KERALA’S BACKWATERS

Kerala’s backwaters—a network of natural waterways, lagoons and lakes—run parallel to its coast. The rich vegetation, biological diversity and gentle pace of village life in the backwaters leave an indelible impression on visitors. The Alappuzha-Kumarakom stretch is the most popular, but there are several other routes which offer quieter yet equally scenic experiences. The backwaters are synonymous with ‘kettuvallams’—houseboats designed like rice barges—but country canoes and public ferries are interesting options for those looking for some local flavour.

Alappuzha

Often likened to Venice, Alappuzha, also known as Alleppey, in central Kerala, is the most popular entry point into the backwaters around Vembanad Lake. There’s a pretty beach with an old pier and lighthouse, but the real draw is the network of canals which can be explored on luxury houseboats, speedboats and ferries.

The Alappuzha District Tourism Promotion Council offers the cheapest cruises, including the popular one between Alappuzha and Kollam which operates every day, from August to January (Rs 300 including lunch for 8 hours). There’s also a daily three-hour-long sunset cruise (Rs 200), canoe rides (Rs 200 per hour) and overnight stays in houseboats (Rs 4,000 for non-AC and Rs 4,500 for AC, all-inclusive).

Alappuzha is at its festive best during the Nehru Boat Snake Boat Race, generally held on the second Saturday of August every year. The regatta takes place on the Punnamada Lake, and also features ceremonial processions and magnificent floats. The highlight of the event is the synchronised rowing of traditional 30-metre-long snake-boats or ‘chudan valloms’, which have a raised prow resembling a snake.

Kumarakom

Part of the Kuttanad region, picturesque Kumarakom is an archipelago scattered on the eastern edge of the Vembanad Lake. This area’s natural splendour and way of life were vividly described in Arundhati Roy’s Man Booker Prize-winning, ‘The God of Small Things’. Kumarakom has a string of luxury resorts including the Coconut Lagoon, Kumarakom Lake Resort and Vivanta by Taj – Kumarakom, located right on the backwaters and guests can rove about the canals on boating and fishing trips. The 14-acre Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary is an ornithologist’s paradise and home to egrets, darters, herons, herons, waterfowls and kingfishers. The sanctuary also welcomes seasonal guests including the elusive Siberian stork, between the months of November and May.

Kollam

The backwaters around Kozhikode are also not as touristy and consequently much less crowded. Houseboats can be hired at the pier near the Purrakkattiri Bridge on the Ullery-Perambra road, 10 kilometres outside Kozhikode. The prettiest routes wind along the Canoly Canal, Kallai River and Elathur. An excursion to the scenic Kadalundi Bird Sanctuary, set amidst hillocks and by an estuary, is highly recommended. The sanctuary comprises of a group of small isles where the Kadalundi River meets the Arabian Sea, and is home to over 100 species of native birds and 60 kinds of migratory birds.

KERALA’S BACKWATERS2Kozhikode

Less-known than the backwaters of central Kerala, the backwaters around Kozhikode are also not as touristy and consequently much less crowded. Houseboats can be hired at the pier near the Purrakkattiri Bridge on the Ullery-Perambra road, 10 kilometres outside Kozhikode. The prettiest routes wind along the Canoly Canal, Kallai River and Elathur. An excursion to the scenic Kadalundi Bird Sanctuary, set amidst hillocks and by an estuary, is highly recommended. The sanctuary comprises of a group of small isles where the Kadalundi River meets the Arabian Sea, and is home to over 100 species of native birds and 60 kinds of migratory birds.

KERALA’S BACKWATERS3Valiyaparamba

The northern backwaters in Valiyaparamba are the quietest of the lot. Around 30 kilometres away from Bekal, Valiyaparamba is located in the Kasaragod district of north Kerala. Fed by four rivers, this sprawling backwater has several small and scenic islands. For a short visit, take a Kerala State Water Transport Development ferry from Kotti near the town of Payyannur, towards Ayitti Jetty.

The comfortably furnished Bekal Boat Stay offers one of the few overnight houseboat trips to the area.

You can also stay at the Valiyaparamba Retreat, which has two rooms and two bungalows sandwiched between a pristine beach and the backwaters. It is located 15 kilometres north of the town of Payyannur, and also organises excursions on motor boats and country canoes.

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