Tourists in their fancy houseboats seemed high in spirit, with their impressive camera doing most of the work. But in the local ferry, the atmosphere was rather regular. Here, no one appeared to be in hurry or amazed by the arresting beauty of the backwaters in Alleppey – one of the prime highlights of tourism in Kerala.
I heard a lot about the backwaters of Kerala.
I heard that tourists here hire a floating houseboat and wander through its maze of interconnected lagoons, canals, lakes and inlets – home to a dazzling assortment of flora and fauna, and local villages.
I heard that they spend days sitting on the deck, experiencing the tranquillity of the backwaters in Kerala, with a book in their hand, while swiftly sailing through one village to the other.
I wanted to explore this place too but in my own way.
And there I was, in a government ferry, surrounded by a bunch of locals who were heading back from the mainland Alleppey, with all the ration they needed, and a newspaper that they’d just purchased.
The entire scene was rather usual and uninterrupted. No one seemed excited about the beauty of Kerala backwaters.
I happened to take the early afternoon ferry – exactly when the 17-year old Sajin was coming back from his school. A happy smile on his face was a clear invitation to understand that he had a good day. A quick conversation with him and I found out that he was going back home after writing a successful year-end exam in his college.
For the next few hours, he became my host and my eyes to how I saw the backwaters of Alleppey – in his very own ‘fibre-made’ (as he often claimed) canoe.
The day to day life in the backwaters of Alleppey seemed fairly slow – with most of the townfolk seemingly busy in the traditional craft of boat making, or harvesting rice in the fields.
A small minority was also busy making money off of tourists, by either selling tourists – in a houseboat or a medium sized Shikara – some refreshments, or by giving them quick and timely tours, around the place.
But the floating engines, stretching through the boundaries of backwaters, never appeared to withdraw from their continuous movement – at least not under the daylight. They moved about places for hours and hours and days on end.
The experience that this place gives you, as a tourist, is indeed very different if you experience it with the eyes of a local. Every now and then you float through a sleepy village and come across people who were busy going about their daily activities.
Amid the group of big size houseboats, that make the majority of the traffic in the backwaters, what you sometimes stumble upon is a small canoe, with a fisherman delivering goods, and sometimes, local people.
The backwater in Kerala had its own charm. Here people seemed to have adopted a good lifestyle while living in a complete harmony with nature.
As you drift through the small canals – which, however, is only possible in a small canoe – and run through its colony of small villages, you come across housewives washing clothes or doing other household chores, while men were busy driving boats or working in the paddy fields.
By the end of the day, most of them could be found having a good time in one of the local pubs, drinking locally-brewed coconut beer.
Also Read: Kerala, Truly The God’s Own Country
ABOUT KERALA BACKWATERS
The backwaters run along the entire length of the state of Kerala, covering several districts, each with its own unique charm and appeal. And dwarfing the beauty of all the other backwaters are the backwaters of Alleppey.
Backwaters of Alleppey is big, and in fact so massive in its length, that according to Sajin, last year a German couple wandered in one of his friend’s houseboat – almost studying the place – for about 21 days and still returned home without being able to see it all.
Flanked by the Western Ghats on one side and the Arabian Sea on the other, the backwaters of Alleppey are not just mesmerizingly beautiful but are one of the rare places in the entire world that are situated below the sea level.
It’s like a green lush paradise sliced apart from the world, with its very own blue veins of water. And the pleasure you get while gliding through its green waterways is simply unparalleled!
If you’re planning a visit to the backwaters in Alleppey, and are planning to hire a houseboat, do it from the government office located near the main bus station. A houseboat costs between 6 thousand to sky-is-the-limit (as per prices in 2016) for 12 hours, depending on how many bedrooms and other facilities you’re looking for.
Other than a houseboat experience, I’d particularly recommend you to see the local community life, which can be done by renting a small canoe, which allows you to pass through smaller canals. A canoe can be rented between 300 to 500 Rupees (depending upon the number of people) for a one hour ride.
There are also many local ferries (the one I took) that do regular trips to the backwaters. They take you for 1-2 hour ride, for as much as 12 Rupees. Yes, that’s correct. 12 RUPEES! You can imagine them as the local city buses!