In continuation to my earlier post – Kerala Solved http://wp.me/p29z7S-4h , I am now writing on my personal experiences and recommendations for the region route 4 i.e. Cochin (Kochi) –Alleppey (Alappuzha) – Kumarakom.
Alleppey and Kumarakom are 2 places which are pretty much alike and just separated by a huge lake (one is on the eastern side and one is on the western side of the lake). You can visit either of the places and don’t necessarily need to visit both of them. For our trip, we decided to take a one night tour on the houseboat from Alleppey and then booked a one night home-stay in a traditional Kerala farm-house by the lake (over looking Kumarakom bird sanctuary).
We drove to Alleppey from Thekkady but you can also drive / take a ferry to Alleppey from Cochin. For details on Cochin please read my post http://wp.me/p29z7S-4O. There are additional options of taking a local boat bus from the Alleppey station or from Kottayam to Alleppey.
It took us about 3 hours to drive from Thekkady to Alleppey but it’s a scenic drive. Travelling through Kerala you tend to realize one thing, that unlike anywhere else in India, there is no brown patch of land anywhere in this state. It is all Green. Even barren land parcels are green, I guess must be due to the high amounts of rainfall received by this region.
We reached Alleppey in the afternoon and immediately headed for boarding the Houseboat. Typically all houseboats start the trip in the afternoon between 12pm to 2 pm and take you for a ride along the backwaters during the day, then anchor it in one place for the night and come back to Alleppey in the morning. All meals are also included in the price of the trip. Though the price may seem expensive when you first hear it (that too for one night) but believe me, its fun and extremely recommended. The house boat is a complete house – it has a sitting area, bedrooms, toilets, a kitchen and is also available according to capacity i.e. 4 people, 6 people, 8 people etc. 🙂 . Air con is available but is only switched on at night when the house boat is stationary.
So for me a trip on a houseboat is like taking a conducted tour of new city, only thing is that you are on a boat.
Alleppey is also known as the “Venice of the East” and with one look at the place you can see why. This place is like Venice where life completely revolves around water.
The ride took us through beautiful backwaters and we saw the how people lived here and are connected with water. Each household has numerous coconut tress around it and steps leading into the water, where we saw numerous housewives washing clothes and utensils and kids swimming in the lake. We also saw numerous toddy mud containers (or mutkas) tied up in the trees collecting the raw materials for preparing toddy (the local alcohol) and numerous people climbing up the long coconut trees (extremely fast and efficiently with small ropes tied around their hands) to collect coconuts. Each house also has its own small boat parked outside at the house jetty (or small steps). Kind of feels like a car parked near my house. 🙂
We also came across water buses, a general store on water and vegetable sellers on small boats. We even saw a water stadium (apparently the only stadium in the world built on water) famous for the annual boat race. 🙂 Seriously talk about living in and around water.
We saw water signages directing us towards different cities and the distance written in kilometers.
Well, this place completely gave a new meaning to relax and watch the world go by. 🙂
Once we reached on the outskirts of the city, we started noticing the rice paddy field farming all around. The Kuttanad region in Alleppey district is called the ‘rice bowl of Kerala’ and as a tourist, you also tend to notice some geographical peculiarities. It is a vast green area of seemingly floating land, covered with the bright green paddy fields, separated by dykes.
The unique feature about paddy cultivation here is that the level of water is a few feet higher than the level of the surrounding land. It’s the area with the lowest altitude in India, where all this farming land has been reclaimed and one of the few places in the world where farming is carried out below sea level. It’s a must visit site and you can anchor your boat near one of these fields and actually step down and walk around these fields to see this peculiarity.
During our house boat cruise we felt like having an Ayurvedic massage, so the driver of the houseboat, stopped near a centre and we took a nice long massage with a view of the paddy fields and the clouds. I could do with one right now too.. 😦
Once our house boat was anchored for the night we ate the local fried banana fritters, which is a fully over-ripe bananas, dipped in a batter and then fried .I didn’t like it much but you should try it. You can also swim, take a boat ride in a small fisherman’s boat or try your hand at fishing.
On this trip, I realised that when you live in a city, there are loads of sights and sounds that you miss or don’t know that they existed. For instance the stars and constellations in the sky, the sound of crickets, frogs, the glow flies, the sound of water lapping against the boat, etc. So we decided to completely chill, do nothing and just soak in the sights and sounds of the local village night. Post a sumptuous dinner, we decided to call it a night and slept on water (meant our beds were indirectly on water).
The next day morning, after breakfast the houseboat dropped us off at the Alleppey boat jetty. Though we didn’t want to get off the houseboat, we had to proceed for another Kerala experience i.e. stay in a traditional Kerala farmhouse.
En-route to the home-stay we stopped and saw the Alleppey beach and the Marari beach.Both beaches are beautiful with white sands and palm trees all around. At the Alleppey beach, we sat and had coffee at the “Indian Coffee House”. We shopped for a few things in the Alleppey market and then saw the Sree Nagaraja Temple (one of the most important and ancient centers of snake worship in Kerala). Interestingly – and probably one of the rarest in the world – the temple has women priests to worship the serpent deities and conduct the rituals. Well, a must visit, if you have time in Alleppey. Unfortunately, photography is not allowed inside the temple.
We then checked in into our Kerala farmhouse home-stay, the Vembanad House. And I must say that this was one of the best places that we stayed in during our trip.
This used to be a traditional Kerala farm-house but they have now converted it into a home-stay. They have retained the entire old wood fittings of the house, including traditional woven coir furniture.
This property is on the banks of the Vembanad Lake and facing the Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary. They have beautiful gardens, an in-house water stream, log bridge and a small boat. They also have small jetty and you can go for boat rides, swimming in the lake or generally sit and enjoy the view.
The owners Mr. Balakrishnan and Sandhya are the perfect hosts and made sure that we had an awesome stay.
The Vembanad House is bank opposite the Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary and hence a lot of birds come and sit around this property. You can enjoy their company, else you can take a boat from here and visit the sanctuary. They have also cultivated some beautiful varieties of orchids that are spread across the gardens on coconut trees.
There is also a hammock to sleep under the palm trees and relax. In case you want yoga lessons, massages etc you can tell Sandhya in advance and she can arrange for the same.
The cook here is superb and we had some really tasty food. Also every meal had a minimum of 30 local varieties of food dishes and this was all vegetarian.
We sat here for hours and saw clam fishing happening on the lake. It is one beautiful site. If you want you can also go clam fishing, lobster and prawn fishing with the local fisherman. We are vegetarians and hence didn’t try this.
We then decided to visit the local village to see a bit of local village life. We also went to see the local coir industry to learn how coir is woven.Coir weaving a beautiful site but a very difficult task.
It involves weaving the hard and poky coconut coir on a traditional hand-loom. If possible, you should also visit a local river or sea-side to see how the fibre is extracted from the coconut shells. It is a fairly common site all over this region.
The fibrous husks are soaked in pits or in nets in a slow-moving body of water to swell and soften the fibres. The long bristle fibres are then separated from the shorter mattress fibres underneath the skin of the nut. The mattress fibres are sifted to remove dirt and other rubbish, dried in the sun and packed into bales.
The weavers who weave it, are also very poor and it’s extremely sad to see such talented people live in such conditions. They have also been severely hit by the global economic slowdowns in terms of orders from the US. Talk about globalization.
Anyways, we then returned back to Vembanad House and post another awesome dinner, decided to call it a day. We were to leave for Trivandrum the next day, but if we had time then we would have loved to extend our trip in this place. So if you are ever planning a visit to Kerala, a visit to this region is a must.
To summarise, the must see and do things on this route are –
- Day trip on a house boat – Take a tour of the backwaters, stop wherever you want and try the local delicacies on the open air deck.
- Anchor the boat near an Ayurvedic centre and try the local Ayurvedic massages.
- Request the villagers for fresh coconuts right off the tree, see them climb up the tall tree right in front of you to pluck the coconuts. You can then drink the fresh coconut water and eat the malai (flesh inside) inside it. Super yum…
- If you come to Alleppey in the months of August then you can witness the famous boat race where nearly 100 oarsmen sing and row in perfect unison to win the race. You can check the dates online.
- Anchor the boat and walk around in the rice paddy fields.
- Once the boat is anchored for the night, you can swim in the lake, try your hand at fishing and take a small round in the small local boats.
- In Alleppey you can check out how local choir is spun using traditional hand spindle (coconut fibers are spun into long ropes to make baskets, mats, wall hangings etc). You can even shop for these things in the local markets.
- Visit the Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary.
- Try the local toddy extracted from coconut palm.
- Take yoga lessons by the lake.
- Visit during the Temple festival.
- Go clam, prawn or lobster fishing in the Vembanad Lake.