Just the mention of Kerala is reminiscent of palm trees, houseboats and backwaters. Hence when I got a chance to experience backwaters during my recent trip to Kochi, I grabbed it with both hands. The Kerala Backwaters are a network of interconnected canals, rivers, lakes and inlets, a labyrinthine system formed by more than 900 km of waterways. Having read so much about backwaters and its scenic offerings I couldn’t wait to go for maiden backwater ride.
The trip was arranged by my homestay hosts. I was picked up at 8 in the morning and then I met a lot of others who were putting up at other homestays. I instantly put two and two together and understood the whole affair. All these homestay owners collaborate with vendors providing backwater services. The owners present the deal to their guests and it is done then and there. Though you can find a lot of vendors in Kochi offering the same. You can pick one as per your convenience.
From Kochi, we went to Vaikom, which was the starting point for the backwaters. Vaikom is a small town located in the Kottayam district of Kerala. Geographically I was not in Kochi anymore. Vaikom is approximately 65 kilometres from Kochi and it took us around 1.5 hours to reach. After reaching Vaikom I realized that it wasn’t just us because there were a bunch of people already waiting for us. After a quick session of pleasantries, we all made our way to the boat.
In my head, for some reason, I had imagined a houseboat (still don’t understand why).
The reason could the pictures of houseboat all over the website and promotion pamphlets. But it wasn’t a houseboat rather it was a country boat which was covered and had plastic chairs inside for sitting. The setup was quite modest, nothing huge or extravagant. We took our seats in no time and our host welcomed us onboard. He quickly ran us through the plan for the day and it was just us and the beautiful view all around us. I had always heard about the beauty of backwaters but it was my first time witnessing it for real. And I was mesmerized beyond words. Mundar and Kariyaar Backwaters are near to the Vaikom township. These backwaters have beautiful rivers and narrow canals which connects to the Vembanad lake.
As our boat moved ahead, it became quieter.
The slowly swaying palm trees along with the calm waters is a sight I cannot forget in my life. Not just the palm trees but there are a wide variety of vegetation that you encounter on backwaters. The most interesting was a fruit, which resembles a mango and has poisonous seed commonly popular as suicide fruit. It is not just the greens but we also saw a lot of unique birds. But the most interesting aspect of backwaters is the life along backwaters. There are numerous big small houses along the backwaters peeking beautifully through coconut laden scenery. The houses are simple with sloping roofs, like the ones which we used to draw in our drawing books in kindergarten. It is intriguing to see them perform their everyday chores with water all around.
A quick conversation with the host enlightened me more about the life along backwaters.
Just like we have different size vehicle, these people have different size boats. The boats are usually anchored in front of the house just like we park ours in the porches. Some houses even have few steps to walk down and enjoy a dip in the water. Your own swimming pool, how exciting is that. Like we have taxis and bus, backwaters have their own water taxis and water buses for public transportation. And like we face traffic jams, here you get boat jams in canals.
My curiosity around life by the backwaters was on peak.
I kept asking questions one after another. Where do you shop your groceries from? Don’t you get bored here? What if you get late and there isn’t any boat to get you home? What if you get stranded in water? To my surprise, there was an answer to all my questions. It is amazing how two different world exists in parallel, the one that I know and the other that exist by the backwaters. I couldn’t help but be amazed every time I saw a house by the backwaters. I was still struggling with the whole idea of a livelihood by the backwaters without any hiccups. But I let my thoughts move on as the boat steered ahead.
After a while, the scenery becomes constant with some element of surprises and yet you don’t get bored at all. The same palm trees line one after another, the same slow-moving placid water and the same reflection on the water and yet you are always at the edge of your seat. That’s the beauty of backwaters.
After spending few hours admiring the beauty of backwaters, we stopped at a small village for lunch.
The traditional Kerala lunch was served on a banana leaf. We also stopped by a small village where we saw how ropes are made out of coconut coir. Earlier the same was done by hands but now they have a small machine setup which helps in the process. There are various cooperative societies which provide the coconut coir to these small villages and collect the ropes once it is ready. One of the many ways, the people who live by the backwaters earn their livelihoods. We also got to know about the famous Toddy drink which is made by the sap of coconut tree. But we couldn’t try it as it has the best effect when tried fresh in the morning.
After the lunch, it was time to return.
We were given the option to switch to canoe from the boat. A lot of people didn’t opt for it but I decided to go for the change. Along with me few other people also chose for the canoe. In no time we find ourselves settling comfortably in the narrow canoes. While the country boat took us to many narrow channels but with canoes, we could venture into even narrower channels. It was pin drop silence and one could easily hear the rustling of leaves, movement of water and chirping of birds.
The experience is nothing but therapeutic.
It was on the canoe I met Melina and got to know her reason for visiting Kochi. She wasn’t a regular tourist, her story unveiled the medical tourism capability of Kerala. It is incredible beyond words. The sights were pretty much the same from canoes, the only difference was the proximity. Now the water and vegetation were up close at just at an arm’s distance. The whole canoes ride took approximately two hours. We rowed through narrow channels lined with colourful houses. We also spotted kids enjoying their evening dip in the water which was just outside their house. It was like one of those conventional colonies of tier two cities where everyone knows what is happening in their neighbour’s houses. Just the difference was the water streams and not the regular roads.
My backwater experience was nothing but exceptional.
Not just because of the awestruck sight of swaying palm trees and the calmness of the backwaters but also because of the interesting revelation of life by the backwaters. It is fascinating how a whole different world exists in God’s own country.
Tips for backwater visit:
- Carry enough water bottles as the trip goes for pretty much the whole and there are no shops along backwaters to buy water.
- Once the trip starts, the first stop will be for lunch. If you get hungry quickly, don’t forget to carry some snacks for yourself.
- As the boat/canoe steers inside narrow channels, you might experience heavy mosquito attack. Carry a mosquito repellant for such cases.
- In the month of summers, the sun can get really hard, so carry sunblock and a cap/hat.
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