Alleppey, called Allappuzha (pronounced Allapurah) by the local people, is well-known as the Venice of the East and not without good reason. It is home to the famous backwaters of Kerala-- the hundreds and thousands of tentacles of the sea penetrating deep into coastal Kerala.
It is wrong to assume that the backwaters of Kerala are restricted to just Alleppey because it is spread over vast regions along the South Western coast of Kerala and form an integral part of the transport system of this region with the thriving business centre of Kollam (Quilon) at its epicentre. However, backwater tourism is promoted almost exclusively in Alleppey.
Alappuzha, Kerala, India
Options for the Backwater Cruise
There are three options open to tourists wishing to cruise on the backwaters of Kerala:
- Houseboats :The luxury houseboats usually have two air-conditioned bedrooms with a kitchen and a bathroom and is priced at around Rs. 12000 per night in the off-season and Rs.25000 per night during the Christmas-New Year period. A houseboat generally stays moored for 18 hours of the day and plies the backwater for the remaining 6 hours in 3 installments of 2 hours each (approximately 8 to 10am, 11am-1pm and 3pm-5pm). Meals are cooked onboard and freshly hauled sweet water fishes form an important part of the menu.
- Transport Ship : This is probably the cheapest way of cruising on the backwaters. The transport ship plies daily between Alleppey and Kollam and the trip takes around 8 hours. The major downside of using the transport ship is that because of its comparatively large size it cannot navigate through the many narrow channels, which are an important ingredient for the charms of the backwaters of Kerala.
- Private Boats : This is easily the most tourist friendly way to experience the spellbinding backwaters. 2 to 10 seater boats may be chartered from Alleppey jetty on an hourly basis and costs around Rs.500 per hour. The boat comes with a sailing crew and you are pretty much the master of your vessel, deciding when to and where to go.
A Backwater Cruise
The Backwater Cruise
Till now, I have never had the good fortune to ride in the Gondolas of Venice or the Sikaras of Kashmir but in all honesty, I cannot imagine a boat ride to be more soothing and enthralling than the backwaters cruise in Alleppey.
Like many fine journeys this one also had a false start as the first 15 minutes of the cruise is through the city where the narrow waterway resembles a rather wide sewer more than anything else. But once you hit the open waters the landscape changes completely and infinitely for the better.
The clear, continuous, blackish water of the backwaters further darkened by the green tinged shadows of the dense, evergreen coastal vegetation has a very relaxing, hypnotic effect and it is almost impossible not to forget every care in life and be completely at peace with the world as the boat gently glides on the mildly rippling network of channels of varying widths and depths.
Every now and then they fork around tiny islands, often inhabited by a single family, while along the shores one can spot extensive paddy fields and more people going about their daily chores; occasionally a man or a woman carrying supplies in a small single-seater boat from one island to another.
The traditional 110 seater snake boat used for the internationally famous annual Kerala boat race is also moored here and serves as an offshore tourist spot.
And when hungry (and even if you are not hungry) you can stop at an occasional waterfront shack run by a local family and sample some freshly hauled freshwater prawns, crabs or the local favorite, karimeen fry. And in case the sun makes you thirsty the coconuts are absolutely delicious.