Alleppey - An immersive experience in the backwaters of Kerala!
If you are planning to visit Kerala, there is one experience that you shouldn't miss out on. I was so deeply touched by it, that I actually want to write about an isolated day from my visit to Kerala. This was the "Village Canoe experience" in the backwaters of Kuttanad, Alleppey. Alleppey (otherwise known as Alappuzha) is an important tourist destination in Kerala, popular for it's several backwater canals, beaches, paddy fields and lagoons. It is about 53 km from Cochin and takes roughly 1 and half hour by local KSRTC bus to arrive here. The city does not have Uber or Ola cab services, but mind you, the entire city is comprised of a labyrinth of water channels that connect the lakes, villages and towns within it.
I've listed below some modes of transportation via which you can travel within Alleppey and explore the water-ways:
The government ferry is a shared mode of transport that has a nominal charge to go from one place to another within Alleppey. Locals use it for going to the market to shop, to drop kids to school, to visit relatives etc. The Ferry can be taken from the Boat Jetty point near Alappuzah Bus Stand. Also if you're lucky and find a place to stay near the boat Jetty point, it's easy to travel anywhere. I stayed at Haveli Backwaters resort which is right in front of the Jetty Point (read TripAdvisor review here).
Shikara is a privately-owned, paid boat service, shared with just a few other people. It takes you on a short, luxurious tour around the backwaters. Hire it, if you do not wish to sail very far away from your resort and still want to see the beauty of the backwaters. This mode of transportation also offers comfort and privacy, unlike the Government Ferry. The rates vary from operator to operator. Usually costs about Rs. 300-900 per pax, (varies seasonally) for an hour or two.
Burgeoning a dime a dozen in the large canals of Kerala, House boats are an option, where luxury meets the resplendent charm of lounging and spending a lazy get-away to amazing vistas. Rent a room in a house boat if you're interested in a touristy adventure and want to enjoy the calmness of the Backwaters. Sometimes the chefs on the boat even catch fresh fish and prepare it for their guests. Do not miss out on the opportunity to try Karimeen fish, which is found in abundance in the fresh waters of Kerala.
A canoe is a slightly unknown yet invigorating way of traveling across the backwaters. You must give it a shot, especially if you want an immersive experience of the real essence of the backwaters.
The time I spent on a canoe, rowing it, is easily my best travel memory from being in Kerala.
Imagine a day, when you're cruising past village homes in a small boat. The water channels essentially form the mode of travel here. These are lined with houses and copious amounts of greenery on either side. There are women washing dishes by the water and some men fishing or swimming right outside their homes. You may occasionally spot Water hyacinth floating in the streams, or birds careening past your boat and diving into the water to catch fish, or dragonflies dancing in frenzy, or ducks floating along with you.
If you want such an experience (I'll talk a little more about it shortly), contact Oscar Cruises. They arrange such "Day Village Experience" tours in the village of Kainakary, Kuttanad.
Total journey time here is - 3 to 5 hours.
I met Oscar by chance, by the Boat Jetty Point in Alappuzah, where he introduced me to the idea of a Village Canoe tour. But you can contact him at the following details. He organizes Shikara tours, adventure tours, kayaking and Village day tours. All of which are amazing!
M: +91 99475 32527
Or alternately, you can read my TripAdvisor review here
(Don't forget to give it a "helpful" thumbs-up if you like it ;) )
The Happiest day in God's own country
Imagine a day where you're floating in a small boat across narrow channels of water surrounded by surreal views and deep silence, only broken by birds or water splashes. The Canoe journey and hospitality along with it forms part of an experience that may leave you mesmerized for a lifetime.
Santosh, was both our guide and boat rider for the tour. He hails from the village of Kainakary, and his house is to the west of Meenapally Kayal. He was gregarious, fatherly, funny and we hit it off immediately. It was just me and my sister, Twesha on his humble boat. We both spread comfortably and sat with the expectation that we were going to be mere travelers. But in an hour or so, Santosh asked us if we wanted to paddle the boat too. We both were equally enthused to give it a shot! For the next couple hours, we actually paddled to the end of the journey. Within the time that elapsed we did the following things:
- Drank water from Fresh cut coconuts
- Talked to locals as we passed by the homes and shops.
- Bought virgin coconut oil from a lady selling it by the water, which Santosh later massaged our hair with when we docked our boat to swim.
- Dived and swam in the open waters of Kainakary Kizhake Vattakayal (lake) to cool off. I found shell fish that Santosh popped open for me and I tasted it too. Haha!
- We ate Bhindi (ladyfinger) growing in the wild!
- Went under water and cupped some clay in our hands. Santosh rubbed it vigorously into our hair along with coconut oil in a fatherly gesture. I later learnt that he had two daughters too. :)
Rowing a Boat - The best memory
In the sweltering heat of Kerala in the month of April, Twesha and me tried to paddle the boat along with Santosh. We were almost at the end of the journey, about to reach Santosh's home, the end point of the tour! I was sitting in the front of the boat and saw the complete vista ahead of me. We were crossing the Meenapally Lake at this point, across which was a small green house (Santosh's), with roof laden with pink bougainvilleas. I could feel the wind in my face and the water rocking the boat under my feet. After rowing, I was exhausted, had blisters in my hands, and my hair smelled of coconut. But, it was oddly liberating, rowing to the sight of the green house. I felt like a villager, heading home after a long day! The sweat, grime and struggle humanized the experience for me.
It felt like family in Alleppey!
After reaching the house we learnt that Santosh's wife had cooked for us! After the exertion though, it was honestly a welcome thought. Shortly afterwards, we met his wife and two daughters.
The walls of the house had drawings made by Jeeva and Jinisha (Santosh's daughters). The interior of the house had pastel colored walls and a box TV. We were seated on a dining table overlooking the artwork and I smiled and looked at it while food was served. On another perpendicular wall I noticed illustrations of God's of all faiths. Santosh explained that he is secular. :)
The food was delectable without a shadow of doubt and especially liked the Beef preparation. The family was extremely affectionate and hospitable and I loved the experience for it. I felt like I belonged to the Village and took with me a part of it.
The experience was truly brilliant and I would recommend it to anyone visiting Kerala. Say "Hi" to Santosh and his family if you happen to be there! Below is an image of what my boat journey looked like. Let me know your thoughts in comments below!