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Map of Backwaters in Kerala

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.

The Kerala Backwaters are a network of interconnected canals, rivers, lakes and inlets, a labyrinthine system formed by more than 900 km of waterways, and sometimes compared to the American Bayou.[1] In the midst of this landscape there are a number of towns and cities, which serve as the starting and end points of backwater cruises.[2] 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.[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.[3][4]

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.[4]

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.[3]

Kerala Backwaters Sunset.JPG
Kerala backwaters in the Kuttanad area

Contents

Tourism

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.[5]

House boat

A backwater in the Malabar, c.a. 1913

The kettuvallams (Kerala houseboats) in the backwaters are one of the prominent tourist attractions in Kerala. More than 400 kettuvallams ply the backwaters,[6] 120 of them in Alappuzha.[7]

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, 100 feet (30 m) in length, provided protection from the elements. At some point in 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.[3][4]

A launch wades through water hyacinth in an Alappuzha canal

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,[8] two nights cruise from Alappuzha to Alumkavadi,[9] one night cruise from Alappuzha to Kidangara,[10] and one night cruise from Alappuzha to Mankotta.[11] There are numerous such cruises. [12] The most exciting thing on the backwaters of Kerala, however, is the Kettuvallam ( traditional houseboat ) which has become the most popular tourism product in India today. In a land as water bound as Kerala it wouldn't be an unusual sight, but for a visitor to God's Own Country a houseboat gliding along the vast green expanse of the backwaters is the most amazing spectacle in the world. Even more enchanting is a holiday in the houseboats of Kerala.[13]

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.[14] There is a houseboat-building yard at Alumkadavu, in Ashtamudi Kayal near Kollam.[3]

Ferry services

Regular ferry services connect most locations on both banks of the backwaters[3].

Resorts

Resort at Kumarakom

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.[3]

Impact on eco-system

The unregulated proliferation of motorised houseboats in the lakes and backwaters have raised concerns regarding the adverse impact of pollution from diesel engines and outboard motors on the fragile ecosystem.

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.[4]

Paddy fields in the Kuttanad region at a level lower than that of water in the canal

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.[15]

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.[16]

Boat races

Chundan vallams or snake boats are narrow boats over 100 feet (30 m) long, with a raised prow that stands 10 feet (3.0 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.[3]

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.[3]

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.[3]

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

Backwater regions

Kollam

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.[3]

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.[17] The historic Thangasseri Fort is near Kollam, which is situated 71 km north of Thiruvananathapuram.[18]

Alappuzha

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.[3] The place is famous for the snake boat races and also has a number of historic colonial buildings and a beach.[19]

Kuttanad

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.[3] 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.[20] 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.[15]

Kottayam - Kumarakom

The village of Kumarakom is a cluster of little islands on the Vembanad Kayal, and is part of the Kuttanad region.[21] 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.[22] While Kuttanad is ideal for a house boat cruise, the resorts are the main attraction 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.[3]

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!” [23]

Munroe island

Munroethuruth or Munroe Island is a place surrounded by kallada river, Ashtamudi Lake and [[Sasthamkotta Lake]] in Kollam district ,MunroeIsland is a cluster of eight tiny islands, Blessed with a number of criss-cross canals and zigzag water channels, this Island plays a host to so many migratory birds from various countries around the world. You can watch birds such as King fisher, Woodpecker, Egret,Bee-eater, Crow pheasant, and Paddy Birds. There is yet another rare chance to see the traditional Indian spice plants such as Pepper, Nutmeg and Cloves.([1])

The first community tourism programme in the State will start functioning from the MunroeThuruthu islands.Coir making is a home industry to almost all the village living people. It is very interesting to watch the coir making by the village ladies with the help of weaving Wheels. They make the coir ropes by hand. In addition to this, on the way, you can see the process of extracting coconut oil from the "copra" [dried coconut]. Among the routine traditional engagements, duck, poultry farm and prawn breeding are common in all houses.([2])

Kasargod

Kasargod in north Kerala is a 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.[24]

Thiruvallam

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.[25]

Kozhikode

Kozhikode (also known as Calicut) has backwaters which are largely “unexplored” by tourist hordes. Elathur, the Canoly Canal and the Kallayi River are favourite haunts for boating and cruising. Korapuzha, the venue of the Korapuzha Jalotsavam is fast becoming a popular water sport destination.[26]

Literature

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.[27] 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.[28] She writes in English

References

  1. ^ "Austin Pick: A Billion People in a Coconut Shell". http://www.fudomouth.net/intertext/ap_subcontinent03.htm. Retrieved 2008-12-28. 
  2. ^ "Kerala Bacwater Destinations". Kerala Backwater. http://www.keralabackwater.com/kerala-backwater-destinations/index.html. Retrieved 2007-12-31. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Ayub, Akber (ed), Kerala: Maps & More, Backwaters, 2006 edition 2007 reprint, pp. 40-53, Stark World Publishing, Bangalore, ISBN 81-902505-2-3
  4. ^ a b c d "Bacwaters in Kerala". Kerala Backwater. http://www.keralabackwater.com/kerala-backwaters-travel/backwaters-in-kerala.html. Retrieved 2007-12-31. 
  5. ^ Mathew, Mony K.. "Going beyond God’s own country". The Hindu Business Line, 13 July 2000. http://www.hinduonnet.com/businessline/2000/07/13/stories/111302c4.htm. Retrieved 2008-01-08. 
  6. ^ Abraham, Tanya. "Eco-friendly boats to ply backwaters". The Hindu, 31 October 2005. http://www.hinduonnet.com/thehindu/thscrip/print.pl?file=2005103101070300.htm&date=2005/10/31/&prd=mp&. Retrieved 2008-01-06. 
  7. ^ "Cargo boats". Worldviewer. http://www.kettuvallam.com/Content-16/Kerala-Houseboat.html. Retrieved 2008-01-05. 
  8. ^ "Thottappally Bacwaters of Kerala". Tranquil voyage through backwaters. Backwaters in Kerala. http://www.backwatersinkerala.com/thottappally-houseboat-package.html. Retrieved 2007-12-31. 
  9. ^ "Alumkadavu Bacwaters of Kerala". Tranquil voyage through backwaters. Backwaters in Kerala. http://www.backwatersinkerala.com/alumkadavu-houseboat-package-2-days.html. Retrieved 2007-12-31. 
  10. ^ "Kidangara Bacwaters of Kerala". Tranquil voyage through backwaters. Backwaters in Kerala. http://www.backwatersinkerala.com/kidangara-houseboat-package.html. Retrieved 2007-12-31. 
  11. ^ "Mankotta Bacwaters of Kerala". Tranquil voyage through backwaters. Backwaters in Kerala. http://www.backwatersinkerala.com/mankotta-houseboat-package.html. Retrieved 2007-12-31. 
  12. ^ About Backwaters of Kerala
  13. ^ http://www.houseboatkerala.in/backwater.html
  14. ^ "Kozhikhode Bacwaters". Kerala Backwater. http://www.keralabackwater.com/kerala-backwaters-travel/backwaters-in-kerala.html. Retrieved 2007-12-31. 
  15. ^ a b "Kuttanad Bacwaters". Kerala Backwater. http://www.keralabackwater.com/kerala-backwaters-travel/backwaters-in-kerala.html. Retrieved 2007-12-31. 
  16. ^ "The List of Wetlands of International Importance". The Secretariat of the Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar, Iran, 1971) Rue Mauverney 28, CH-1196 Gland, Switzerland. http://www.ramsar.org/sitelist.pdf. Retrieved 2008-01-07. 
  17. ^ "Kollam Bacwaters". Kerala Backwater Tours. http://www.kerala-backwaters-tours.com/kollam-backwaters.html. Retrieved 2007-12-31. 
  18. ^ "Kollam Bacwaters". Kerala Backwater. http://www.keralabackwater.com/kerala-backwater-destinations/kollam-backwaters.html. Retrieved 2007-12-31. 
  19. ^ "Alappuzha Bacwaters". Kerala Backwater. http://www.strawberryresidence.com/index.html. Retrieved 2007-12-31. 
  20. ^ "Kuttanad Backwaters". Kerala Backwater Tours. http://www.kerala-backwaters-tours.com/kuttanad-backwaters.html. Retrieved 2007-12-31. 
  21. ^ "Kumarakom Bacwaters". Kerala Backwater Tours. http://www.kerala-backwaters-tours.com/kumarakom-backwaters.html. Retrieved 2007-12-31. 
  22. ^ "Kumarakom Bacwaters". Kerala Backwater. http://www.keralabackwater.com/kerala-backwater-destinations/kumarakom-backwaters.html. Retrieved 2007-12-31. 
  23. ^ Swaminathan, Chitra. "Srinivas – My kind of Place". Metro Plus Coimbatore. The Hindu, 30 June 2007. http://www.backwatersinkerala.com/alumkadavu-houseboat-package-2-days.html. Retrieved 2008-01-08. 
  24. ^ "Kasargod Bacwaters". Kerala Backwater. http://www.keralabackwater.com/kerala-backwater-destinations/kasargod-backwaters.html. Retrieved 2007-12-31. 
  25. ^ "Thiruvallam Bacwaters". Kerala Backwater. http://www.keralabackwater.com/kerala-backwater-destinations/thiruvallam-backwaters.html. Retrieved 2007-12-31. 
  26. ^ "Kozikhode Backwaters". Kerala Tourism. indiatourism. http://www.indiatourism.com/kerala-backwaters/kozhicode-backwaters.html. Retrieved 2008-01-07. 
  27. ^ "Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai". india9.com. http://www.india9.com/i9show/Thakazhi-Sivasankara-Pillai-26060.htm. Retrieved 2007-12-31. 
  28. ^ "Arundhati Roy – a life full of beginnings and no ends". chitram.org. http://www.chitram.org/mallu/ar.htm. Retrieved 2007-12-31. 

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Up to date as of January 14, 2010
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From Wikitravel

Asia : South Asia : India : Southern India : Kerala : Kerala backwaters
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A small christian chapel along a backwater canal, with traditional houseboats moored beside it.
A small christian chapel along a backwater canal, with traditional houseboats moored beside it.

Backwaters in Kerala is a network of 1500 km of canals both manmade and natural, 38 rivers and 5 big lakes extending from one end of Kerala to the other.

The backwaters can be explored by hiring a boat for one or several days. If you go for more than a day, the boat usually comes with a navigator and a cook, which provide you with various facilities when exploring the backwaters [1].

Understand

While hill resorts and beaches can be found in other parts of India, the backwaters are unique to Kerala. Meandering through the coastal areas of Kerala is a 900 kilometers (560 miles) long intricate network of lagoons, lakes, canals, estuaries and deltas of several rivers that flow into the Arabian Sea.

The most beautiful and accessible part of the back waters is the Ernakulam area, where Cochin harbour is. The coast is dotted with numerous islands interconnected by ferries and bridges, adorning the Queen of the Arabian Sea like a necklace of pearls. The islands break the waves from the sea, thus ensuring that the back waters are calm and navigable. Among the islands, Wellingdon Island deserves special mention as it houses the Port of Cochin and the largest Naval presence in India: the Southern Naval Command.

There are both expensive and economical hotels available with harbour and backwater views, which provide accommodation facilities in Kerala [2].

Get in

Ashtamudi ('eight hair') Lake and Vembanad Lake are the two most important gateways into this backwater network.

Get around

Before trucks became common, the main cargo transportation was through backwaters by 'Kettuvalloms'. Kettuvallom loosely translated means: ‘tied boat’. They can be as long as 70 foot, with a 30 ton capacity, made with wooden planks joined and tied together with coconut ropes and painted with cashew nut oil outside. Nowadays many kettuvalloms have been converted to House Boats by enterprising boat owners with amenities like beds, kitchens, bars & toilets. They are available on hire for fixed rates (varies according to the season). The package usually includes tour along the backwater with stops at various place with historical or cultural importance. The menu usually includes the fresh water catch along with the seasonal sea food.

A village in the Kerala Backwaters
A village in the Kerala Backwaters

The backwaters flow through almost all the districts of Kerala -- Alappuzha, Thiruvananthapuram, Ernakulam, Kottayam, etc. Almost all the stretches have breathtaking views. Not to be missed are the Thiruvallam backwaters, Kumarakom (on Vembanad lake) and Kuttanad.

Sleep

Many travellers stay on houseboats, but you can also find many resorts dotting the backwaters. Most of these are converted ancestral homes where you can stay with the family and have a feel of the local culture and cuisine.

There are few homestays in the island of Kumbalangi, Bolghatty etc. But to see the backwaters, you don't have to stay in any of the islands, there are hotels in mainland Ernakulam, from where you can go the islands, or backwaters.

Eat

Karimeen Fry

Kappa and Fish Curry

Kallu(Toddy)with fish

Toddy is made from coconut tree.

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