Kerala Backwaters

Kerala Backwaters

The Kerala backwaters are a chain of brackish lagoons and lakes lying parallel to the Arabian Sea coast (known as the Malabar Coast) of Kerala state in southern India. The network includes five large lakes linked by canals, both manmade and natural, fed by 38 rivers, and extending virtually half the length of Kerala state. The backwaters were formed by the action of waves and shore currents creating low barrier islands across the mouths of the many rivers flowing down from the Western Ghats range.

Kerala has over 900 km of interconnected waterways, rivers, lakes and inlets that make up the Kerala backwaters. In the midst of this beautiful landscape there are a number of towns and cities, which are the starting and end points of backwater cruises. [cite web | url = | title = Kerala Bacwater Destinations | accessdate = 2007-12-31 | last = | first = | work = | publisher = Kerala Backwater] National Waterway No. 3 from Kollam to Kottapuram, covers a distance of 205 km and runs almost parallel to the coast line of southern Kerala facilitating both cargo movement and backwater tourism.Ayub, Akber (ed), "Kerala: Maps & More", "Backwaters", 2006 edition 2007 reprint, pp. 40-53, Stark World Publishing, Bangalore, ISBN 81-902505-2-3]

The backwaters have a unique ecosystem - freshwater from the rivers meets the seawater from the Arabian Sea. In certain areas, such as the Vembanad Kayal, where a barrage has been built near Kumarakom, salt water from the sea is prevented from entering the deep inside, keeping the fresh water intact. Such fresh water is extensively used for irrigation purposes.cite web | url = | title = Bacwaters in Kerala | accessdate = 2007-12-31 | last = | first = | work = | publisher = Kerala Backwater]

Many unique species of aquatic life including crabs, frogs and mudskippers, water birds such as terns, kingfishers, darters and cormorants, and animals such as otters and turtles live in and alongside the backwaters. Palm trees, pandanus shrubs, various leafy plants and bushes grow alongside the backwaters, providing a green hue to the surrounding landscape.

Vembanad Kayal is the largest of the lakes, covering an area of 200 km², and bordered by Alappuzha (Alleppey), Kottayam, and Ernakulam districts. The port of Kochi (Cochin) is located at the lake's outlet to the Arabian Sea. Alleppey, "Venice of the East", has a large network of canals that meander through the town. Vembanad is India’s longest lake.


Kerala was placed among the `50 destinations of a lifetime' by National Geographic Traveler in a special collectors' issue released just before the turn of the millennium. [cite web | url =
title = Going beyond God’s own country| accessdate = 2008-01-08 | last = Mathew | first = Mony K. | work = | publisher = The Hindu Business Line, 13 July 2000

House boat

The kettuvallams (Kerala houseboats) in the backwaters are one of the prominent tourist attractions in Kerala. More than 400 kettuvallams ply the backwaters, [cite web | url = | title = Eco-friendly boats to ply backwaters| accessdate = 2008-01-06 | last = Abraham | first = Tanya | work = | publisher = The Hindu, 31 October 2005 ] 120 of them in Alappuzha. [cite web | url = | title = Cargo boats| accessdate = 2008-01-05 | last = | first = | work = | publisher = Worldviewer ]

The kettuvallams were traditionally used as grain barges, to transport the rice harvested in the fertile fields alongside the backwaters. Thatched roof covers over wooden hulls, convert|100|ft|m in length, provided protection from the elements. At some point of time the boats were used as living quarters by the royalty. Converted to accommodate tourists, the houseboats have become floating cottages having a sleeping area, with western-style toilets, a dining area and a sit out on the deck. Most tourists spend the night on a house boat. Food is cooked on board by the accompanying staff – mostly having a flavour of Kerala. The houseboats are of various patterns and can be hired as per the size of the family or visiting group. The living-cum-dining room is usually open on at least three sides providing a grand view of the surroundings, including other boats, throughout the day when it is on the move. It is brought to a standstill at times of taking food and at night. After sunset, the boat crew provide burning coils to drive away mosquitoes. Ketuvallams are motorised but generally proceed at a slow speed for smooth travel. All ketuvallams have a generator and most bedrooms are air-conditioned. At times, as per demand of customers, electricity is switched off and lanterns are provided to create a rural setting.While many ketuvalloms take tourists from a particular point and bring them back to around the same point next morning there are some specific cruises mostly in the Alappuzha area, such as the one night cruise from Alappuzha to Thotapally via Punnamada Lake, [cite web | url = | title = Thottappally Bacwaters of Kerala | accessdate = 2007-12-31 | last = | first = | work = Tranquil voyage through backwaters | publisher = Backwaters in Kerala] two nights cruise from Alappuzha to Alumkavadi, [cite web | url = | title = Alumkadavu Bacwaters of Kerala | accessdate = 2007-12-31 | last = | first = | work = Tranquil voyage through backwaters | publisher = Backwaters in Kerala] one night cruise from Alappuzha to Kidangara, [cite web | url = | title = Kidangara Bacwaters of Kerala | accessdate = 2007-12-31 | last = | first = | work = Tranquil voyage through backwaters | publisher = Backwaters in Kerala] and one night cruise from Alappuzha to Mankotta. [cite web | url = | title = Mankotta Bacwaters of Kerala | accessdate = 2007-12-31 | last = | first = | work = Tranquil voyage through backwaters | publisher = Backwaters in Kerala] There are numerous such cruises.

Beypore, located 10 km south of Kozhikode at the mouth of the Chaliyar River, is a famous fishing harbour, port and boat building centre. Beypore has a 1,500 year-tradition of boatbuilding. The skill of the local shipwrights and boat builders are widely sought after.cite web | url = | title = Kozhikhode Bacwaters | accessdate = 2007-12-31 | last = | first = | work = | publisher = Kerala Backwater] There is a houseboat-building yard at Alumkadavu, in Ashtamudi Kayal near Kollam.

Ferry services

Regular ferry services connect most locations on both banks of the backwaters.


Kumarakom, which was a sleepy town for years, has been transformed into a busy tourist destination with plush resorts around the Vembanad Kayal and the backwaters.

Economic significance

Connected by artificial canals, the backwaters form an economical means of transport, and a large local trade is carried on by inland navigation. Fishing, along with fish curing is an important industry.

Kerala backwaters have been used for centuries by the local people for transportation, fishing and agriculture. It has supported the efforts of the local people to earn a livelihood. In more recent times, agricultural efforts have been strengthened with reclamation of some backwater lands for rice growing, particularly in the Kuttanad area. Boat making has been a traditional craft, so has been the coir industry.Kuttanad is crisscrossed with waterways that run alongside extensive paddy fields, as well as fields of cassava, banana and yam. A unique feature of Kuttanad is that many of these fields are below sea level and are surrounded by earthen embankments. The crops are grown on the low-lying ground and irrigated with fresh water from canal and waterways connected to Vembanad lake. The area is similar to the dikes of the Netherlands where land has been reclaimed from the sea and crops are grown.cite web | url = | title = Kuttanad Bacwaters | accessdate = 2007-12-31 | last = | first = | work = | publisher = Kerala Backwater]

Ecological significance

Vembanad Kol Wetland and Ashtamudi Wetland were included in the list of wetlands of international importance, as defined by the Ramsar Convention for the conservation and sustainable utilization of wetlands. [cite web | url =| title = The List of Wetlands of International Importance | accessdate = 2008-01-07 | last = | first = | work = | publisher = The Secretariat of the Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar, Iran, 1971) Rue Mauverney 28, CH-1196 Gland, Switzerland ]

Boat races

Chundan vallams or snake boats are narrow boats over convert|100|ft|m long, with a raised prow that stands convert|10|ft|m above water and resembles the hood of a snake. Traditionally these were used by local rulers to transport soldiers during waterfront wars. In modern times, it has spawned a new sport – theVallam Kali (boat race). Each chundan vallam accommodates about a hundred muscular oarsmen.

Boat races are occasions of great excitement and entertainment with thousands gathered on the banks to watch and cheer. Most of these races are held in the Kuttanad region of Alappuzha.

When Jawaharlal Nehru visited Kerala in 1952, four traditional chundan valloms went to receive him. A snake boat race was organised for him. He was so impressed that when he went back to Delhi, he sent back a gleaming silver trophy for a boat race. Even today, the 1.5 km Nehru Trophy Boat Race is the most prestigious. It is held during the Onam harvest festival in August in Punnamada Lake in Alappuzha.

Other renowned boat races are: Indira Gandhi Boat Race, Champakulam Moolam Boat Race, Aranmula Uthrattadi Vallamkali, Payippad Jalotsavam, and Kumarakom Boat Race.

Backwater regions


Kollam (earlier known as Quilon) was one of the leading trade centres of the ancient world, eulogised by travellers such as Ibn Battuta and Marco Polo. It is also the starting point of the backwater waterways. The Ashtamudi Kayal, known as the gateway to the backwaters, covers about 30 per cent of Kollam.

The 8 hours boat ride from Kollam to Alappuzha is the longest cruise in Kerala and is delightful ride with lotuses and water lilies all around. [cite web | url = | title = Kollam Bacwaters | accessdate = 2007-12-31 | last = | first = | work = | publisher = Kerala Backwater Tours] The historic Thangasseri Fort is near Kollam, which is situated 71 km north of Thiruvananathapuram. [cite web | url = | title = Kollam Bacwaters | accessdate = 2007-12-31 | last = | first = | work = | publisher = Kerala Backwater]


With the Kuttanad region and the Vembanad Kayal nearby, Alappuzha (earlier known as Alleppy) attracts tourists throughout the year. The criss-crossing canals in the area evoke comparisons with Venice, but the differences are also substantial. Each has an identity of its own. Amongst the notable sights is the palm covered Pathiramanal Island in Vembanad Kayal, one hour by boat from Alappuzha.The place is famous for the snake boat races and also has a number of historic colonial buildings and a beautiful beach. [cite web | url = | title = Alappuzha Bacwaters | accessdate = 2007-12-31 | last = | first = | work = | publisher = Kerala Backwater]


The Kuttanad region is a vast area of partly reclaimed land, covered with bright green paddy fields, separated by dikes. The level of water is a few feet higher than the level of the surrounding land.It is an amazing labyrinth of shimmering waterways composed of lakes, canals, rivers and rivulets. Lined with dense tropical greenery, it offers a glimpse into rural life-styles of Kerala. [cite web | url = | title = Kuttanad Backwaters | accessdate = 2007-12-31 | last = | first = | work = | publisher = Kerala Backwater Tours] Kuttanad is a backwater paradise and an ideal destination for a backwater cruise in Kerala. It is possible to drift along in a houseboat and enjoy the scenic view of the Kerala countryside. [cite web | url = | title = Kuttanad Bacwaters | accessdate = 2007-12-31 | last = | first = | work = | publisher = Kerala Backwater]


The village of Kumarakom is a cluster of little islands on the Vembanad Kayal, and is part of the Kuttanad region. [cite web | url = | title = Kumarakom Bacwaters | accessdate = 2007-12-31 | last = | first = | work = | publisher = Kerala Backwater Tours] Kumarakom is enthrallingly beautiful. The blue backwaters of Vembanad Kayal and the amazing shades of green of the vegetation, combines with the quietness of the place to make it an idyllic holiday destination. Many of the resorts also offer ayurvedic treatment.cite web | url = | title = Kumarakom Bacwaters | accessdate = 2007-12-31 | last = | first = | work = | publisher = Kerala Backwater] While Kuttanad is ideal for a house boat cruise, the resorts are the main charm in Kumarakonam. One can also take a boat trip in Kumaramonam It is located 15 km west of Kottayam. The bird sanctuary and the drift wood museum are added attractions.

Srinivas, a singer summed up: “Imagine opening your eyes every morning to a sheet of still, blue water and majestic palm tress gently swaying in the breeze. To define the feeling in one sentence: Nature undisturbed by man is wonderful and inspiring, and Kumarakom is just that!” [cite web | url = | title = Srinivas – My kind of Place | accessdate = 2008-01-08 | last = Swaminathan| first = Chitra | work = Metro Plus Coimbatore | publisher = The Hindu, 30 June 2007]


Kasargod in north Kerala is a beautiful backwater destination. Known for rice cultivation, coir processing and lovely landscape, it has the sea to the west and the Western Ghats to the north and east. Cruise options are Chandragiri and Valiyaparamba. Chandragiri is situated 4 km to the southeast of Kasargod town and takes tourists to the historic Chandragiri fort. Valiyaparamba is a scenic backwater stretch near Kasargod. Four rivers flow into the backwaters near Kasargod and there are many small islands along these backwater stretches, where birds can be seen. [cite web | url = | title = Kasargod Bacwaters | accessdate = 2007-12-31 | last = | first = | work = | publisher = Kerala Backwater]


Thiruvallam backwaters are just 6 km from Thiruvananthapuram, the state capital. Known for its canoe rides Thiruvallam is becoming increasingly popular with tourists. Two rivers, the Killi and the Karamana come together at Thiruvallam. Not far from Thiruvallam is the Veli Lagoon, where there are facilities for water sports, a waterfront park and a floating bridge. The Akkulam Boat club, which offers boating cruises on Akkulam Lake and a park for children, is also a popular tourist attraction near Thiruvallam. The backwaters around Thiruvallam are a beautiful sight. [cite web | url = | title = Thiruvallam Bacwaters | accessdate = 2007-12-31 | last = | first = | work = | publisher = Kerala Backwater]


Kozhikode (also known as Calicut) has backwaters which are largely “unexplored” by tourist hordes. Elathur, the Canolly Canal and the Kallayi River are favourite haunts for boating. Kadalundi, with its beautiful bird sanctuary is a charming site. Korapuzha, the venue of the Korapuzha Jalotsavam is fast becoming a popular water sport destination. [cite web | url = | title = Kozikhode Backwaters | accessdate = 2008-01-07 | last = | first = | work = Kerala Tourism | publisher = indiatourism]


Kerala backwaters have assisted in bringing out the best in writers. Two prominent writers in the region are Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai and Arundhati Roy.

Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai, (1912-1999), Padmabhusan, and Jnanpith and Sahitya Akedemi award winning writer, was born in Thakazhi village in Alappuzha district. [cite web | url = | title = Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai | accessdate = 2007-12-31 | last = | first = | work = | publisher =] He wrote in Malayalam. His novel "Chemmeen" has been translated into most Indian languages and several foreign languages.

Arundhati Roy (born 1961), was brought up in Ayemenem near Kottayam, and her Booker Prize winning The God of Small Things is set in Kerala. [cite web | url = | title = Arundhati Roy | a life full of beginnings and no ends | accessdate = 2007-12-31 | last = | first = | work = | publisher = ] She writes in English


Photo gallery

External links

* [ The Tourism website of Backwaters of Kerala, India]
* [ About Kerala Backwater Tourism]
* [ About the Rivers of Kerala]
* [ South India Package Tours : Kerala Tamilnadu Pondicherry]


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