...and I think it is going to rain today. By kolobar
Kerala – Gods Own Country is declared as a World heritage site by UNESCO.  Kerala has beaches, back waters, forests &  wild life parks. Keralas network of navigable backwaters stretches to over 900km. These serene waterways are fringed by palm grove and paddy fields and offer a striking spectacle of the rustic life.

That’s why, we decided to hit Alappuzha or Allepy  for our 1st  wedding anniversary in Nov 2000.  Allepy Express  leaves Chennai at 8.30 pm and reaches Allepy at 11.30 AM.  This train cross Palghat at about 4 am.  You will see how Geography plays havoc with Tamilnadu, its flora, fauna and its people.  To the right of Western Ghats is Tamil Nadu in the rain shadow region and is dry for most part of the year, except for the occasional showers during the SW and NE monsoons.  To the left of the Ghats is Kerala that gets all the rain, and therefore is blessed.  As the train moves from the right to the left the dry lands transforms into  lush green coverage. And as we get closer to Alappuzha, we cross a lot of canals, and the soil is different here, its like beach sand.

On reaching Alappuzha, we checked into our hotel.  We chose a hotel that was close to the backwaters, so that we could walk to the backwaters whenever we felt like.  The mainland Alappuzha has a vast network of lakes, lagoons and fresh water rivers criss crossing it and is a district of immense natural beauty.

After freshening up, we ate white rice with the most sumptuous Currymeen preparation. Then we headed to Allapuzha Tourism Development Corporation ( ATDC ) to book a Kettuvellam ( which means boat made of logs of wood).  There are several types of them to choose from -  Single bed, Double bed, with electicity ( ie with TV, lights, fan ), without electricity ( with petromax lamp, and natural sea breeze ), with terrace, without terrace etc. Trust me, the one without electricity is the best.  But, please carry your mosquito coil or Odomos.  

We chose a single bed Kettuvellam.  It cost us Rs. 3500 for a 24 hrs cruise.  This Kettuvellam had a sit out  with diwan & bolsters, open to the sky , a covered verandah  with a center table and 2 chairs, the bed room is about 8 X 10 feet wide, is open on both the sides, and you can treat yourself with the view outside. It has a bed with mosquito net and a small cupboard too. The bathroom is well equipped with Wash basin, showers and a Western Toilet.  Along with the boat, you get 3 people in all.  2 to row the boat, and one to cook.  This cook will make the most exquisite food in Kerala style. He will also arrange for local toddy if you wish to get a little adventurous.  

After we booked the Kettuvellam for the next day, we had a lot of time.  We went around the place. Allepy is a small town.  As your go around, you will find that all the streets are filled with aroma of chips made in coconut oil.   There are a lot of shops that sell articles made of coir.  Coir making is the primary industry.  Since there was a lot of time, we walked to the back waters.  It was an amazing scene,  vast stretches of water, lined by coconut trees…and you see several small islands full of coconut trees.  Each of these small islands have houses where people live.  We took a small snake boat in which only 2 people would fit in…we sat in one of them, and went for a small round in the back waters.  Out boat man was old and had loads of experience in rowing the boat.  He had a long stick, he immerses the stick into water…and then pushes hard so that the boat moves.  The boat moves really slow, slow enough for you to look around and enjoy and wonder why  God made this place so beautiful.  You will find a lot of birds in these back waters. There are  a lot of water plants also.  This was just a prelude to our 24 hrs Kettuvellam Cruise scheduled for the next day.

We were to report at 11 AM at the ATDC office.  ATDC has about 10 kettuvellams.  So, all the boats leave at the same time ( with a gap of about 10 mins between each boat), with the guests. Each boat takes its own route to the destination, so you feel that you are the only one in the place.

You get a welcome drink to start with.  As the boat moves along the narrow canals of the back waters and through the villages you will find that this is a completely unique ecosystem.   There are no roads here.  No traffic jams.  The only means of transport are the canals.  Each family has its own boat.  Children go to school in boats.  Some families have boats that can accommodate 2 to 3 kids, so that all can go to school together.  The women go to the market on their boats.  So, outside each house ( which is usually on a small island ), you find one or two boats tied at the entrance.  We passed through a school, which was on a island.  We were surprised to find about 50 boats tied outside…a boat stand like how there are cycle stands in our cities.

We found lots of kids in uniforms rowing to school.  There are several private ferry operators ferrying people.  Like bus stops and railway stations, here, there  were several jettys.  When  a steamer or a large ferry crossed, there was a alert and hence all the small individual boats ( in which the kids went to school and women went to shop ) stopped.  The small boats stop as the large ferry causes huge waves and this could topple the small boats.  When the ferry is gone, there is a whistle again, after which the kids start rowing again.  You also find fish vendors, vegetable vendors and a whole lot of other people trying to sell their stuff in their boats. Truly amazing.

Coming back to my Kettuvellam, the climate and the scenery was so good, we sat on the diwan with masala chai which Rajan, our own private cook for the day, made for us.  He gave us Pazham Puri to eat.  This is made of ripe banana dipped in besan dough and cooked in Coconut oil.  Cannot get more authentic than this.

We passed through  lush green fields and we liked the place. Our oarsman stopped by the banks and told us that we could go to the fields and play.  So, we got out of the boat and had a great time in the fields. We had become kids.  It was a great place for photography.  Rajan called us back as our lunch was ready.

Boiled rice, with delicious currymeen fry, fish curry, curd, chips and pappadam ( local lingo for papad ) was on the menu.  The Kerala menu is never complete without the pappadam.  We had carried Red wine with us.  We enjoyed the meal and started our journey again.  

We passed through several villages, one of them was a village where coir mats and ropes are made.  We passed through Kuttanad, which is the singular characteristic of this land. A land of lush paddy fields, Kuttanad is called the Rice Bowl of Kerala and is one of the few places in the world where farming is done 4 to 10 feet below sea level.  For this purpose extensive land has been reclaimed from the backwaters and is protected by dikes built around it.  It is here that most of the snake boat races are conducted and a majority of the rice boat & houseboat cruises are scheduled.

It was evening, and the kettuvellam was anchored in the middle of the Vembanad lake.  This lake is huge…every side you look you stare at a vast expanse of water.  It seems this lake meets the sea on one side.  I was told that the lake can be upto 100 feet deep in some places.  The water seemed clear but it seems there are dangerous weeds  about 3 feet below the surface.  Me and hubby, don’t know to swim.   It became dark.  I slept on the diwan, was starring at the star studded  sky.  The kettuvellam was moving slowly in the water, the cool breeze was heavenly, it was like a lullaby.  As the kettuvellam did not have electricity we had to use the petromax lamps and mosquito coils.  It was great fun.

We saw that all other Kettuvellams that left along with us has also anchored.  We had a early dinner at about 7 pm, again amazing fish fry of  a different kind and toddy.  The day was superb.  After this, we were starring at the sky and did not know when we fell asleep.

We started moving at about 6.30 am, the next day.  We went through more villages more schools more market areas and reached the ATDC office. I was wondering how come the entire thing came to an end so soon. It was time to leave.

Referred to as the  Venice of the East, Alappuzha has always enjoyed a unique place in the maritime history of Kerala. Today, it is famous for its boat races, backwater holidays, beaches, marine products and coir industry.  There are lot of places in and around Alappuzha.  Alappuzha is on the coast and has its very own beach.  It is beautiful and is worth a visit.  You will see lots of fishermens boats on the shore with nets. The pier, which extends into the sea here, is over 137 years old.  There is also an old lighthouse nearby which is greatly fascinating to visitors.  There is canal close by and those interested can take a boat and row themselves.  Canoe’s and kayaks are also available.

There is a place called the The Krishnapuram Palace which is a rare specimen of the Kerala style of architecture - complete with gabled roofs, narrow corridors and dormer windows. Residence of the rulers of Kayamkulam kingdom, the age of the palace is unknown. Renovated some time in the 18th century, the palace is today a protected monument under the Archaeology department. The palace houses a archaeological museum, and the most fascinating exhibit here is the 49 sq.m - Gajendra Moksham - the largest single band of mural painting so far discovered in Kerala. Literally, the salvation ( Moksha) of the elephant king ( Gajendra), the theme of the mural is mythological and depicts an elephant saluting Lord Vishnu in devotion while the other gods, goddesses and saints look on. It is said that Lord Vishnu was the family deity of the Kayamkulam rajas. This mural was placed at the entrance to the palace from the pond to enable the rajas to worship the deity after their bath.

Kayamkulam has another credit to itself that is worth mentioning.  This is the only place where double edged swords are made, where both the sides are sharp.  These swords are called Kayamkulam Vaal which means Kayamkulam swords.  Kayamkulam is 47 KMs from Alappuzha and one can take a auto to get there.  A trip to Kayamkulam and back to Alappuzha should not cost more than Rs. 250.  The palace is open from 9 AM to 5 PM on all days except Mondays.

1 1/2 hours drive by motor boat or 30 minutes by speed boat from Alappuzha, is Pathiramanal.  A small island on the backwaters of Alappuzha, it is a haven for hundreds of rare birds migrating from different parts of the world.  Surrounded by the Vembanad Lake, stretching from Alappuzha to Kochi and the Kayamkulam lake, Pathiramanal is accessible only by boat. The green island thus forms an ideal place for a break in the journey while on a backwater cruise.

Now, about the food.  The Keralites eat boiled rice and they drink water that is boiled with a herb, which turns the water red in colour and taste like Waterburys compound.  You know, this is for your own good.  Currymeen is the local fish and tastes yummy.  In  restaurants in Cochin and in all other places in Kerala,  you can choose your Currymeen, and then it is cooked for you.  The other delicacies of Kerala are Puttu, Adaprathaman, Appam, Stew and the banana chips fried in coconut oil.

Getting there

Nearest railway station : Alappuzha

Nearest airports : Cochin International Airport, about 85 km north of Alappuzha Thiruvananthapuram,about 150 km towards the south.

Local Transport : Kettuvellam, small boats, Autos.

Best time : November to March.  If you visit during the 2nd week of August, you can see the Nehru Cup Snake boat race.

Where to stay

Alappuzha BackWaters Resort Punchiri Building, Jetty Road, PIN : 688 011 Tel : 0477 – 260573 Fax : 0477  - 252918

Kayaloram Lake Resort Alappuzha Backwater Resorts Pvt Ltd Near Punnamada Jetty, PIN : 688 006 Tel : 0477 – 232040 / 231 573 Fax : 0477 – 252918

Prince Hotel A S Road, PIN : 688 007 Tel : 0477 – 243752 / 243753

Keraleeyam Ayurvedic Lake Resort Heritage Home and Ayurvedic Resort, PIN : 688 006 Tel : 0477 – 242468 Fax : 0477 - 251068

Coir Village Lake Resort Tel : 0477 – 243462 Fax : 0477 -241693