A Taste of Kerala’s Backwaters

This past Tuesday, Oct 2nd was a national holiday in India on account of Gandhi Jayanti.

We took Monday off from work and made it into four-day long weekend. The plan was simple – meet up with my brother and sister-in-law in  Kerala! Known by many nicknames Gods Own Country,  Spice capital of India, Venice of the East, this south-western state of India is lush green with its coconut trees, paddy fields, spices and coffee plantations and have miles upon on miles of backwaters to sail on. This has been on our list of must see places for years and we were super thrilled about visiting Kerala’s backwaters with my brother and SIL.

There are multiple places and ways to experience the backwaters – essentially a network of canals, inlets, rivers and the Vembanad lake. Un-hurried and relaxing overnight in a houseboat from Allapuzha  (alos known as Allepey) at the south end of the backwaters ( preferred over Kumarkom which is set on banks of Vembanad lake), in a luxurious resort by Vembanad lake ( in Kumarakom), up close and personal in a canoe, briefly over a lunch or sunset cruise ( from Allapuzha) or a thrilling speed boat ride (from Kumarakom or Allapuzha). Our previous canoe experience has been a disaster ( those on Puerto Rico trip with us can relate to it ) and almost verged on a marital discord. I wasn’t sure if Varun would stay in a houseboat all day and night – given its cramped quarters and non AC / mosquito prone open area when the boat docks at night ( night sailing is not allowed as the fishermen lay their nets on the backwaters and the lake at night). Also, this being the transitional season, we got great deal on Vivanta by Taj , Kumarakom – so a resort by the Lake was the way we chose!

We all met in Taj, Kumarakom and loved every minute of it. We stayed in the restored Baker house – a heritage home featured in  Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things. Varun was with his ‘mama‘ and ‘mami‘, feeding rabbits and ducks on the property, taking a boat ride on the lagoon and swimming. We relished the authentic Kerala style fish and chicken preparations with soft appams and indulged in Ayurvedic spa treatment.

Taj offers a complimentary sunset cruise in a traditional rice boat and we used that as an opportunity to see how Varun would fare on a longer trip. He wasn’t too thrilled with the boat initially but warmed up when we started moving. The sunset sail on the Vembanad lake was relaxing. The lake in Kumarakom is so large that its feels like you are sailing on the sea. The sunset was spectacular. I can still envision the waves lapping the resort jetty under the setting sun as we had piping hot vadas and tea.

But we wanted to experience the smaller intimate canals logged with water hyacinths, lined with coconut and banana trees and where we could watch day-to-day life of people living on islands on these canals – like the ones you see in postcards and in brochures.

As canoes and speed boats are the only ones who can go in these narrow canals, we signed up for a morning speed boat cruise.

This is exactly what we wanted to see – paddy fields, cconut and banana trees reflecting in calm water below, water lilies blooming everywhere, mango tress touching the water, single narrow canoe moored in front of people’s houses lining the canal, school kids walking to school, people tending to their daily chores and pets (ducks, cows, goats and hens) along the canal banks. It was surreal and enchanting. the cruise ended with a speed through on the lake and Varun loved the wind blowing through his hair so much that when I suggested another speed boat ride, he woke up early next morning for it.

We went on a longer speed boat cruise, this time through different canals and saw fishermen catching fish, divers bringing up mud, white and black shells and other house boats that were parked for the night, slowly make their way back onto the lake and further to Allapuzha.

Evenings at the resort were chilled out as we were entertained by classical music and traditional dance performances by local artists.

It rained once while we were there and it cooled us off. It was humid in Kerala given the seasonal rains, but we were cool under the shade of the century old trees on the Taj property. There are lagoons, pools and canals on the property. Water hyacinth and water lilies bloom, dragon flies flit around. Kingfisher and Cormorants nest around. Staying in a heritage home is popular home-stay option in Kerala – staying in one restored by Taj takes it up a notch. And staying in one by the backwaters in truly rejuvenating.

Stay tuned for next post on Fort Kochi and Cherai beach.