In the backwaters of India’s southern state of Kerala, traditional village life goes on much as it has for the last 50 years.
The occasional satellite dish, motorized houseboat or construction of a new guesthouse are the only nods to increased outside interest in this seemingly endless string of interconnected waterways, paddy fields and coconut groves that stretches down the Malabar Coast.
Ferrymen still carry villagers on tiny canoes, as women in vivid saris wash clothes on stone steps near the river.
Exuberant children in bright school whites run along the banks, shouting cheerful hellos to any new faces.
Alappuzha – still more romantically known as Alleppey – is the hub of Kerala’s backwaters, home to a vast network of waterways and more than a thousand houseboats.
Wandering around the small but chaotic city centre, with its modest grid of canals, you’d be hard-pressed to agree with the ‘Venice of the East’ tag. But step out of this mini-mayhem – west to the beach or in practically any other direction towards the backwaters – and Alleppey is graceful and greenery-fringed, disappearing into a watery world of villages, punted canoes, toddy shops and, of course, houseboats. Float along and gaze over paddy fields of succulent green, curvaceous rice barges and village life along the banks. This is one of Kerala’s most mesmerisingly beautiful and relaxing experiences.
Regularly hailed as one of the top 10 things to see in India, the backwaters offer a chance to witness another side of a country often known for its frenetic pace of life.
The main spots to embark on a backwaters adventure are the cities or towns of Alappuzha, Kochi, Kollam and Kumarakom.
Today these beautiful craft made of bamboo, rattan, coir and wood are a favorite with tourists.
Usually measuring about 80 feet (24 meters) in length, Kerala’s houseboats have been refashioned into stylishly furnished floating cottages.