Five Getaways into Kerala Backwaters
Kerala, rightly known as God’s Own Country has a plethora of attractions for tourists from all over the planet. From stunning beaches, weaving canals, expansive paddy fields, to gently undulating tea plantations, charming hilly towns and holy temples, this land has it all. But the hallmark of its destinations is the calm, winding backwater, ubiquitous in Kerala’s gigantic network of rivers, canals, lagoons and lakes. These waterways wind through various cities and villages, offering an absolutely unique view of Kerala’s serene greenery, fisherman villages and bustling settlements. This experience can be enjoyed through the abundant boat rides offered in these waterways. Yet, the most popular and in fact often taken as the “thing to do before you die”, is the overnight houseboat ride in the backwaters of Kerala. The houseboats, locally known as kettuvallam will assure you of a journey like no other, an experience that you shall cherish for a lifetime.
Alappuzha is one of the most popular backwater destinations of Kerala. With long winding canals and surreal landscape, it was christened ‘Venice of the East’ by Lord Curzon. One of the best known ports on the Malabar Coast, it is also a busy ferry-way connecting Kottayam and Kollam. The Alappuzha Backwaters are peculiar because the waterways are level with the land, hence, boat rides can take tourists close to the shore and provide a closer look of the fisherman villages and rural lifestyles. The area is dotted with graceful palm and coconut trees, alternating with huts and paddy fields. Sailing on the calm waters and soothing surroundings are one of the most refreshing experiences a person can have.
Alappuzha is 51 km from Kochi airport and can be reached by car and bus. The best time to visit are the non-monsoon months, October to April. Alappuzha can be visited in September to view the famous snakeboat races that are held during the Onam festival.
Kumarakom is a sleepy little hamlet located on Vembanad Lake. It is actually a picturesque cluster of islands, hence consisting of a maze of waterways that make up its backwaters. Nestled in verdant greenery, this place is especially known for housing a 14-acre bird sanctuary, a bird watcher’s delight! Kumarakom offers a quieter vacation with absolutely no urban influences. The backwaters are thickly forested and the waters peaceful, apart from the riotous chirping of birds every evening. A few stretches of the backwaters are thickly populated with ducks who are busy fishing for their meals.
There are a number of resorts that are located on the banks of the backwaters and offer a wonderful view amongst the soothing green atmosphere. The bird sanctuary can be explored both on foot and by boat.
Kumarakom is around 80 km from Kochi International Airport and 16 km from Kottayam, which is the closest railhead.
Located around 71 km north of Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam is one of the oldest ports on the Malabar Coast. It is also a very popular backwater destination. Kollam is a largely coastline district and, hence, was an important historic trading centre, especially for its cashew industries. This quaint historic town is located on the famous Ashtamudi Lake, 16 km long and less crowded then its counterparts in Alappuzha. In fact, tourists flock to take the 8-hour boat trip from Kollam to Alappuzha which is a comprehensive introduction to Kerala’s lush green beauty, verdant pastures and clear blue waters. It is the longest cruise offered in the backwaters of Kerala and is absolutely worth taking.
Kuttanad lies at the very heart of the backwaters of Kerala. A part of the Alappuzha district, Kuttanad has a special charm of its own apart from the alluring beauty of the backwaters. It is the lowest lying portion of land in India (about 1.5-2 metres below sea level). Hence the area abounds with paddy fields and is popularly known as “The Rice Bowl of India”. This is one of the only places in the world where farming is done below sea level. A rich crop of banana, cassava and yam also flourish here.
Kuttanad’s backwaters are also crossed with the paths of three rivers, namely, Pampa, Manimala and Achankovil. This adds to the rich biodiversity of the region. Water, hence, tends to be the main mode of transportation here, though the area is now more accessible by land. The fastest way to get here is from the railway station in Alappuzha.
Kasaragod is a quiet village, untouched by the wave of tourism and commercialization. It has some of the most mesmerizing houseboat journeys to offer in its backwaters. It is the northern most district of Kerala and is surrounded by the Western Ghats on two sides.
Kasaragod offers simple and traditional accommodation options and is a perfect place for the wanderlust traveler who wants a taste of the local lifestyle. Apart from the backwaters, the region is also littered with majestic forts, temples and beaches. One of the star attractions of the area is the Bekal fort, a well reserved, keyhole shaped fort located in the Arabian Sea, close to the shore. Pallikere and Kappil are two quiet beaches to visit in Kasaragod.