Gliding along the calm and serene
backwaters flanked by green leaves and palms, seeing a rural Kerala
preserved through the ages and completely hidden from the road is an
enchanting experience to any visitor, more so while sailing a
slow-moving, spacious Kettuvallam. Alumkadavu, a quiet spot in the
town of Karunagapally - hardly 23 kms. north of Quilon (travel time:
30 min) has become a hot point of Kettuvallam building, with more
than a hundred people involved.
These huge, long and tapering barges were traditionally used to move
tones of goods across kingdoms, with a portion covered with bamboo
and coir serving as a rest room and kitchen for the crew. A familiar
sight on the waters, these vessels are built entirely without using
Planks of jack wood are joined together with coir rope and coated
with a caustic black resin made from boiled cashew kernels. With
careful maintenance they last for generations.
Today, widely and appropriately called houseboats, they carry
furnished bedrooms, modern toilets, cozy living rooms, a kitchen and
even a balcony for angling. Some are powered by a 40 HP engine. At
Alumkadavu, you can even find a floating conference hall, designed
to seat 35, with a dais and a sophisticated public address system.
Up north in Kerala,
the meandering backwaters of Calicut (Kozhikode) lie waiting to be
discovered. With a bewitching beauty of its own. North east of
the city, Elathur offers an ideal jump-off base into the Canoly
Canal - a name taken after its British builder and administrator.
The canal links itself to the Kallai River which unhurriedly threads
through the city and offers its shores to Calicuts historic timber
trade. The produce of which is believed to have even adorned the
courts of King Solomon and Queen Sheba a few millennia ago.
Further south lies Kadalundi with its charming bird sanctuary -
haven to an amazing assortment of delightful water birds.
Another river of the region - Korapuzha - is fast gaining popularity
as the venue of the water sports festival - the Korapuzha Jalotsavam
- staged every August.
At Kumarakom, you could sail the backwaters in rented houseboats,
which are poled by local oarsmen and are simply furnished with a
living room, a bedroom and bath, together with a raised
platform creating a private sit-out for the passengers. Sections of
the curved roof of wood or plaited palm open out to provide shade
and allow uninterrupted views. Boat trains - formed by joining two
or more houseboats together - make for a convenient mode of
sightseeing when the company is large. You could even take a canoe
out into the quiet lagoons and spend time angling. Make sure you
sample Karimeen and fresh Toddy - the favorite fresh-water food and
the local wine. This is an ideal place for backwater cruises.
A beautiful backwater spot accessible from Kumarakom is Alleppey.
On the shores of the enchanting Vembanad lake, 14 kilometers from
Kottayam (travel time: 20 min), lies Kumarakom in its small-town
hush. Redolent of restful ease.A boat ride into the countryside
offers a close look into an engaging rustic life. Skiff-fishermen
launching their cockleshell boats. Large flotillas of ducks waddling
down to the water from thatched houses on the banks. Women,
neck-deep in water, with their waist-length hair heaped in a crown,
searching for fish with their feet. A 14 acre bird sanctuary is
situated on the eastern banks of the Vembanad Lake. The sanctuary
adds to the natural beauty of Kumarakom. Birds (waterfowl, water
ducks, cuckoos, wild ducks etc.) nest and spend happy summers here.
Birds like Siberian Storks migrate here every year. The sanctuary is
open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Alleppey (Alappuzha) - Kuttanaad
The sweeping network of canals, honey-combing the town of Alleppey
(Alappuzha) has earned for the place its sobriquet - "The Venice of
the East." Small, low-slung country boats are the taxis of this
waterland. It is a heart-warming
sight to see them carry a motley assemblage of cycles, goats,
fisherwomen with cane baskets, school children, toddy-tappers with
their knives and pots, duennas in white with gold earrings, Syrian
Christian priests and a bare-chested boatman apiece.
Do not miss out on a ride into Kuttanad through shimmering, green
paddy fields and tail-wagging, head-bobbing groups of ducks. The
coir-workers too present an interesting sight as they soak coconut
fibre in pools, beat them out and weave the tough brown strands into
long ropes on spindles stretched between endless coconut trees.
Alleppey becomes the cynosure of the eyes of the world in August -
September, every year, as it plays host to the celebrated Snake Boat
Races - a water regatta unique to Kerala.
The charming old port city of Quilon (Kollam) on the banks of the
picturesque Ashtamudi Lake is now known
as the centre of cashew industry. Traces of a once prosperous trade
with China are still seen in the form of Chinese fishing nets, huge
Chinese water pots, blue and white porcelain and sampan-like boats.
Quilon is an inviting gateway to Kerala's backwaters. For an
interesting backwater experience, take the regular ferry to Alleppey
- a rigorous ride lasting more than 8 hours. As the old ferry
putters from one village on the waterfront to another, you are
treated to a full range of lives and activities and some of the most
beautiful scenery imaginable. For the less intrepid, shorter cruises
can be made in the larger comforts of the houseboats with idyllic
villages such as Alumkadavu as your launch base. The nearest
airport, Trivandrum, is 71 kms. away. It takes fractionally over an
hour to get to Quilon by road or rail from Trivandrum.
Tourist Village at Akkulam
is one of the first picnic spots in the suburbs of Trivandrum City.
This place is only 10 kms away from the Central Railway Station. The
spot is developed on the banks of Aakkulam Kayal (lake), which is an
extension of the Veli Kayal (lake). The calm and serene atmosphere
and its unique natural beauty is fascinating for the tourist. The
village consists of the Boat Club, Swimming Pool, Children's Park,
an Anthurium Project and a Snack Bar.
The Backwaters Treatment
Swaying coconut palms and meandering waterways create a magical
charm to the land. special magic of the backwaters: a great and
glistening web of rivers ,canals, lakes and estuaries where time
flows at a measured pace and yesterday and tomorrow merge into an
ever-lasting , jade-green, today.
The bluish waterways and the green land mélange to create a mood
that begger description. When you first encounter the backwaters
they look unreal: slow flowing watery highways meandering between
palm-hung banks. Clearly, the best way to encounter these water
lands is to hire a houseboat. These
long, broad-beamed, boats were once rice boats carrying mounds of
grain from the Kuttanad , rice bowl of Kerala, to the great
voracious cities. Then a complex of roads feathered out across the
State and the rice boats lost business to the trucks.
This is when the bright entrepreneurs of Kerala said: "Anything
Kashmir can do, we can do better!" They bought rice boats from the
out-of-work owners, made stately rooms, bathrooms, open-sided
lounges, and kitchens, on board; employed the original owners as
captains and crew on their own boats; brought in a chef and a guide,
and were in business
You can, for instance, choose either to be part of the scene or,
detachedly, away from it. Your houseboat, except when it ties up
alongside in the firefly haunted night, is never so far away from
the banks that you cannot share, vicariously, in the lives of the
people of the backwaters. Yet, you are never really close enough to
become intimately involved in their trials and tribulations. You
can, with complete freedom, pick and choose your passing involvement
as if you were plugged into a Virtual Reality experience.
For the passengers, the backwaters' houseboat experience is a step
further on the rejuvenating trail. The environment of Kerala, the
atmosphere of this green State, is therapeutic in itself. Just being
in Kerala, as we've said, is a health-enhancing experience. But when
you experience it in the peaceful drifting of a houseboat through
the backwaters, you're adding a deep dimension of serenity to your
Squadrons of brown and white ducks paddle past, arrowing for little
thatched-and-tiled settlements on the palm-shaded embankments. Women
hang out bright pennants of washing while their husbands, with bare,
bronzed, bodies, fish with rod and line, or flared filigrees of
nets, or with bows and harpoon arrows, or even with spiked bamboo
probes, extracting skulking crabs from water-lapped eaves of the