Imagine the creaking sound of the joints in the rice barge's bamboo frame on a moonlit night with the brightly shining stars forming an ethereal canopy overhead as you lie on the upper deck of your houseboat.
Envisage a scene where the sound of leaves rustling as the wind blows through the coconut palm and banana trees shading the canal and the early morning chanting that gently fills the air coming over from a far-off Hindu temple wakes you up to a mesmerizing morning view of the misty stretches of backwaters and dim silhouette of the vegetation and surrounding villages.
Far from the frenzied atmosphere which is evident in the rest of India, backwaters in Kerala offers unhurried and laid back travel experience along the lush paddy field strewn and coconut grove shaded Malabar Coast.
A chain of brackish lagoons and canals linking five large lakes, Kerala Backwaters is a maze of water bodies stretching over 900 kilometers. One of the most important aspect of tourism in Kerala, the backwaters were used traditionally as waterways to ferry rice and spices from one places to another in kettuvallams or the traditional rice barges which now forms the major tourist attraction and ferry tourists and visitors from one destination to another.
In the midst of the coconut palm-fringed backwaters are number of tourist destinations, towns and village that serve as the starting and concluding point of the Kerala Backwater tours, cruises and even houses Kerala backwater resorts. Almost all the time, the flotilla of Kerala boat house and kettuvallams keep gliding through this vast expanse of labyrinth.
From tourism point of view, Alappuza (Alleppey)- often compared to Venice shrouded as it is with canals and coconut palm-shaded streets - serves as the gateway to Kerala Backwaters. However, the spellbinding ride from the historical town of Kollam to the Alappuza, which also happens to be the longest, is considered to be as the best aspects of Kerala backwater tourism. The ride not only gives a peek into the soul-quenching greenery that Kerala is blessed with but also a glimpse of the village life and rural economy of the state.
The important Kerala backwater destinations are Alappuza, Kollam, Kasargod, Kozikode(Calicut), Kumarakom, Kuttanad and Thiruvananthpuram. Surrounded by Kallada river, Asthamudi Lake, Sasthamkoda Lake, Munroe Island in Kollam is one of the most popular backwater destinations in Kerala. Vembanad Lake in Kumarakom which also houses Kumarakom Lake Resort, one of the finest luxury hotels in Kerala backwater, is yet another popular backwater destination in Kerala.
Kerala houseboats - locally known as kettuvallams - are integral part of the vast expanse of waterways and form the backbone of Kerala backwater tourism. Traditionally these rice barges served the purpose of transportation of locals as well as for ferrying goods like spices and rice from paddy fields to market town and ports. Today these beautiful crafts serve as most popular mode of transportation for tourists and also serve as accommodation in form of Kerala houseboats.
Day tours in Kerala backwaters are operated by state tourism department as well as organized privately by tour operators. Full day backwater cruises are available for around INR 1000 per person and lasts for 8-9 hours. The full day Kerala backwater cruise is ideally suited for visitors looking to get a glimpse of the rural village life and local cultural interaction.
Half day cruises as well as sunset cruise are also operated in Kerala backwaters. Most of the houseboat cruises are available from Alappuza, the gateway to Kerala backwaters. Many resorts and hotels also own houseboats and offer sunset cruises as well as overnight trips.
The most popular and widely used routes for backwater cruises in Kerala are:
This is the longest and definitely the best cruise to experience the majestic beauty and charm of the palm-fringed backwaters and rural life of Kerala. The cruise generally last for a day or you could do the overnight cruise from Alapuzza to reach Alumkavadu in Kollam, a manufacturing hub for traditional houseboats made using bamboo, rattan, coir and wood.
This backwater cruise route features the widest waterways and canals and also takes you to the popular Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary. The concluding destination of this backwater cruise is Vembanad Lake. Most of the luxury resorts and best hotels in Kerala are located by the bank of this lake. With its natural setting and soothing backwaters, Kumarakom also happens to be a popular destination for Ayurveda treatments in Kerala housing a number of Ayurveda Resorts.
Yet another of the spellbinding Kerala backwaters cruise routes is from Alappuza to Kuttanad. This particular route features some of the best glimpses of the farming and village life of Kerala. Kuttanad, also referred to as the "rice bowl of Kerala" is renowned for its paddy fields which intriguingly lie below the sea level.