A trip to India is often an assault on the senses. Dirt, garbage, pollution, crowded streets, never-ending honking of horns, intense aromas, bright colours, cows, goats, people… But take the time to get off the beaten path and you just might discover a part of India you didn’t even know existed. We sure did!
Last year, after spending a few too many blissful days on the beaches in Goa, we decided to travel down the west coast to the state of Kerala, known for its natural beauty and diverse ecology. Our destination was Kerala Backwaters, a network of canals, rivers and lakes extending for over 900kms from one end of the state to another.
Kerala Backwaters were traditionally used as transportation alleys, but today they provide a unique travel experience, one that allows you to slow down, sit back and appreciate life in the slow lane. (I bet you didn’t even think that was possible in India) There is no better way to explore the backwaters then to hire a house boat (known as kettuvallams) and to spend a few days sailing along the intricate canals observing the day to day life of the locals.
There are over 2,000 house boats traveling through the Backwaters, with majority of them departing from a small town of Alappuzha (Alleppey), know as the Venice of the East. The kettuvallams were once used as grain barges, transporting rice harvested in the fields lining the backwards, but today, the boats’ sole purpose is tourism. Converted into houseboats, kettuvallams come with all the luxuries (in a very loose sense of the word “luxury”) of a typical home, equipped with air-conditioned bedrooms, western bathroom facilities, dining and relaxing/viewing areas.
The boats come in a variety of sizes and styles. Some are very basic and rather small, able to accommodate 2-4 people plus crew on board. Others resemble something of a floating palace beautiful on the inside and out. Most travelers spend 1-2 nights on board, although a few have been known to linger for much longer.
There is absolutely no entertainment on board. Aside from chatting up with the boat driver, the cook or each other, the only other entertainment is comes in the form of day to day life on the shores of the backwaters. But we didn’t complain, life in Kerala Backwaters was fascinating and everything seemed picture worthy.
Throughout the day we would make stops along the backwater shores, picking up snacks, or fresh fish and vegetables for our meals. But most of the day was spent in the viewing gallery on board observing life in the backwaters. It is fascinating to see that despite the number of visitors in the area, life in Kerala Backwaters goes on uninterrupted.
Sunsets in the Kerala Backwaters are especially magical…
In 2009, National Geographic Traveler named Kerala one of 50 destinations to visit in a lifetime, but despite an increase in its popularity with domestic tourists, Kerala remains unchartered territory for many international travelers.