When you speak about South India, Kerala usually emerges as the favourite on everyone’s list—in fact, it’s the second most visited state in India. While it is one of India’s most beautiful and successful states and where women are more empowered than elsewhere in the country, for tourists it’s synonymous with the ‘backwaters’. And in turn, the backwaters are synonymous with the city of Cochin and to a lesser degree, Alleppey.
|Locals on the backwater|
So what are backwaters exactly? It is a ‘...900km network of waterways that fringe the coast and trickle far inland. Long before the advent of roads, these waters were the slippery highways of Kerala...’ (Lonely Planet, South India, 2009). The waterways themselves are an interconnection of canals, rivers, lakes and the sea; the water is always flowing. The canals are tidal and have no salinity. Like the ‘junk’ cruises in Halong Bay and the ‘felucca’ trips down the Nile in Egypt, the thing to do here is to explore the backwaters on a traditional covered ‘rice barge’ or kettuvallam boat, either overnight or as a daytrip. We did the latter and it was a very peaceful and serene day (it would have been even more so were it not for our 2 talkative children!). As it is currently low season, it was only us on board along with another couple, although the capacity was for 20 passengers. In the afternoon, the other couple (by prearrangement) left us to continue on with a different tour, so we had the boat to ourselves! We did stop to get a tour of a ‘coir’ factory (coir is the fibre from the husk of a coconut which is spun into rope and then carpets and larger rope is made from it--also known as ‘jute’), a shell factory which processes mussels into calcium hydroxide and into lime, and a spice garden where we saw pepper, nutmeg, beetle nut, and turmeric plants.
It was a wonderful way to spend the day, being pushed along by 2 boatsmen, with a light breeze and nothing but birds, water and coconut palms to look at. It cost us Rs650/$16.25 USD pp, kids under 5 free, with lunch and a friendly knowledgeable guide included. And we even learned a few things. Luckily too none of the monsoonal rains that had been lurking around the past few days fell on us either and we had nothing but clear blue skies. The only thing that we would have done differently was that we should have packed more things for the kids to do—towards the last hour of our trip, they were getting quite fidgety. But naturally, they both fell fast asleep once we got into the car for the hour-long ride back to our hotel!
|Our 'rear' boatman|