After exploring the tea estates of Munnar and deep forests of Wayanad, in my third visit to Kerala, I decided to spend my time in the backwaters of Alleppey. While tea gardens and forests can be found in many parts of India, it is the backwaters that add a flavor of uniqueness to Kerala.
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From Trivandrum, Nikita and I boarded the Hapa Express, a superfast express train that runs on the Konkan railway route. Though the sight of backwaters was visible from the train window itself, we were absolutely in awe of the canals and streams of water that were spread across the city. A main canal flows through the center of the city, not only dividing the city into two but also serving as one of the major means of transport in the city. There are government run ferries that stop over at the jetties carrying the people from the remote hidden villages along the banks of the Vembanad backwaters to the central part of the city.
Vembanad Lake, the largest lake in India, through its main water body seeps out numerous streams and rivulets, stretching into the hinterlands. Holding onto the banks of these streams are the coconut and mango trees, which bear plentiful of fruits throughout the year. Within a measurable distance, the villagers have also utilized the part of their lands for growing paddy that extend till the highway roads. Many different shades of green would catch your attention but it is the tint of cloudy blue sky amidst the green that will make your heart wonder and wander at the same time.
As Alleppey is quite popular on the global tourist map, Nikita and I decided to explore the city in the touristy way. In the three days that we spent there, we flitted between some of the well known tourist spots and some untouched routes into the wild. Our close friend Deepu, a localite from the Kottayam district of Kerala joined us and subtly enriched our interaction with the minute cultural nuances of this place.
Here are a few experiences that we enrolled ourselves in and elated our travel-itched souls.
Visit the Punnamuda Lake:
This lake happened to be the first spot visited by us due to the location of our resort. Ramada Resort is situated on the edge of this lake, sharing boundaries with the Nehru Trophy boat race finishing point. For those of us who might not know this, Nehru Trophy is for one of the largest boat race events in India, which happens annually in these backwaters. We spent our first evening admiring the widely spread water body and wondered how it was only the baby of the Vembanad lake. Though many options regarding the houseboats and shikaras were available in this lake, we decided to take a bigger shot by witnessing what is known to be the largest lake in India.
Canoeing in the Vembanad Backwaters:
One of the major attractions in Alleppey that tourists enjoy is taking a boat tour in the backwaters and tasting a slice of aquatic life on their plates. Shikaras and house boats are easily available and can be pre-booked for any given amount of time. If you are traveling in big groups like a family holiday or a friends’ get together, then house boats can set a perfect tone for a floating private party. However, we tweaked our plan to experience something more traditional. Instead of a huge houseboat, we hopped into a four seater canoe. Nikita contacted Tony, a local tour guide who arranges day trips into the backwaters, inclusive of authentic Kerala meals along with the rowing. Canoe is a traditional wooden boat that can even be rowed through the narrow channels of backwaters, thus reaching into the interiors, where there is found a life of imagination coming to reality – peace, peace and only peace. There is stillness in the water and slowness in the air in these areas which can only be touched for a while. We rowed in a canoe that belonged to Satchidanand, a resident of Kainakari village who was also our host of the day. While his wife prepared sumptuous south Indian meals for us, he took us into the by lanes of Vembanad. This way we were able to chit chat with a lot of people around us, getting to know the whereabouts of a tropical lifestyle.
Must Know: Try and book the canoe one day in advance. Off Season rates vary somewhere between INR 800 – 1000 per head for an 8 hour journey, and is inclusive of food and ferry charges. Tony can be contacted @ +91 9387812427
Good to Know: Kainakari village offers some extremely scenic views of the lesser visited streams of the backwaters, gives an extra edge to your mission of exploration.
Visit the Alleppey Beach:
We returned to the main part of the city from the ferry and deboarded at the fishing point jetty. It is a 15 minutes ride in the auto rickshaw till the Alleppey beach. An evening hangout spot for the locals, what first caught my eye was an ancient and a rotten pier, unrestored and uncared for and yet complementing the view of the sunset. Though there are hardly any eateries on the beach and you may also find difficulty in finding a bottle of Coke, you would see that the locals are busy picnicking with their families. The water is clean but there are hardly any tourists on this beach. People were busy flying kites in the backdrop of dark grey clouds, on the other side of the sea the sun went down without much intimation, under the cover of these clouds. Getting a glimpse of the sunset is all a game of good luck, especially during this time of the year.
Good to Know: Do not expect a lot of eating joints in this place, but expect a lot of family crowd enjoying the evening breeze along with sea water.
Visit the RKK Private Museum:
Located on the main road of the city, on the way to Alleppey beach, Ravi Karuna Karan Museum is one of the very few private museums in India. Dedicated to her husband, Betty put on display an enormous variety of collectibles that she received from some of the eminent personalities around the globe. The couple comes from a family pretty well known and well established in the coir making business in this area. Ravi during his glorious days expanded the trails of his business outside India and was one of the major exporters of coir. During his travels to many other countries he was able to collect the souvenirs gifted to him by the presidents and other important personnel. Betty, who now lives with her daughter in Alleppey, is the mastermind behind this enormous collection of art. From the wooden carvings to paintings, sharp cut crystal pieces to scintillating Swarovski work, shining silver to metallic stone work, there are craftworks collected from many different art forms. There is also a magnificent collection of ivory, ebony and tusk in the form of single piece designs. If you are an art lover then you could easily spend at least a few hours admiring not only the collectibles but also the far and wide travel that the couple must have done.
Must Know: Photography inside the house is prohibited. It is closed on Mondays. The entry ticket is INR 150, but totally worth it.
Take a Drive on AC Road:
If you are one of those who love taking a shot at driving at new places, then Alleppey – Changanaserry road is your kind of thing. Bordered with backwaters on the both sides, this road is ideal for a scenic long drive especially during the monsoons. The locals here are skilled in growing paddy fields a little below the sea level which may receive irrigation from the backwaters before the onset of monsoons. So if the paddy has gained enough length and it is not the busy hour of the day and the rain drops are falling on the windshield, you can imagine what it would be like. If you wish to continue the journey, the road further leads to Thekkady, the spice town of Kerala. For us, even though the monsoons had not hit and the paddy was still very nascent, our drive was a fantabulous one, thanks to our dear friend Deepu, his car and his music that made it just the right thing to do that afternoon. What was even more exciting was the detour into one of the pocket roads that led to Thiruvalla city. An insignificant looking lane took us to a village where there were white churches, white eagrets binging on the paddy, a huge lotus pond and backwaters in the hindsight to complete the background for our selfie sessions.
Good to Know: You can try the local Kerala meals at Avees. They serve some authentic fish preparations like Karimeen (a sea water fish prepared by spicing it up and steaming it while wrapped in a banana leaf). Average spends – INR 1000 for 3 for a heavily loaded Kerala Meal.
Visit the Mararikulam Beach:
Mararikulam town is located on the Alleppey- Ernakulam highway 11 kilometres away from the Alapuzzha main city. We decided to spend an evening on the Marari beach, quite popular for its Hammocks. We took an internal road to this town instead of the main highway, thanks to the Google maps; it was indeed the right choice made. On the way we saw quite a few home stay options to pick from. The town seems to be popular with the foreign tourists as many were biking and enjoying getting tanned. As we found our way to the Marari beach, we were amazed to see the green cover just before the beach. Tall coconut trees and the stout grasslands holding them looked even more glorious when the divine sun shone behind them turning the green into gold. The beach is a pulling and compelling one. The waves are sluggish which would calm down an ever sprinting mind. The sand was smooth near the water; it looked like a dark brown smoothie; compelled us to take a long stroll while letting our feet dip into the waves time and again. Some real good laughter echoed in the air and we absorbed all the goodness of nature into us that evening getting extremely high on the happy hormones. Though we could not see many hammocks on the beach we were delighted to see the sun making its way through the clouds into the sea.
Good to Know: Much less crowded than the Alleppey Beach, very few eateries. Still holds the feeling of a non commercial, not so touched beach on the western coastline of India. Water is clear and safe to be in.
Visit the Pathiramanal Island:
Pathiramanal in its literal sense means “Sands of the Midnight”. I wonder how it would be like to be on this uninhabited island during the midnight. Belongs to the magnificent Vembanad Kol, this island is a paradise for bird watchers. We were welcomed by the chirping sounds in an otherwise bereft piece of land. At first, we felt we were about to enter the Forests of Fangorns (Lord of The Rings) which may be guarded by the evil spirits against the holy spirits or vice versa. From the very beginning, the island embraces you and introduces you to a thick forest cover, with trees hugging each other at many different heights. The entangled green makes it dense and yet the sun forces to beam its rays through the natural net. Though a stone trail takes us into the intense wilderness, very soon we find ourselves walking on the dry leaves. The sound of crushing them made us believe in the rawness of this island. Leaving the concrete behind we were experiencing the vibe of a natural habitat and what life would have been when development was not a daily affair. In these routes, we tried searching for our roots and it so appeared that men with great adventurous spirit have always walked and conquered the unknown. With our minds sunk into deep thoughts, we decided to spend our afternoon under the shades of these spectacular trees. In my illusions, I felt these trees were the close cousins of Onodrims from the ‘Lord of the Ring’ series. How I wished they carried us onto them and had some real historic stories to tell us. Nevertheless we had our own little history there with “We Were Here” selfies. Nikita and Deepu experimented a lot with their cameras as it is a photographers’ paradise too. Only because we were hungry, we decided to take the walk back; else this island would also make for a great camping spot. Though not sure, if they let you stay there for the night.
Must Know: The place is more enjoyable in small groups. Carry your water bottles along as the place is absolutely uninhabited, you may find a few more tourists though. There are various ways to reach the island; we decided to take the speed boat from Kayyipuram Jetty Road.
Speedboat charges: INR 600 for a to and fro service. Can take a max of 4 people in one round.
Good to Know: Visit www.pathiramanal.com for a detailed history about the place.
Visit the Thanneermukkam Bund:
To know and enjoy your time in a place like this, it either has to be extremely popular or you need a local guidance to bring enough light on it. For us the latter worked out, and the three of us whiled away our last evening in Alleppey relishing a local mango ice cream sitting on an embankment and discussing some very interesting differences between the three Indian cultures that each of us represented. We never lost the sight of our beloved Pathiramanal Island from here, keeping the smile up on our faces for the rest of the evening.
Good to Know: A tiny hut restaurant called Tharivadu in the Kumarakom city is worth betting your taste buds on. You may try the mucles, clams, kappa and the meen curry. A great company to this sumptuous meal is the local Toddy, available in this hut.
This pretty much sums up our 3 days in Alleppey. Alleppey also has a popular spice bazaar and a few temples which we could not visit due to paucity of time. Who knows these may become our reasons to return to this alluring city. However, what may really bring me back would be the season of the snake boat races and the enduring monsoons.