Alleppey is built on the mouth of India’s most comprehensive network of canals, lagoons and lakes. This network, otherwise called the ‘Backwater’ stretches through the whole of Kerala. Word has it that you can navigate the entire state now that two main lengths have been linked up.
Our journey took us out along the pier to find a houseboat, an experience that had come highly recommended by other fellow travellers.
We spent a few hours talking to other tourists when we arrived though and found that the larger houseboats were too big to fit down the smaller canals, and strict bylaws determining movement on the waters prevented them from travelling after 6pm. As a result of this, the houseboats tended to stick to the larger lagoons and then moor up at the side of the lakes in the evening. We found through some animated discussions with local boat captains that we could alternatively take a smaller craft (Shikara class) for the afternoon, which not only would take us down the smaller canals that threaded between the villages but would also only cost a sixth of the price of a large houseboat.
We opted for the smaller vessel and took off along the wide canal that ran through the centre of the small city. Within twenty minutes, we had cleared the hustle and bustle of Alleppey and had emerged on a large lake where we could see the hulking houseboats all sat idly by. A few bumbled across the water leisurely, their sheer size sending waves that would lap across our small boat’s side.
Soon we were across the lake and our captain took us expediently down a small canal and into a small settlement. The tree canopy provided plenty of shade from the midday sun and we looked out over the houses that sat just below the banks of the canal and the waterline. Local people were busy taking the opportunity to wash their pots and pans and even fish from lines set up outside their homes. Most were friendly to us and we got many smiles and waves from the banks of the canal. Outside most houses other small crafts were moored and many of these were painted in striking primary colours. Some of the boats were adorned with the heads of various animals. The most amazing thing about these villages were that, despite the inhabitants being busy at work alongside the water, a pervasive silence filled the air and as I lay back on the divan I could feel the stresses of weeks of travelling start to peel back and float away.
For hours our captain navigated us past paddy fields filled with workers who all had little umbrella hats fixed atop their heads with bands. We passed a large Catholic church which had no road access but only boat. We alighted here for a while and explored. The church itself had been built up around a much older wooden hut in order to preserve it in time. It was a weird experience seeing a building inside of a building and going into the inner hut was entertaining as I could not fit through any of the miniature doorways but instead had to explore the structure by way of the larger windows.
The tour of the waterways lasted four hours, and we returned to the shore feeling refreshed and relaxed. This was part of Kerala that I felt almost duty bound to experience and I am pleased to say that the experience exceeded my expectations.