the backwaters is akin to a labyrinth and offers stunning beauty wherever you sail. Glimpse villages, coconut groves, paddy fields and bridges as you make your way from lake to mangrove to canal.


Lake Vembanad


The longest lake in India is quite a sight to behold and is dotted with elegant houseboats, while stunning hotels line its waterfront. Coconut lagoons and evergreen forests can also be seen from its shores, providing perfect nesting territory for a selection of migrating birds. Lucky visitors who see flocks of birds fly and swoop across the lake's surface will never forget the experience.


Cruising Kerala's backwaters



Kollam


At the heart of Kollam is Ashtamudi Lake, which provides canals that run through the town. On the lake there are more than 15 islands of varying size, each offering its own unique character. Kollam was once an important trading centre, with remnants of this still visible to this day.


Houseboats


Kettuvalam, the local way of referring to houseboats, were once used as grain barges, but as road transportation overtook such needs, the vessels were converted into accommodation for visitors. Now, there are more than 2,000 such houseboats found in the backwaters of Kerala.

Powered by motors, the kettuvalam go very slowly, ensuring a smooth ride and the opportunity to take in the landscape and communities that line the waterways. This is further facilitated by the fact that much of the deck space is open for passengers to enjoy the view.

Kettuvalam consist of a wooden hull with a thatched roof, but have all the amenities necessary for a pleasant stay. The level of comfort is classified as either platinum, gold or silver, depending on the requirements of the guests. Sleeping and eating aboard a kettuvalam is an experience not to be missed in Kerala, with onboard chefs bringing the taste of the region to the dining table.


Cruising Kerala's backwaters


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