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Backpacking in Kerala, India: Alappuzha - The Venice of the East

By Aswathy

To label alappuzha ( The Malayalam name for Alleppey) The "Venice of the east" might today appear far-etched cliché of travelogue writers, but this quaint little town is certainly the Venice of India. Nowhere else will you find, spread out across the centre of town, a unique crisscrossing network of canals on which thatch covered country boats punt along leisurely. The proximity of lakes point trips into Kerala's famed backwaters and the state's lush rice bowl, Kuttanad, Between Kollam to the south and Kottayam to the east lie some of the most entrancing scenery of palm-lined banks, quiet water - bound villages and little boats taking the local people to and fro-everything framed in green. A singular characteristic of this land is the region called Kuttanad.

The rice bowl of Kerala; Kuttanad is perhaps the second place in the world where farming is done below sea level. Apart from the boat trips through the town's many canals and lakes, and the Mullackal Bhagavathi Temple in the heart of town, Alappuzha offers glimpses of the coir manufacturing process from the coconut husk to the final rope/coir yarn stage. There are also several shops selling coir matting and carpets, often at prices cheaper than elsewhere.

The long sandy beach at Alappuzha has a lighthouse and a pier jutting out into the sea, once active in the unloading of goods from ships calling at Alappuzha. Children can romp in the Vijaya Beach Park. The not-to-be-missed spectacle in Alappuzha is, of course the NEHRU TROPHY BOAT RACE which began in 1952 on the occasion of the visit of India's first prime minister, Javaharlal Nehru, to Alappuzha. It is now a major event held on the second Saturday of every August and features the gigantic snake-boats of Kerala, the Chundans, once the battleships of the Malayalee kings of yore. Today the Boat race has grown into Alappuzha's single most important tourist event, with each boat being sponsored by a different village. Competition is severe as the boats, with over 100 rows in each race to the finish to the accompaniment of rousing music.

Alappuzha Backwaters

Alleppey 'Venice of the east', figures prominently on the tourist trail as one of the major centers for backwater boat trips, served by ferries to Quilon and Kottayam in particular. One of the best known ports along the coast of Malabar, it is often referred to as the 'Venice of the east' Alappuzha has the peculiar geographical feature of having the water in level with the land. This gives the advantage of getting a closer look at the village life on shore while on a backwater ride.

Sailing along in a 'Kettuvallam' (Houseboat) through the enchanting backwaters of Alappuzha is sure to rob your heart. Palm fringed narrow canals winding through the vast expanse of paddy fields and the neat tiny hamlets lined up along either sides of the canals are sights one can never forget. One can glimpse Chinese fishing nets, flocks of ducks swimming around the banks and tiny birds flying across the sky. It is as close as one can get to feel the vibrant life in the countryside of God's own country.

Kuttanad: The 75 kilometer long sparkling network of rivers, canals, lakes, lagoons and tiny streamlets between Quilon and Cochin and beyond to Thiruvananthapuram, of which the Kuttanad Backwaters comprises of are a kin to a tropical land of canals. This bewildering labyrinth of shimmering waterways composed of lakes, canals, rivers and rivulets is lined with dense tropical greenery and preserves Kerala life styles that are completely hidden by road Called the 'Rice bowl of Kerala', because of her wealth of paddy crops is at the very heart of the backwaters. Yams and cassava which accompany the rice bowl as "side dishes". This is the one of the places in the world where farming is done below sealevel ( 1. 5-2 meters below sea level).

Inland waterways that flow above the land level is an amazing feature of this land. Kuttanad is the heart of the backwaters of Kerala. This beautiful countryside with its waterways also has a rich crop of banana, Cassava and Yam. Alleppey has a large network of canals and is the centre for backwater cruises in Kerala. Alappuzha is famous for its boat races, houseboats, coir products, fish and lakes.

PLACES AND EVENTS

Boat races

Alappuzha district is proud of being the cradle of boat races. All the important boat races, namely the Nehru Trophy Boat Race at Punnamada, the Payippad near Haripad, The Thiruvandoor, Neerettupuram, Karuvatta and Thaikkoottam boat races are held at different parts of the district during August-September. Thousands of people from all parts of the world come and witness these races.

Alappuzha Beach

Alappuzha beach is one of the most popular spots in the district of Alappuzha. Its beautiful garden on the shore gives an exclusive sight. Imposing buildings of a colonial past overlook the shore. The pier, which extends into the sea is more than 140 years old and is a rare sight. Dense Palm groves at one end and an ancient towering light house at the other, Vijaya Park and Sea view park are all spectacular sights one should never miss. Boating facility available in Sea view park. There is a Children's Park with toy train and bicycles in the Vijaya park open from 1500—2000 hours

Pathiramanal Island

According to mythology a young Brahmin dived into the Vembanad lake ;Asia's No. 1 lake to perform the evening ablutions and the water made away for land to rise from below, thus creating the enchanting island of Pathiramanal. This little island on the backwaters is a favourite haunt of hundreds of rare migratory birds from different parts of the world. The Island lies between Thaneermukkam and Kumarakom, and is accessible only by boat.

Arthunkal Church

This Christian Pilgrim centre near Cherthalai is 22km North of alappuzha. The St. Andrews Church here was built by Portuguese missionaries. The annual feast of St. Sebastian is held here in the month of January.

Ambalappuzha Krishna Temple

The Sree Krishna Temple here, built in the typical Kerala architectural style, is famous all over Kerala for "palpayasam", the daily offering of deliciously sweet milk porridge, which tastes like rice pudding. It is also in this temple that Pallipana is performed by Velans(sorcerers) one in twelve years human sacrifice was conducted in ancient times. However cocks have now replaced humans on the sacrificial altar.

The Houseboat Routes in Alappuzha

There are many interesting routes to cruise on the Backwaters of Alappuzha;each route is more enchanting than the other.

1. Alappuzha to alappuzha: It is a one night round about cruises which takes you through the Legendary Punnamada lake. Sail along the gentle clear backwaters to the romantic Vattakayal lake and spend a night aboard.

2. Alappuzha to Kumarakom: A two night cruise which offers you a magical night. Water birds-both residents and migratory adorn the canals and waterways. The water lilies when seen in the night dazzle like the twinkling stars in a dark sky. Fishing women and men add to the magic with their imaginative ways of fishing.

3. Alappuzha to Kollam ( Alumkadavu) : It offers both a one night cruise as well as a two night cruise. This cruise takes you to the place of origin of the houseboats you are traveling in. Alumkadavu is the place where entire clans used to make these houseboats.

Important Things to remember before going for a cruise in the houseboats in Kerala.

1. Houseboat has no fixed rates. So it is better to book a boat directly than agency through booking to avoid cheating.

2. Check in time of a houseboat is 11. 30 am and check out time is Next day 9. 30 am for a overnight cruise. But in a day cruise check out time will be 5. 30pm on the same day.

3. Normally in an A/c houseboat A/c will be swich on at night only. If u want to swith on a/c during the day time u should have to pay additionally.

4. Houseboats rates includes the rate of 3 meals also. Fish and chicken will be available in the normal menu ( Fixed menu). If u want any other non veg items u have to pay additionally.

5. Mineral water ( drinking water) will be available on the houseboat. No need to bring that from outside. Beer will be available in the boat but the rate will be Rs. 100/Beer.

6. The rate will come according to the room basis. ( 2 persons in a room). A/c and non A/c houseboat will have a difference of 1, 500 Rs in their rates.

7. Don't try to buy any itmes from outside while traveling on the houseboat. Because the price will be very high ( it includes the commission of the boat staff also).

8. The houseboat should not move after 6 Pm. ( Fishing nets will come across the river and the fisherman won't allow boat to move)So it will hault in the lake side and the cruise will start next day morning.

Distance from nearby airports.

Trivandrum: 170km

Cochin: 85km

October - March is the best time to visit

Places to stay

Resorts, Hotels and Homestays are available according to your budget. Hotel Arcadia Regency, Hotel Royale park, Punnamada lake resort, Pozhiyoram beach resort, Palmy lake resort and homestay, Sona homestay are some of them.

Where to eat?

There are some good restaurants here. Kream corner and Thaff are the famous non veg. restaurants and Hot-kitchen is the Veg. restaurant.

Ayurveda massage and treatments

There are some traditional ayurveda centres here. Sreekrishna Panchakarma Centre, near Finishing point, thathampally is the famous amongst them. AVP, KRV are the other ayurveda centres

Travel

Govt. Buses and Govt. Boat serevices are the cheapest way to travel. For a mere 30 Rupees u can explore the backwater life of alleppey in the govt. Boats in 6 hours. Railway station is also here.

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