The backwaters of Kerala popularly known as ‘the floating kaleidoscope’ have been favourite among travellers from around the world for nearly 6000 years. The backwaters are a chain of brackish lagoons and lakes lying parallel to the Arabian sea coast, also known as the Malabar Coast of Kerala. The network includes five large lakes linked by canals, both man made and natural, fed by 38 rivers. This is one spot that will exhilarate, enchant and enthrall you during your visit. Most of the backwater regions are interconnected with national and state highways. The backwaters can be reached by air, train or even by road. However, ferries and house-boats are best options to explore this region. Traditionally used as one of the main transportation alleys, today the backwaters offer a rejuvenating experience for tourists visiting Kerala. The sound of waters soothes your senses.
There are a number of ways to do your backwater cruise, and a number of venues to start from. Cruise lengths vary from 3-4 hours to 2-6 days. You can choose between dugout canoes or vellams propelled by bamboo poles, houseboats or kettuvallams powered by outboard motors.
The kettuvallams are traditional rice barges made out of wooden planks. The planks are ‘stitched’ together with coconut ropes and painted with cashew oil. The backwaters can be explored by hiring a boat for one or several days.
If you go for more than a day, the boat usually comes with a navigator and a cook. The most beautiful and accessible part of the region is the Vembanad backwater stretch located in districts of Ernakulam, Alapuzha and Kottayam area. Vembanadu lake is the longest lake in South Asia.
Apart from these three major backwater regions, smaller lagoons can be found in almost all coastal districts of Kerala.
The popular options are Alumkadavu backwaters located in Kollam district at Karunagappally, famous for its large house-boat dry docks and boat yards where most of the house-boats are constructed and repaired.
Kumbalangi backwaters, part of the Vembanadu lake, located near Kochi are famous for village tourism, where small canoes are used to navigate a maze of mangrove forests.
Canoli canal and Kallai backwaters, located in Kozhikode district, are good for boating while the bird sanctuary at Kadalundi is fast becoming a favourite with bird-watchers and nature lovers.
Nearby is Korapuzha, where the Korapuzha Jalotsavam, a water sports festival attracts tourists from all parts of the country.
Here you can opt for ancestral homes converted into comfortable guest houses where you can stay with the family and have a feel of the local culture and cuisine.
Boat is the best way to go around the region. Apart from tourist house-boats, regular mechanised ferries run by Kerala State In-land Navigation Company (KSINC) and traditional country-side canoes also operate in the region.
Menu at house-boats includes delicacies made from freshwater fish.
As you are surrounded by water on all four sides, mosquitoes are common, hence mosquito-repellents are a must. A visit to Kerala is definitely incomplete without cruising down the backwaters.