Parallel to the Arabian Sea, 1500 km of interconnected canals, lakes, rivers, and inlets make up the Kerala Backwaters. A coastal drive through a lush landscape, follows narrow roads, with traffic that keeps you on your toes.
The Kerala Backwaters, often referred to as Venice of the East, are popularly accessed from Alleppey. Don’t let the 2-hour drive deter you, the reward on arrival more than makes up for it. In Alleppey your Kettuvallam awaits.
A Kettuvallam, or “boat with knots”, is a solid jack wood vessel tied together with coir rope. No nails are used in the process. Solid planks are bound together and covered in a thick resin made from boiled cashew kernels. Used to carry rice and spices to the port in Cochin for shipment, coir thatched roofing protected the cargo from the elements.
At 100 metres in length, a Kettuvallam has a 30-tonne cargo capacity. With the development of road transport, the use of these barges reduced until a wily entrepreneur saw an opportunity to convert them into houseboats. What followed was a tourism phenomenon.
There are now 1,000 houseboats cruising the Kerala Backwaters. A cap has been placed on that number to preserve the region and the tourist experience.
A standard design includes a double bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and living area open on 3 sides. 2, 3 and 4 bedroom designs are available for groups or families and a few luxury houseboats include an upper deck, some with spas.
Each houseboat has 3 crew; cook, captain, and ship’s mate. At least one crew member will be fluent in English and most are local villagers familiar with the area to point out bird and animal species and share local knowledge.
Before boarding your houseboat for a day or overnight cruise (up to 3 nights), a few formalities are required. Have a copy of your passport and Indian visa with you for registration at the pier.
Pick up and drop off are included in most tour packages and your driver will likely know one of the roadside booze vendors in Fort Kochi so buy it on the way – at half the price. 😉
All meals and snacks are included and taken care of by the cook. Bottled water, coffee, and tea are also included.
Expect to be astonished at how delicious the local Kerala rice is. Light, fluffy and with a nutty flavour that compares to no other rice, make sure you buy some before leaving.
Chicken, fish, vegetables, curd, pickles, and pappad are all locally caught, grown or prepared. Dietary requirements are communicated when booking and are taken care of with ease. All that’s left for you to do is sit back and enjoy the experience.
That regular thwack you can hear are the ladies beating their laundry on rocks in the river. The sounds of Kingfishers, terns, darters, and cormorants are in the air and mudskippers, frogs, fish and otters from the water.
The lush growth of palms, pandanus, bananas, and rice follow the shoreline interspersed by churches, temples, traditional housing, and markets. Village life is uninterrupted and you and your vessel are just part of their scenery.
Make no mistake, with 1,000 houseboats on the backwaters, you’re not alone. There is a sense of comradery with greetings from your fellow cruisers. A wave, a shouted “hello”, or a blast from a Bollywood soundtrack pass as you float along enjoying the view.
The Kerala backwaters scene changes in August with the annual Nehru Trophy Boat Race. An event held since 1952 when Jawaharlal Nehru visited Kerala. He was collected in a snake boat, a 30-metre narrow boat with a 3-metre raised prow representing the head of a snake.
A snake boat race was arranged for his entertainment and 100 oarsmen per boat raced a 1.5km stretch of lake. Nehru loved it, sending a silver trophy on his return to Delhi and the race became an annual event.
A new seaplane port, open by the end of October (according to our ship’s mate), will make reaching the Kerala Backwaters a breeze. With aerial views and taking less than half the time, a seaplane would certainly be a preferred option.
Our day trip to Alleppey to experience the beautiful Kerala backwaters was arranged through Peter Dalglish at Carnival Tours Kochi. His office is in Fort Kochi, although it is as convenient to arrange online. Peter will customise your tour to fit your schedule and arrange for Babu, his driver to collect you from your accommodation.
Our experience booking through Peter was hassle-free, Babu’s knowledge of the roads, attractions along the way and rally driving prowess entertained us and kept us alive.
Our recommendation is to allow for an overnight stay, or 2 nights, time permitting. Imagine listening to night noises while gently rocking to sleep. The Kerala backwaters: it’s a place we love….
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