The backwaters of Kerala are an extensive network of rivers, lakes and lagoons that lace the interior coastline from the industrial city of Kochi to the capital city of Thiruvanathapuram.
Think Kerala and you have a vivid picture of a maze of meandering backwaters lined by coconut palms, golden beaches, tea estates and picturesque natural harbours. It takes only one visit to God's Own Country to agree that the backwaters of Kerala is not just another of Mother Nature's wonders.
The great floods of 1866 silted up old harbours and led to the formation of beautiful lagoons. Kerala's backwaters have something for everyone, right from providing a unique holidaying experience to providing attractive spice trade opportunities for businessmen.
Along the backwaters people can catch a glimpse of the traditional life style of the locals. Old traditional family houses known as the Tharavadus have been transformed to give visitors a memorable experience. The giant country crafts called Kettuvallams ply along the rivers. They were originally used as grain barges to carry rice after the harvest along the rivers. Today they come with all the amenities of a traditional house on water. They are over 80 feet long and are made by tying large wooden planks together without using a single nail!
One of the most popular cities in Kerala is the city of Kochi, the Queen of the Arabian Sea. It is home to some of the most picturesque islands of Bolghatty, Vypeen, Gundu and Vallarpadam. The Vembanad Kayal (Lake) opens into the Arabian Sea from here making Kochi one of the finest natural harbours on the world. One can gather glimpses of the impact of the visits by the Dutch, Arabs, Chinese, Portuguese and the British in the quaint blend of European and Asian architecture in the city.
Alappuzha district is always known as the Venice of the East due to the prominent place it has played in the maritime history of the state. Today the town boasts of attracting a large number of tourists to its well-known boat races, houseboat holidays and coir industry.
Another popular region is Kuttanad known as the rice bowl of Kerala. Kuttanad is said to have been under the sea a long time ago and as a result the area is very fertile. This is perhaps the only place in Asia where rice farming is done below sea level using a system of dykes and bunds.
Kumarakom, a little village formed by a cluster of little islands on the Vembanad Kayal, has a number of resorts with boating and fishing facilities. The freshwater lake flows into the mainland forming a network of brooks, lagoons, canals and waterways lined by rice fields and rubber plantations.
The coastal district of Kollam was once the hub of spice trade in the state. It is one of the oldest ports of the Malabar Coast. It is the centre of the cashew processing and trading industry in the country. A large part of this serene town is covered by the Ashtamudi Kayal. One can take the longest backwater cruise between Kollam and Alappuzha that takes about eight hours. As one ferries along the waters it is a wonderful experience to watch the activities along one of the most beautiful settings in the world. One can also take the shorter cruises on the privately owned boats.
The capital city of Thiruvanathapuram also has its share of natural beauty. The shores are lined with breathtaking beaches and backwater stretches. It is the seat of all the political drama, industrial development and makes an ideal destination.
Getting to Kerala
All domestic airlines in India fly to Kerala. One can either go to Thiruvanathapuram or to Kochi and then take the backwater cruise from there. The two cities are also well connected by rail. Most travel and tourism agencies have Kerala holiday packages.