Backwaters of Kerala – An Indulgence with Responsible Tourism

The month of October always brings back fond memories of my trip to the backwaters of Kerala. It has been seven long years since we undertook our family trip to Cochin and this wonderful vacation remains as the most cherished sojourn till date. I love Cochin and is one place apart from Dalhousie, where I would love to settle down and lead the rest of my life.

A traveller or a tourist who visits Kerala should very well term his/her trip incomplete, without a boat ride in the serene backwaters of the longest lake in India- the Vembanad lake!

Tailor made-tours, Home-stays, heritage resorts and the Internet have boosted tourism in recent times, but a decade back, not many reliable options were available to gain information about Indian states barring the Lonely Planet Guides and a handful of efficient tourism boards like Kerala Tourism.

We had arranged for a half-a-day boat trip through our hotel travel desk that was highly recommended by the Lonely Planet guide, too, in those days. But, apologies, I do not remember the Tour operator’s name.

Most of the backwater rides start from Alappuzha or Alleppey, which is a town to the South of Cochin. I remember we had not opted to drive down to Alleppey due to time restraint.Instead, we had chosen a boat ride from a place which was just 45 mins of drive from our hotel in Ernakulam.

Here is a virtual tour of the trip we undertook, soaking in the brilliance of the serene and divine ‘God’s own country’. I am just reminiscing some peaceful time we spent on the boat doing nothing but connecting with the elements of nature and appreciating village life for close to 5 hours. All this without littering the lifeline of Kerala- the waterways!

Kickstart

The blue sky was bejewelled with shiny white clouds while the chocolate brown earth was accentuated by the emerald lush greenery as we started the ride.The teal coloured water was shimmering and dazzling as a gentle breeze cruised past its surface with a periodic frequency under the soft sunlight. Ah! a perfect kickstart to a laid-back ride…

The backwaters of Kerala

Slowly and effectively, the boat was navigated with perfection through the various narrow canals of the backwaters by the skilled boatsmen.The houseboats were beyond our budget and the many Shikara sorts of boats were found to be crowded and lacked the required peace to enjoy this natural beauty. Thus, for us, this country boat worked like charm. Also, these country boats are hand manoeuvred and do not pollute the water and being responsible is a sort of an ode to a place..isn’t it?

House boat

A house-boat resting along the banks

The riverine life of backwaters

The backwaters of Kerala have been used for ages now, by the local people for fishing, transportation and agriculture. A ride like this gives a glimpse into the riverine culture and daily life of villagers who have their homes along the sides of the water bodies.

Many of the houses, had a small boat/kayak anchored in front of their homes that are used to commute from one place to another. The villagers went about their daily chores of fishing, farming,  coir making, spice cultivation, and shell mining. In a way,  these villages have benefitted by tourism and this industry has made them self-sustainable.

Shell Mining

If there was a man busy with unloading sacks of cement there was another woman who was busy in knee-deep water of the canal, going about her search for clams. Yes, clamshell mining is one of the means of livelihood of the people in and Vembanad lake.

Clam shells

Clam Shells

I also learned that clam shells are used as a raw material in cement manufacturing units, as an add-on in fertilizers and pesticides and in some cases as medicines, as well.

Coir making

A visit to one of the villages on an island also gave us a closer glimpse into the making of coir. Kerala and coconuts are made for each other. A Coconut tree literally strips itself to provide a livelihood to its seekers and thus is called the ‘Kalpavruksha’.No part of the tree ever goes waste. Coir is known as the golden fibre of Kerala.

Do have a glimpse of the efforts in one of the steps that go into the making of coir rope, in the video clip

Spicy stuff

Many of the villagers also grew spices that looked organic and fresh. After all, it is for the trade of these spices that the Portuguese and the other invaders came to India. Nutmegs, Pepper, Bay leaves and other spices were being grown in these villages along the canals.

Nutmeg in Backwaters of Kerala

Nutmeg

Flora and Fauna of the backwaters

The canals with backwaters ran into innumerable numbers and some of them looked eerie.

The many canals in the backwaters of Kerala

The widespread silence was often interrupted by the voices of the Neer kaaka (Cormorants)  that cooled itself in the backwaters.

Cormorant in the backwaters of Kerala

A typical village in kerala backwaters

The darkness of the lush greenery was interspersed by the colourful blooms and not so colourful signboards!

White water lillies

Hunger Pangs

Soon, it was lunchtime and the boat was nearing an island. We were to have a traditional Kerala Vegetarian lunch in one of the village homes on this strip of land surrounded by canals on all sides.

The island where our lunch was served

The spread was simple yet flavoursome and satisfying.

And we moved on singing ‘Row row row your boat’ with the kiddo

Row row row your boat

Backwaters of Vembanad Lake

Post-lunch, the boat entered an area with a vast expanse of blue! For a moment, I wondered if we had entered the sea, but soon, the realization set in that we were actually afloat on the Vembanad lake.

Vembanad Lake

The wide blue water body was lined with inclined coconut trees that tapered on either side and looked as if this was the route to paradise.The sumptuous lunch, the cool breeze, the warmth of the sun and the picturesque sapphire lake put us into a deep slumber for the rest of the trip.

All through the trip, the sun was playing a peekaboo behind the clouds. If at one point, the sky looked bereft of the clouds, then just as we entered another canal, it looked joyful with grey clouds that were impregnated with rain. The photos of this trip looked vibrant with different shades and shadows as we sailed across the lake of Vembanad!

Boat in the backwaters of Kerala

Unpredictable weather

It looked as if the whole world was busy with chores except the mortals on this boat…Bliss!

Not surprising that Kerala was ranked as one of the “50 destinations of a lifetime” by National Geographic Traveler

Responsible Travel and Tourism

On our return to the dock, we saw some tourists throwing thrash into these canals. Empty water bottles, packets of chips and other wastes lay strewn amidst the flora and fauna. These acts of foolishness are the reason why tourists lose respect in the eyes of the locals.We as tourists and travellers need to be more responsible and make sure we educate others too on the importance of responsible tourism.And this indeed is the need of the hour.

Responsible Tourism

That one waste bottle floating in the picturesque canal still haunts me and is part of my memory of that otherwise memorable trip, at the end of which ,we were reluctant to disembark from the boat …..

Disembarking from the boat

Have you been on a tour to the backwaters? Did you opt for the houseboat or the country boat? Do share your thoughts with me……

Credits
Source of photos:

All the photos in this post have been captured by me on my very first digital Camera – SONY DSC  in the year 2010!

I am taking part in I’m taking part in the Write Tribe ProBlogger Challenge.

#writebravely #writetribeproblogger

 

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42 Responses

  1. Deepti Menon says:

    What a lovely description of the backwaters, enhanced by brilliant photographs. It brought back memories of our trip years ago.

  2. Anu says:

    I had taken the same trip based on the same Lonely Planet Book. It was nice. Back in those days, mostly foreigners took this trip. It was a nice introduction to Kerala. However, now I find Kerala a bit overrated.

    • Meenakshi J says:

      Now..now… I am no more surprised when our tastes match! Looks like I have been following your footsteps even before I started following your blog!
      I have a lot more to explore in Kerala so really can’t comment if it is over-rated, yet!

  3. Aparna says:

    The backwaters of Kerala are truly an experience in themselves.

  4. When we were in Munnar 3 years ago, we had decided out of the blue to travel to Cochin and allapuzha to rent a boat ride in the backwaters. Long story short we had a horrible 1 hour there, it was summer hot, and escaped quickly from this crazy place where boat owners were aggressively trying to sell a boat ride. I know now that this not a place I want to go back to. However, I do want to experience the backwater’s ecosystem and it’s people and their culture so I believe the other place is where I need to go. Where was the starting village of your backwater tour? I didn’t quite catch it.

    • Meenakshi J says:

      Maybe summers are not the right time to indulge in the backwaters…We had gone in October and it was quite pleasant. I don’t remember the name of the place but we had driven down for around 45 mins from Cochin…May be a place called ‘Vaikom’…not sure!

  5. Meenakshi, the details of the place along with the clear catchy photos have added to the pizzazz of the post! Very refreshing post just like the place!
    – Anagha from Team MocktailMommies

  6. dipika says:

    Thank you for taking me with you in the trip to beautiful Kerela.. love the pictures and I so much wanted to go there now.

  7. Lata Sunil says:

    Beautiful pictures. I am from Kerala but we get to visit during vacations only. We took a day trip on a country boat as that was sufficient for our needs. There was a small toilet in the boat for emergencies as we had travelled with small children initially. Otherwise, we had regular halts every 1 to 2 hours. We had the best day on the serene boat trip. And will recommend the same to all.

  8. Sad to see tourists littering and indulging in such behavior. But, what a trip you narrated about the life of locals in th village and the beautiful boats that make it an enthralling affair, Meenakshi. I’d love to visit, someday. I love the description and of course, the gorgeous pictures.

  9. Pictures and apt narration with an eye to detail left me super excited to plan a trip to Kerala soon.

  10. I am waiting to visit the backwaters! I love your photos and it is so serene! My mother has visited and the same with my husband. Both tell tales and I will listen and then tell them, we must go! 😉 Detailed post Meenu! I will bookmark this for my future trip!

  11. Hey Meenakshi, your post and beautiful pics of Kerala is urging me to pack bags and fly to the place. God, my travel list is never ending 😉

    Cheers
    MeenalSonal from AuraOfThoughts

  12. Nibha Gupta says:

    Kerela Backwaters are essentially the most peaceful of the places I have explored in my short travel duration. Your post brings back my memories of the family trip five years ago and reading your words I could almost re-live those memories which still brings me peace!

  13. Rajlakshmi says:

    Gosh how wonderful it must be to experience the wonders of nature in a natural setting, to live in the house just next to water. Didn’t know that clams are used in cement too. Beautiful pictures of the backwaters. I have been to few places in Kerala but didn’t see this much. Enjoyed reading the post.

  14. Varsh says:

    Such a beautiful post this is. Our Kerala trip is pending and I can’t feel sad enough for it. I want to visit all the places in these pictures and see it all for real!

  15. Sigh.. I am from Kerala and I havent seen most of the stuff described here

  16. Neha says:

    Those are beautiful pictures and I have a Kerala trip planned, so your post was a precursor to what I can expect

  17. What a beautiful post, Meenu!
    We did the backwaters in a country boat, the most serene experience.
    Your stunning pics have done full justice to it. Love the clam shells pic.

  18. Serene, quiet and peaceful.. Lovely pictures, and nice informative post.

  19. Kerala has many treasures to offer – beaches, backwaters, hills and much more. I have been there many times and have had a chance to see most of these. Do read about my experiences at

  20. I have been to Kerala several times and the place always leaves me refreshed. The backwaters, the beaches, the hills, it has all that one can ask for. Your post is very well written.

  21. Shilpa Garg says:

    Two years ago, I had a workshop at Kumarakom and had seen some beautiful houseboats. Since then, staying in a houseboat has been on my wish list. Your travelogue makes we want to take a vacation real soon now. Thanks for a detailed virtual tour of the backwaters of Kerala!

  22. Aritra says:

    Kerala is very close to my heart as my hubby is from there. It’s truly beautiful and justifies the saying ‘God’s own country’. You post and particularly the pictures brought back very fond memories of my backwater and house boat experience 🙂

  23. We were there last October with Treetrunk Travel. Both my wife and I are convinced that it was our best holiday ever, and we shall probably go back again. The next time, though, we’ll probably have two nights on the houseboat rather than just the one. Or maybe three!
    This year, we’re off to India’s Golden Triangle after christmas, and we’re hoping (and expecting) to be as enthralled as were were in beautiful Kerala.

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