Kerala Backwaters

Kerala Backwaters

There is about 1000 km of lakes, rivers and canals criss-crossing Kerala providing irrigation, transportation and communication. These stretches of water, just inland from the Arabian Sea, are the backwaters. 

The “kettuvallam” (rice barge) was designed to carry rice, coconuts and spices. They were built of wooden planks sewn together with coconut fibre. A roof of woven palm fronds soaked in sardine oil for waterproofing protected the cargo from the weather.  There are 1000-plus houseboats, everyone different, plying the backwaters. We were pleased to find our Spice Coast Cruises houseboat was locally constructed using these traditional designs, materials and techniques. The handmade coir matting added to a wonderful atmosphere as soon as we boarded.  Our experienced professional Captain, Chef and Crew were all from local villages and treated us like royalty.  Every day, Chef David presented us with different delicious Keralan foods, fresh fruit juices and snacks all prepared in a tiny kitchen at the back of the boat.

Most trips are for only one, or sometimes two, nights but we are glad we chose five nights which took us further south into smaller channels and where the bigger boats don’t go.  After the first day we didn’t see another houseboat until almost back at Alleppey. In our own private boat chugging slowly along for 6 days watching life happening along the water then stopping for the night, tying up to a coconut tree in quiet secluded spots on the river – this is our kind of cruising!

Here’s a map of the route we took – click here.

Day 1: 29 km – 09 October 2019

Our “kettuvallam” – a rice barge converted to a luxury houseboat
Length: 20.45m, Width: 4.05m, Depth: 1.65m, Tonnage: 58 Tonnes
Our crew – Captain Rudha, Chef David & Crewman Sanal
The bedroom has a mosquito net and is air conditioned at night
Lounge/dining space open to the breezes
Houseboats come in all shapes ans sizes, some even have 8 bedrooms
Passing the lighthouse in Vembanad Lake om the way out
A small ferry crosses the Lake
Repairing the woven palm roof on a kettuvallam
Cut grass to feed the cows
The State Water Transport Ferry runs along the canals
School boat
Washing clothes in the river
There are churches right on the water every few kilometers
A snake boat used in races has 96 paddlers
Sunset on day one

Day 2: 48 km – 10 October 2019

Sunrise day two
Houseboats lined up ready to return to Alleppey but we kept going south
Along the canal
Man diving for shells
We are sailing on National Waterway 3
River crossing the old way
Laden with beach sand for building
Ocean going fishing boats take shelter in the canals
Once there were hundreds of Chinese fishing nets in this lagoon but only a few remain
Our houseboat pulled in to the bank
We took a short walk to this place of “Ammaor Mother” and we surprised to see dozens of foreigners staying here
Punting is still the main method of moving between places in the backwaters
Everyone is happy, smiling and waving to us
The backwaters really are beautiful
Sunset day two

Day 3: 56 km – 11 October 2019

Dawn on day three
Some of the birds we saw
It’s the only way to cross the river when there is no bridge
Kattil Mekkathil Temple has been a place of Hindu pilgrimage for centuries
People walk around the tree seven times, hang small bells and make a wish
Preparing sweet rice at the Temple
Fisherman brining in his catch to …
… the fish market on an Arabian Sea beach
This Egret hitched a ride with us (Chinese fishing nets in the background)
Saint Joseph Catholic Church uses the Latin Rites
Egret sits of the canoe waiting for his fish
Lunch on a banana leaf prepared by Chef David
Then it started to rain
When it rains it buckets down
We had a bottle of Indian Sula Shiraz Cabernet …
… whilst watching the sunset on day three

Day 4: 58 km – 12 October 2019

Sunrise day four
Clothes hung up to dry between two coconut palms
Beautiful reflections
Coconut fibre waiting for the boat
Fish farm
Floating weed
A perfect reflection
House with an outdoor toilet
Fisherman in the water
Woman washing up while boys are playing in the river
Punting a bike across
Sanal buys fresh fish …
… which David turns into fish curry in banana leaf for lunch
Our Spice Coast Cruises sister houseboat with its “wings” open
Sunset day four

Day 5: 51 km – 13 October 2019

Dawn day five
In the early morning a fisherman sets his net then beats the water to drive the fish in
Rice growing along the canal
This little store on a motorbike sells pretty much everything
We rode bikes (5 km each way) to the “Snake Temple” where there are over 3000 stone snakes in the forest
Free range ducks ..
… make a great duck curry
Man washing a buffalo
Bathing in the river is the norm
Rice is still brought along the river in a rice barge
We pulled in at the Basilica of St. Mary, established in 427 AD, one of the oldest Christian churches in India
After the rain
Sunset day five
A full moon for our last night, how good is that!

Day 6: 11 km – 14 October 2019

Dawn on day six
Our last breakfast – these are then filled with a lightly spiced vegetable mix
A sailing canoe come to collect shells
Heading back across Vembanad Lake