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Backwaters in Kerala

Land and water share an extra ordinary kinship in Kerala. This land which is believed to have sprung forth from the sea, continues to bask in the tender life giving care of the waters that lap gently on its coast, cascade down its hills and valleys and rests calmly in exotic backwaters and lagoons. Kerala’s backwaters present a different way of life; and offer the visitors a relaxed and beautiful sight seeing experience that will never be matched elsewhere. The term ‘backwaters’ actually refers to the extensive network of rivers, lakes, canals and lagoons that lace the interior coastline southwards from Cochin almost down to Trivandrum.

The backwaters are an attractive and economically valuable feature of Kerala. The backwaters are a gateway for the visitor to see first hand the unhurried village life of rural Kerala. To live through this beautiful experience, we offer a unique opportunity to go around cycling and canoeing. These include lakes and ocean in lets which stretch irregularly along the lengthy coastline of Kerala. From these backwaters citizens learn to swim before they walk. Small canoes, fishing boats, Chinese style junks and thatch covered country crafts ply the waters constantly carrying goods, produce and people. Elaborate and strange fishing nets, the legacy of early Chinese traders, spread out over the l akes. There are places where the superb fisher folk dive into the water and bring up a fish firmly captured in a bare hand. Kerala's centuries old, palm fringed and picture perfect backwaters and mirror still lagoons stretch over 1900 kms. 

Kerala lives along these backwaters. They snake over the land, bestowing paddy fields with good harvests, and provide the whole village with drinking water and other facilities. The backwaters refer to the large inland lakes of Kerala. Today these backwaters act as vital waterways for the transport of goods, people and produce. They are often the only link between remote, isolated villages and crowded town pockets. It's an incredible experience to float on these soothing waters in a country craft to absorb this unusual representation of Kerala.

Up north in Kerala, the meandering backwaters of Calicut (Kozhikode) lie waiting to be discovered. With a bewitching beauty of its own, Elathur offers an ideal jump-off base into the Canoly Canal - a name taken after its British builder and administrator. The canal links itself to the Kallai River, which unhurriedly threads through the city and offers its shores to Calicut’s historic timber trade. The produce of which is believed to have even adorned the courts of King Solomon and Queen Sheba a few millennia ago. Further south lays Kadalundi with its charming bird sanctuary - haven to an amazing assortment of delightful water birds. Another river of the region - Korapuzha - is fast gaining popularity as the venue of the water sports festival - the Korapuzha Jalotsavam - staged every August.  

Alleppey, which is hailed as the ‘Venice of the east’ is a major centre for backwaters cruise .The boat cruise from Alleppey to Kollam (it takes about nine hours) is highly enjoyable. The route winds up the Pampa River to Champakkulam, an island hamlet, then into the Karumadi canal. The statue of Karumadikuttan is believed to be of Buddha. Some see it as a remnant of a bygone era when Buddhist monks came to Kerala with the message of love and non- violence. Then past Thrikkunnapuzha, across Kayamkullam Lake and Astamudi Lake finally drawing into the ancient port of Kollam. The area between Alleppey and Changanacherry is particularly lovely as are the broad vistas of Vembanad Lake. The biggest among the Backwaters is the Vembanad Lake, with an area of 200 sq km, which opens out into the Arabian Sea at Cochin Port. The Periyar, Pamba, Manimala, Achenkovil, Meenachil and Moovattupuzha rivers drain into this lake.
 
There are many special events that take place on the backwaters particularly during the August – September period. Spectacular races of magnificent, carved wooden boats are a local and unique passion and they are fascinating spotting events. 

The Nehru cup boat race – the most colourful snake boat race of Kerala is held on the second Saturday of August every year. Over hundreds and thousands of men and women gather around the banks to witness a Spectular water regatta –the snake boat races. Boat race crews begin to practice for the race months before the great day. They live together, eat together, and toil together to work themselves into a smooth, co-ordinated team. On the boat race day, the Chundan Vallams as the greatest racing boats are called are slicked down with a special oil to make them glide effortlessly through water. The crews then visit a shrine carrying the stroke and largest steering oar with them. And having offered prayers to Almighty, they are now ready to war with their fellow men. 

The air crackles with excitement as the best of the 130 feet Chundan Vallams, each manned by over a hundred rowers, fly through the waters at break neck speed, egged on by the fierce competitive spirit that marks the event and the spectators lusty roars. The Nehru trophy Boat race – the most colourful snake boat race of Kerala is held in the second Saturday of august. India’s first Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru inaugurated this competition in 1952and is called in his honour The Nehru Boat Race. Another most important is at Aranmula were the races are associated with a Temple festival. Aranmula races have a special fascination of their own. Caparisoned and Parasol decked elephants gaily decorated floats, boats with prows carved like birds, and the Temple related ritual activities make this a very special event.  

On the shores of the enchanting Vembanad Lake, 14 kilometres from Kottayam (travel time: 20 min), lies Kumarakom in its small-town hush, Redolent of restful ease. A boat ride into the countryside offers a close look into an engaging rustic life. Skiff-fishermen launching their cockleshell boats, large flotillas of ducks waddling down to the water from thatched houses on the banks, Women, neck-deep in water, with their waist-length hair heaped in a crown, searching for fish with their feet. At Kumarakom, you could sail the backwaters in rented houseboats, which are poled by local oarsmen and are simply furnished with a living room, a bedroom and bath, together with a raised central platform creating a private sit-out for the passengers. Sections of the curved roof of wood or plaited palm open out to provide shade and allow uninterrupted views. Boat trains - formed by joining two or more houseboats together - make for a convenient mode of sightseeing when the company is large. You could even take a canoe out into the quiet lagoons and spend time angling. Make sure you sample Karimeen and fresh Toddy - the favourite fresh-water food and the local wine. This is an ideal place for backwater cruises. A beautiful backwater spot accessible from Kumarakom is Alleppey. A 14-acre bird sanctuary is situated on the eastern banks of the Vembanad Lake. The sanctuary adds to the natural beauty of Kumarakom. Birds (waterfowl, water ducks, cuckoos, wild ducks etc.) nest and spend happy summers here. Birds like Siberian Storks migrate here every year. The sanctuary is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. 

The sweeping network of canals, honeycombing the town of Alleppey (Alappuzha) has earned for the place its sobriquet - "The Venice of the East." Small, low-slung country boats are the taxis of this water land. It is a heart-warming sight to see them carry a motley assemblage of cycles, goats, fisherwomen with cane baskets, school children, toddy-tappers with their knives and pots, duennas in white with gold earrings, Syrian Christian priests and a bare-chested boatman apiece. A ride into Kuttanad through shimmering, green paddy fields and tail-wagging, head-bobbing groups of ducks will be a great sight. The coir-workers too present an interesting sight as they soak coconut fibre in pools, beat them out and weaves the tough brown strands into long ropes on spindles stretched between endless coconut trees. Alleppey becomes the cynosure of the eyes of the world in August - September, every year, as it plays host to the celebrated Snake Boat Races - a water regatta unique to Kerala.

The backwaters form an especially attractive and economically valuable feature of Kerala. The deltas of the rivers interlink the backwaters and provide excellent water transportation in the low lands of Kerala. A navigable canal stretches from Trivandrum, the capital of Kerala to Tirur in the far north. Some important backwaters are Veli, Kadhinamkulam, Anjengo (Anju Thengu), Edava, Nadayara, Paravoor. Ashtamudi (Quilon).  

Within hailing distance of the capital city Trivandrum (Thiruvananthapuram), is the Veli - Akkulam lagoon with a delightful waterfront park growing increasingly popular among the natives and tourists alike. Only a narrow sandbar separates the lagoon from the sea. You can opt for rides in motor-driven safari launches, powerboats, pedal boats or rowboats. Kayaks and hovercraft attract the brave-hearted. A floating bridge and a floating restaurant add to the overall excitement. The eastern end of the lake is flanked by two scenic hillocks coming through as a perfect hiking ground, 2 kms, from Trivandrum Airport. 
 
The Veli Tourist Village on the outskirts of Trivandrum is a delightful waterfront park, which has become extremely popular with Trivandrumites. It is a nice place for tourists with young children to spend an afternoon. There is lot for the kids to do, and they will meet many of their young Kerala counterparts, all of whom will be eager to make new friends and try out their English. The main attraction at Veli is water - a large inland lake, separated from the ocean by only a narrow sandbar. For a few rupees, rides can be had in motor-driven safari launches and powerboats, or a family can drift about in a pedal-boat or a rowboat. There are kayaks, and even hovercraft, for the more intrepid. While skimming over the lake, visitors will see the local fishermen readying their boats, working on their nets, or poling sand-laden barges. There is a floating bridge, and a floating restaurant too. Open every day; boat rides available until 6.00p.m., after which the lake reverts to the sole use of fishermen. For your little tots, there is a tiny lake within the park, with sturdy, round "tub boats", equipped with miniature paddles. A small cafeteria serves ice cream, cold drinks and snacks, and the grounds are dotted with interesting climbing sculptures designed by the well-known sculptor Kanai Kunjiraman.  

There are pony rides, and an open-air theatre. This serves as a centre for cultural performances and, with the ocean as a backdrop, provides the setting for an annual arts festival. Check with the Government Tourist Office in Trivandrum for schedules of any special events. The park can be reached in a 15-minute taxi ride from Trivandrum. There are also special bus services to Veil from the city.

Akkulam is one of the first picnic spots in the suburbs of Trivandrum City. This place is only 10 kms away from the Central Railway Station. The spot is developed on the banks of Aakkulam Kayal (lake), which is an extension of the Veli Kayal (lake). The calm and serene atmosphere and its unique natural beauty is fascinating for the tourist. The village consists of the Boat Club, Swimming Pool, Children's Park, an Anthurium Project and a Snack Bar.

Come into Cochin (Kochi), Queen of the Arabian Sea. Believed to be the finest natural harbour in the world. With ferry rides commanding its breathtaking view. Cruise around man-made islands with lush green lawns sloping down to the water's edge. Cochin is the oldest European settlement in India. Recording a history of visitors, who came, saw and stayed for hundreds of years. Layered impressions - Chinese, Arab, Jewish, British, French and Portuguese, are contained within its environment. Giant Chinese fishing nets that billow from massive teak and bamboo poles dot the entrance to the harbour. Silhouetted against the setting sun, they present a magnificent sight at the waterfront. A narrow, palm-fringed island, easily accessible from the mainland is where the Bolghatty Palace is situated. The Dutch built the palace in 1744. Later, it became the seat of the British Resident of Cochin and today this has been converted into a hotel run by the Kerala Tourism Development Corporation.The palace has a golf course on its grounds.  

The charming old port city of Quilon (Kollam) on the banks of the picturesque Ashtamudi Lake is now known more as the centre of cashew industry. Traces of a once prosperous trade with China are still seen in the form of Chinese fishing nets, huge Chinese water pots, blue and white porcelain and sampan-like boats. Quilon is an inviting gateway to Kerala's backwaters. For an interesting backwater experience, take the regular ferry to Alleppey - a rigorous ride lasting more than 8 hours. As the old ferry putters from one village on the waterfront to another, you are treated to a full range of lives and activities and some of the most beautiful scenery imaginable. For the less intrepid, shorter cruises can be made in the larger comforts of the houseboats with idyllic villages such as Alumkadavu as your launch base. The nearest airport, Trivandrum, is 71 kms away. It takes fractionally over an hour and a half to get to Quilon by road or rail from Trivandrum.

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