Onam Special : Backwater Regattas in Alleppey, Kerala

Nestled in a maze of backwater channels and lush green paddy fields, Alleppey lies in waiting with a delightful spread of tourist menu…

Sitting in my office, I received the news that a close friend is getting married. The moment I heard the wedding would take place in Alleppey, I was thrilled to the tee. At last, I am getting a chance to visit the green serene plays where waterways play cacophony. With a dream of experiencing the slice of the beautiful life amidst the backwaters of Kerala in Southern India, I kick-started my jaunt along with a couple of other friends from country’s IT capital Bengaluru in Karnataka.

We boarded the local tourist bus around six in the evening and within no time the bus crossed the bordering state Tamil Nadu and entered Kerala. Locally known as Alappuzha in Kerala, Alleppey is situated at a distance of about 600km from Bengaluru. Therefore, we travelled for about eight hours to reach this beautiful and travel friendly place.

The journey begins – Kerala

It was the chilly breeze that woke me up to give me the morning glimpse of Kerala. I noticed senior citizens walking on the road, regardless to mention with copies of Malayalam Manorama, the newspaper in their hands. A lone kid cried somewhere in the bus, waking up the fellow travellers. To get more information about the place, I turned to a friend who knew the local language Malayalam. Before he could start explaining, the bus came to a halt, making passengers call out ‘alappuzha…alappuzha’. These cries informally indicated our arrival at the magical location called Alleppey.

While sipping the morning tea at a local tea stall, we discussed the purpose of our arrival – the wedding. After the grand Malayali wedding and lunch, we contemplated on the most exciting part of this trip – our stay in a houseboat. Tiny town with just a single canal, we got to know that Alleppey today has become a global attraction for its backwaters.

Exotic Backwaters

The Vembanad Lake, the most important of the west coast canal system, stretches from Alleppey to Kochi. The Thannermukkom regulator constructed across Vembanad Lake between Thannermukkom and Vechur prevents tidal action and intrusion of saline water into it, the largest mud regulator in India.

Kayamkulam Lake, stretching between Panmana and Karthikappally, is a shallow lake which has an outlet to sea at Kayamkulam barrage and connects Ashtamudi Lake by the Chavara Panmana canal, Alleppey has a network of canals including the Vadai canal, commercial canals and the link canals between these two. Alappuzha also boasts a flat unbroken seacoast of about 82 kilometres, which is around just 13 per cent of the total coastal line of the state of Kerala.

Nature’s slice

The name Alappuzha means the land between the sea and network of rivers flowing into it. The best way to experience Alleppey is by taking a boat ride in its alluring backwaters. Little tips from the wedding reception ensured eatables for us for the next 24 hours. Towering palm-fringed canals, shimmering water, clear lagoons, flocks of ducks waddling under the soft sun caught our sight. Amazed at the bustling shores, we headed towards the delightful setting. Very often in life, our senses are satiated by a place. Blessed by nature, Alleppey gave us a warm welcome.

As we neared the Punnamada Lake, our eyes got a visual treat with numerous beautiful and artistic houseboats lined up for their journey. Our guide took us to the houseboat we had booked. He told us that a night cruise on the backwaters is one of the most-popular cruises offered. A round trip from Alleppey in the backwaters, after having spent the day and night in the tranquility of the place leaves you spellbound. The cruise takes you through the clear waters of the prominent Punnamada Lake–the venue of the legendary Nehru Trophy Snake Boat Race.

You can visit the 400-year-old Champakkulam church, one of the seven churches established by St Thomas. The Chavara Bhavan, located at a distance of six kilometre, is another interesting place that one can’t afford to miss. The ancestral home of the Blessed Kuriakose Elias Chavara, the Chavara Bhavan houses the legendary 250-year-old beacon of light–preserved intact in its original and primitive form.

Excited on hearing the account of this exotic location, we moved towards our ship the houseboat. We were amazed the moment we saw a houseboat. Bedecked with world-class facilities, the houseboat was not less than an architectural marvel created on a small boat. With absolutely no interface with the outside world, apart from few stoppages on the nearby shores, we gave in to the journey.

Cruise time

Cruising along the Punnamada Lake, we got a slice of true Kerala lifestyle. The view of villages along the banks, green paddy fields and coconut groves captivated our mind, body and soul. Cruising down the backwaters on the houseboat, locally called kettuvallam, for some quiet moments reflected solitude. While I relished the traditional Keralite breakfast kappa (tapioca) and meen (fish) curry, my friend connected his laptop with some nice music and the whole new experience in water came striking back to us.

The water lilies, when seen in the night, dazzle like the twinkling stars in a dark sky. Fishermen and women add to the magic with their imaginative ways of fishing. The cruise tantalised us with its breath-taking serenity to remain as the most beautiful reminiscences of our lives. As the boat covered kilometres in water, we were left with rich experience of watching coconut trees leaning to the water and touching the blue sky. The thought reinstated in my mind why the state of Kerala is often called God’s own Country.

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