Considered as one of the most exotic things to do in India, the Backwaters of Kerala have never failed to mesmerize its visitors with its beauty. The swaying palms over the placid waters that become even more scintillating during sunset, the lush green paddy fields and the colorful birds that spot all these landscapes in flocks. These sights are guaranteed to captivate your heart. So far, I have not known of anyone who has returned disappointed with the backwaters of Kerala. No doubt the beauty of the backwaters of Kerala is exotic but it is the life along the backwaters that makes this journey through the backwaters an enthralling experience.
I have done the Backwaters of Kerala twice, the most recent being with the Golden Chariot tour of South India. The backwaters always got me thinking of how the people staying here moved around, what did they do for their living, what entertainment did they have, what was life as a kid here etc. A lot of my friends from Kerala added stories from their lives here and with each visit, I found nuances that connected to these stories. The last visit, I had my imaginary friend from Kerala, who I fondly refer to as Chechi (elder sister in Malayalam) guide me through my journey on a houseboat of Kerala. What I felt and what I observed is best told in Chechi’s voice. I know you will enjoy it better! So, over to Chechi –
Backwaters of Kerala
Welcome to our gorgeous homeland.
All of you can refer to me as Chechi as do my neighbors and friends from Alleppey. For long, I have been addressed this way that I now forget what my real name is. I was born and brought up in Alleppey and for me, backwaters have been my life. I cannot imagine life as you lead it. For me, that is too, mechanical and unconventional. I think you fellas look more at the wristwatch than the surroundings. Even when you are talking to people, you are always looking at your mobiles and wristwatches. We also, look at the time but only when we need to catch a boat. I will explain more of that when we float along the canals of Vembanad but for now, let me explain what really these backwaters of Kerala are.
As you know that we are known as the Venice of the East, which is right in a lot of ways but is also, different in a lot of others. For one, we are not islands in the ocean like the original Venice. Our canals and waterways are a result of numerous lakes, rivers, and even the Arabian Sea. There are numerous towns and cities along this 900 km of backwaters, some key ones being – Kochi, Kumarakom, Alleppey and Kottayam. Each of these places has its own beauty and no matter where you decide to visit, you will relate to all that I share with you in this tour. Let’s set out from the Jetty on our grand tour of Alleppey, also known as Alappuzha.
Our Homes along the Backwaters
Along the sides, amidst the green fields and coconut laden lands, you will see our simple homes. A small structure with sloping roofs to drain away the crazy rains, we sometimes, have a small garden of our own. There are a few of us who have an exclusive dock for our boats and then some of us who have a small pole to tie them. Some of us have created steps that lead into the backwaters so that we can enjoy the little dip in our own little swimming pool. Our homes are not what you just see of concrete but includes much more than that.
Uvvu, we do own cars and bikes now but that is in addition to boats. It is not unusual to find one or two of these boats attached to a home and we use these for our daily chores. Where you use a two-wheeler or a car to drop and pick up your relatives, we use our boats to do the chores. Look around you will see different types of boats – some just for shuttling around and some meant to be different types of houseboats. Scroll through the slideshow below to get a glimpse of some.
Here and there you will see some public docks that are used by our water taxis and water buses to pick up people. You might find it weird but there are a lot of traffic jams in our canals – quite like the roadways you are used to. However, unlike the roadways, we have no cops or signals monitoring our turns. 🙂
All in a day’s work
Most of our mon (kids) have now grown up and moved to bigger cities. While they stay away, their home and their culture are etched in their hearts and that always brings them home. Spread across the world, our children work hard and give back to their home. Nonetheless, there are a few of us who are still living our traditional life.
Take this uncle for instance. Every morning, he throws his nets around the backwaters of Kerala and then, sells his catch for his living. A lot of this is in fact, bought by the boats passing by, including your own houseboat to prepare Fresh Karimeen – a specialty dish of the backwaters of Kerala. You should eat one at my house – the fresh fish, marinated in traditional spices and cooked within banana leaves will leave you wanting for me. And I don’t forget my vegetarian friends. I will treat you to some great Appams and Idiappams with vegetable stew.
I digress. Besides fishing, you will see small fenced areas near our homes with loads of ducks. Duck farming is not uncommon for us. I remember my muttachan (grandfather) used to take his boats out and make the ducks swim in a flock – just as you would have seen a shepherd with their fish. A long pole was used to herd them around and later we would enclose them into their homes. Even today, if you are lucky, you will find one of our people doing this and trust me, you will find the same verry interesting.
Life for us
These waterways for us are a boon. I cannot imagine life without them. Our daily needs are met at the shops that you see in the corners of these backwaters. Just the way you make stops in your cars, our boats make stops along the way before we reach our destination. Sometimes for a refreshing coconut water treat or for the men, sometimes it is a stop-over at the Toddy bar.
Toddy is made out of coconut and is our traditional drink. A little alcoholic and strong for me, it is enjoyed by all those boys. You might want to give it shot and see if it appeals to you. Just request your houseboat to just stop along the way. Enjoy the cool breeze of the backwaters while you sip from the glass. You will realize that this has a very distinct and sharp taste. But if you want some advice from Chechi, just try the simple plain coconut water that is sold along the banks.
We all stay in harmony. From a church to a mosque and a temple, you are bound to spot some beautiful monuments like this church. or Even the temple below.
Some of our islands are just a bridge apart and here is where our similarity to Venice is obvious.
Life as a kid
Life as kids is quite simple. We played along the roads, walked through the fields, swam in the backwaters and swung along the banks. Football and Badminton are our favorite sports and you will see a lot of mone playing around. They are quite scared of me – after all, I am chechi. I am always telling them to do their homework or clean up something. Otherwise those monkutties tend to get out of hand!
I am proud to show-off our literacy rate – a 100% . And that of course, is thanks to our schools. They are not too far but the distance has to be traversed in our water buses. When I was a school girl, I did not have an exclusive school bus and used to board the regular water buses. These days, the newer schools have their own buses.
Now I see my niece and nephews from the cities and feel that they have forgotten the fun games that we used to play. All they know is those silly mobile games like Temple Run or Farmerville. Our children here, not just know that but also, know what it is to play under the bright blue skies in fresh, green fields. That joy of skipping in the open, playing hop-scotch without any care or even playing football with empty coconut shells is something that my vit (home) here can help you enjoy.
Beauty of the Backwaters
My backwaters are still pristine and beautiful. There is a charm in its natural beauty and we do not really want to change that. I love breathing this fresh air of my serene surroundings, listening to the gentle lapping of the water and watching how the full moon lights up the whole palm-fringed landscape. The most divine feeling is watching the sunset and cast its warm glow of the backwaters – a phenomenon that is bound to make everything feel magical. I do hope you experience it here today and remember your Chechi when you do. With that, I take your leave with the hope that you found life in the Backwaters of Kerala as fascinating as I found your lives.
Over to Ami
Chechi left me as soon as we docked back to board our waiting bus. But each sight that she pointed out to me stays with me as if it were yesterday that I had seen it. What did you think of these cultural nuances of the Backwaters of Kerala? Did you also, find it as fascinating as I did? Have you experienced it yourself or would you like to? Message in and let me know.
- Cochin and Trivandrum are the closest airports to Alleppey. You can hop into a cab or a bus for Alleppey
- Alleppey or Alappuzha has its own railway station and bus station.
- Kumarakom is the other destination for Backwaters of Kerala. This can be accessed through Cochin airport or Kottayam railway station.
- This tour of the backwaters of Kerala is even available through the Southern Splendour tour of the Golden Chariot, operated by Karnataka Tourism
- Check out my travel tips for the houseboats in Kerala by clicking the link here.