The entire state of Kerala is blessed with plenty of rivers and the resources of many are still untapped. The waterways of Kerala play a main role in the economy of the state, links remote villages and islands with the main land. The water ways provide a cheap and economical mode of transport. It is incredibly different experience to cruise in the backwaters in houseboat or country boats, absorbing the beauty of Kerala villages. The scenery flashes up vivid contrasts of breath-taking greens and deep blues. Boat rides, houseboat cruises and holiday packages are available for tourist and others at nominal rates.
For those who have come across the term backwaters for the first time, here’s a bit of explanation as to what it actually is. Backwaters are formed when the sea water collects at the beach by the to and fro motion of waves. In Kerala, they constitute the canals, lakes, lagoons and estuaries. The entire network includes five large lakes connected by 1500 km of canals. Most of them are natural, however, there are man made canals as well. These are supplied by 38 rivers that flow through the entire state.
The major backwater stretch is in Kottayam district, where a network of rivers and canals empty into the great expanse of water called the Vembanad Lake. Located at Kumarakom 16 km from Kottayam town, the Vembanad Lake, an enchanting picnic spot and a fast developing backwater tourism destination, provides boating, fishing and sight seeing experiences that are truly exhilarating. Kumarakom slumbers on the banks of the famous Vembanad Lake. The Vembanad Lake with its majestic canals, streams and distributaries along its banks weave an intricate and enchantingly beautiful web. The gorgeous green of the fringed palms ripple in the blue waters and blend into wavelets.
A touch of legendary folklore is also interesting here according to which the land of Kerala sprung up as a result of the throwing of axe in the sea by the sage warrior, Parshurama. The distance covered by the axe dried up to give way to land which today is known as Kerala.
In earlier times, when the technology was not much advanced and when roadways were not properly developed, Kerala’s backwaters served as its main highway. Passengers and goods were transported from one place to another in equal measures by means of these backwaters. However, as of today, these backwaters are mainly used by the tourism industry to introduce tourists to the hidden troves of the state. The Backwaters is inextricably linked to its past history and culture, is an important part of the present and promises to remain so in future as well. So the link between Kerala’s land and water is invariably strong and the water still takes care of and nourishes it unfailingly.
A number of times, while you are on a trip discovering a new place, a sense of dissatisfaction dawns upon and makes you feel as if the happiness felt at knowing the place was not worth the effort put in to reach there. Not so with Kerala Backwaters. Kerala’s Backwater experience will give you much more than just simple happiness. It will give you a feeling of elation – a feeling that has eluded you for a long time now. It is pristine, probably even child like where you feel like clapping with delight.
Plenty of clean water, refreshing greenery, amazing scenery around and a silence broken only by chirping of birds and waters moving below the boat – this is what you will definitely get on your Backwater trip to Kerala. Remote places that are otherwise disconnected from main areas seem to sail past like a dream. Fishing villages, tribal hamlets, people carrying on with their day to day work – scenes like this will be abundant.
The Backwaters of Kerala are also a venue for the annual boat races that take place in the different parts of the state. If you happen to visit during this season (which is around July to September), you can also witness the enthusiasm of the Backwaters as huge boats rush past each other to win the competition amidst loud cheers from the spectators.
The perfect way to explore the beauty and serenity of Kerala Backwater is to hire a boat or a canoe. For a little longer trip, houseboats, which are converted kettuvallom earlier used to carry cargo and passengers, can be hired.
Yet another Backwater destination on the banks of Vembanad Lake, the beauty of Kumarakom has inspired the likes of former Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee to state, ‘Natures silent beauty provides a perfect setting here for contemplation’. Kumarakom Backwater, supposedly discovered just a decade ago, provides some splendid views of coconut groves, mangroves and paddy fields. The highpoint of your journey will be reaching the Pathiramanal Island which is around an hour’s ride from the Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary. Kumarakom the charming emerald peninsula jutting into the ever-effervescent Vembanad Lake takes you into the heart of the scenic lake where you’ll come across plenty of traditional country crafts, boats and canoes. The fresh water of the lake runs into the mainland making a labyrinth of lagoons, brooks, canals Common Butterflies in Kerala and waterways. The backwater houses a variety of species of both fauna and flora. They are rich with marine life namely the exclusive ‘Kumarakom Karimeen’ (pearl spotted fish), Konju (tiger prawns), Njandu (crabs), Chemeen (prawns) and many more.
Start off from Alappuzha, a major Backwater Destination and the Venice of East. An intricate network of canals in Alappuzha, especially the ones that are a part of the Vembanad Lake are just the place if you wish to see some really awe inspiring beauty. Scenes reroute are a varied lot – paddy fields, coconut lagoons, secluded islands, men on country boats busy fishing and shepherding their ducks to new pastures and school children being taken across the canal. Kuttunad, the rice bowl of Kerala, is at the centre of attraction here. This is perhaps the only place where farming is done on land below sea level. You can also step out of the boat and visit the village craftsmen while they are working to make coir. Taste the traditional Keralese food in one of these places, particularly the sea food. Boats are available from the jetty itself which is close to the KSRTC Bus Stand.
Kollam (Quilon)Kollam is ancient trading city of Kerala & the gateway of the backwaters of Kerala. Kollam (old name Quilon) is located in bank of Arabian sea, 70 KMs north to the capital city Trivandrum. This old port is highlighted in the Kerala history as the prominent place of International spice trade, production & trading of coir products & cashew cultivation, processing & export. Fondly referred to as Swapnadesham (dream land) by many of her faithful admirer, Kollam was once centre of cashew trade in Kerala. Today, the same industry has lost much of its zeal, nonetheless, the beauty and serenity of this little jewel of Kerala has not faded out even a wee bit. Well known fishing port of Kerala `Neendakara’ is located just 7 KMs north to Kollam town. The tourism in Kollam is granted with unique features such as the lake, sea, rivers, streams, backwaters, and vast green fields. The Ashtamudi Lake (Ashtamudi Kayal) lies in Kollam district, is the second largest freshwater lake & wetland ecosystem in Kerala. “Kallada” is the main river flowing into Ashtamudi lake. Along with the other 3 rivers ( Kulathupuzha, Chenduruni and Kalthuruthy – originates from the Western Ghats), these canals come together at Neendakara. The real beauty and charm of this Ashtamudi Lake is the cluster of tiny islets. There are eight serene islands in Ashtamudi lake and, most of which are inhabited, but not exploited by the outer world. The lake also host to backwater cruises & other tourism activities. Traditional houseboats or ‘Kettuvallams’ across this lake provide unique opportunity for the tourists to explore the nature preserves. The Backwaters in the Ashtamudi Lake and its canals is still as mesmerizing as it was years back. Hire a boat and set out to explore the islands and villages that lie on way the route you have chosen to traverse.
Kochi (Cochin)Kochi is very well-known as `The Queen of Arabian Sea’, known as the best natural harbor in India. Cochin is an exquisite combination of historical, traditional and the modern intense nostalgia. Cochin backwaters are the compilation of islands, that are encircled by the beautiful Vembanad Lake. And because of its commercial significance, the gigantic powers such as the French, English, Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch and Jewish strives for supremacy in the area which is why this destination has a fusion of several exotic cultures. Ferry or boat rides in Kochi backwaters commands a breathtaking view because of its lush green lawns sloping down to the shore. Chinese fishing nets that hang from massive teak and bamboo poles highlight the entrance to the harbor. The backwaters in Kochi is just another reason many tourists go to see this amazing port city the throughout the year. The backwaters of Kochi are blessed with rich aquatic life. Fort Cochin / Mattancherry area is the place where Arabian sea, and Vembanad Lake meet & create a splendid sight. The beach area also gives breathtaking view of the sunset. Visitors can see ships & fishing vessels passing through the entrance area the backwaters from the ocean. The Chinese fishing nets, (Cheenavala) have attracted visitors in the Fort Kochi area for centuries. This historic place still remains as the symbol of its glorious tradition & history. The uniqueness of this place is the ruins of its spectacular history have conserved & remained same even amidst the modern day developments. Boat (ferry) rides around man-made islands with lush green lawns sloping down to the water’s edge fascinating experience for any tourist visiting this historical town. All the islands that constitute a part of Kochi are interconnected by a network of backwaters canals and lakes. Cruising through them and viewing the Chinese fishing net, particularly during sunset, will elate you beyond expression.