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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.

Kerala Backwaters. India

The boats await their departure in Alleppey, Kerala

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.

Luxurious Kettuvallam (house boat) in Kerala Backwaters, India

Luxurious Kettuvallam (house boat). Judging by the number of windows, it has at least 3-4 bedrooms

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.

Kettuvallams (house boat) in Kerala Backwaters, India

Majority of the guests on board are locals. Western travelers don’t seem to frequent the area

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.

Kettuvallams (house boat) in Kerala Backwaters, India

Beautiful views in Kerala Backwaters

Kettuvallams (house boat) in Kerala Backwaters, India

An older boat anchored in the backwaters

Kettuvallams (house boat) in Kerala Backwaters, India

Judging by its size, this kettuvallam would probably only fit 2-3 guest on board. On most boats, including this one, the captain and his guests spend most of their time on the viewing area at the front of the boat.

Kettuvallams (house boat) in Kerala Backwaters, India

Narrow passage. A bit of a house boat traffic jam

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.

Shop on the shores of Kerala Backwaters. India

Shop on the shores of Kerala Backwaters

Woman doing laundry in Kerala Backwaters. India

Woman doing laundry in Kerala Backwaters

Woman fishing in the river. Kerala Backwaters. India

Woman fishing in the river. So much more convenient and much cheaper than going out to the shops!

Local girl strolling along the river. Kerala Backwaters. India

Local girl strolling along the river

Kerala Backwaters. India

Behind the row of palm trees lining the canals in Kerala Backwaters there are acres and acres of rice fields

Woman in Kerala Backwaters. India

Woman in Kerala Backwaters

Local in small boat. Kerala Backwaters. India

Locals get around in these types of small canoes

Locals in Kerala Backwaters. India

You can often see locals being transported along the canals in make shift taxi boats

Locals in rice paddies that line the land all around the backwaters. Kerala Backwaters. India

Locals in rice paddies that line the land all around the backwaters

Flock of birds over the rice paddies in Kerala Backwaters. India

Flock of birds over the rice paddies in Kerala Backwaters

Sunsets in the Kerala Backwaters are especially magical…

Local fisherman at sunset. Kerala Backwaters. India

Local fisherman at sunset

Local women making their way home along the river. Kerala Backwaters. India

Local women making their way home in golden hour

Kettuvallams (house boat) in Kerala Backwaters at sunset, India

Kettuvallam in Kerala Backwaters at sunset

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.

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Kerala Backwaters are a sprawling labyrinth of canals known for their natural beauty that provide a unique off the beaten path travel experience in India.

Is Kerala Backwaters a place you would like to visit on your trip to India?
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