The Kerala backwaters are a chain of brackish lagoons and lakes lying parallel to the Arabian Sea coast (known as the Malabar Coast) of Kerala state in southern India. The network includes five large lakes linked by canals, both man-made and natural, fed by 38 rivers, and extending virtually half the length of Kerala state.
The Kerala Backwaters are a network of interconnected canals, rivers, lakes and inlets, a labyrinthine system formed by more than 900 km of waterways, and sometimes compared to the American Bayou. In the midst of this landscape there are a number of towns and cities, which serve as the starting and end points of backwater cruises. National Waterway 3 from Kollam to Kottapuram, covers a distance of 205 km and runs almost parallel to the coast line of southern Kerala facilitating both cargo movement and backwater tourism.
Vembanad is the largest of the lakes, covering an area of 2033 km². The lake has a large network of canals that meander through the region of Kuttanad.
Many unique species of aquatic life including crabs, frogs and mudskippers, water birds such as terns, kingfishers, darters and cormorants, and animals such as otters and turtles live in and alongside the backwaters. Palm trees, pandanus shrubs, various leafy plants and bushes grow alongside the backwaters, providing a green hue to the surrounding landscape.
Kerala Backwaters and Tourism
The kettuvallams (Kerala houseboats) in the backwaters are one of the prominent tourist attractions in Kerala. More than 2000 kettuvallams ply the backwaters. The Kerala government has classified the tourist houseboats as platinum, gold and silver. The kettuvallams were traditionally used as grain barges, to transport the rice harvested in the fertile fields alongside the backwaters. Thatched roof covers over wooden hulls, 100 feet (30 m) in length, provided protection from the elements. At some point in time the boats were used as living quarters by the royalty. Converted to accommodate tourists, the houseboats have become floating cottages having a sleeping area, with western-style toilets, a dining area and a sit out on the deck. Most tourists spend the night on a houseboat. Food is cooked on board by the accompanying staff – mostly having a flavor of Kerala. The houseboats are of various patterns and can be hired as per the size of the family or visiting group. Alappuzha is the best place in kerala to visit to enjoy the countryside beauty, the traditional cuisines and backwater experience.
Regular ferry services connect most locations on both banks of the backwaters. The Kerala State Water Transport Department operates ferries for passengers as well as tourists. It is the cheapest mode of transport through the backwaters.
Chundan vallams or snake boats are narrow boats over 100 feet (30 m) long, with a raised prow that stands 10 feet (3.0 m) above water and resembles the hood of a snake. Traditionally these were used by local rulers to transport soldiers during waterfront wars. In modern times, it has spawned a new sport – the Vallam Kali (boat race). Each chundan vallam accommodates about a hundred muscular oarsmen. Boat races are occasions of great excitement and entertainment with thousands gathered on the banks to watch and cheer. Most of these races are held in the Kuttanad Region. The boat races start with Champakulam Moolam Boat Race which is held on the Pamba River in the village Champakulam. When Jawaharlal Nehru visited Kerala in 1952, four traditional chundan valloms went to receive him. A snake boat race was organized for him. He was so impressed that when he went back to Delhi, he sent back a gleaming silver trophy for a boat race. Even today, the 1.5 km Nehru Trophy Boat Race is the most prestigious.
Kuttanadu is a region covering the Alappuzha and Kottayam Districts, in the state of Kerala, India, well known for its vast paddy fields and geographical peculiarities. The region has the lowest altitude in India, and is one of the few places in the world where farming is carried around 1.2 to 3.0 metres (4 to 10 ft) below sea level. Four of Kerala’s major rivers, the Pamba, Meenachil, Achankovil and Manimala flow into the region. Kuttanadu is historically important in the ancient history of South India and is the major rice producer in the state. It is also well known for its boat races. Vembanad Lake, the largest lake in Kerala is at the heart of the Backwater tourism with hundreds of kettuvallams plied on it and numerous resorts on its banks. The Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary is located on the east coast of the lake. The lake has become a major tourist attraction. The major occupation in Kuttanadu is farming, with rice the most important agricultural product.
Kollam (earlier known as Quilon) was one of the leading trade centers of the ancient world, eulogized by travellors such as Ibn Battuta and Marco Polo. It is also the starting point of the backwater waterways. The Ashtamudi Kayal, known as the gateway to the backwaters, covers about 30 per cent of Kollam. Sasthamcotta Kayal, the large fresh water lake is 28.5 km from Kollam city.
Islands of Kollam
Islands are the eye-catching factors as well as the beauty of Lake Ashtamudi, Kollam. Most of these islands are potential tourism spots in the state. The Indian Railways also planning to develop one of the islands in Kollam for a tourism project. There are big as well as small islands which are inhabited and uninhabited by human beings. There are more than 15 islands in Ashtamudi Lake.
Estuaries of Paravur
Paravur Estuaries lie near to the south-western coast of Kollam. The place is world-famous for its natural beauties, backwater locations, white-sand beaches and concentration of temples in every square kilometer. The peninsula of Paravur is one of the most visited in Kollam district.
Munroethuruth or Munroe Island is a place surrounded by Kallada River, Ashtamudi Lake and Sasthamkotta Lake in Kollam district, Munroe Island is a cluster of eight tiny islands, blessed with a number of criss-cross canals and zigzag water channels, this Island plays a host to many migratory birds from various countries around the world. Coir making is a home industry to almost all the village living people. It is very interesting to watch the coir making by the village ladies with the help of weaving Wheels. They make the coir ropes by hand. In addition to this, on the way, you can see the process of extracting coconut oil from the “copra” [dried coconut]. Among the routine traditional engagements, duck, poultry farm and prawn breeding are common in all houses.