Here nature has spent up on the land her richest bounties. Alleppey, the Venice of the East. (Lord Curzon)

sunset at Alappuzha beach in Kerala
Alappuzha Beach in Kerala
After driving for more than 80 km from Kollam, we reached Alappuzha, also known as Alleppey. Our driver left us at the starting point of boat cruises, where we could see hundreds of houseboats. Alappuzha is one of the oldest planned city in the region. Due to its extensive network of backwaters, Lord Curzon, then the Viceroy of India called Alleppey, Venice of the East, fascinated by its scenic beauty. After spending a day in Alleppey, we felt that the place does justice with its reputation.

With house-boating in our mind, we went to the nearby state government houseboat booking counters to gather information. We came to know that the counters do not open every day and chances of getting houseboats from there were thin. The only plus point of booking houseboats from these counters was that the charges were reasonable. A person sitting at the inquiry counter advised us to go from one boat to another and ask for the charges and availability. Most of them were already occupied as tourists who come here pre-book these houseboats to avoid last minute hustle. Timings for an overnight cruise was 11 am to 8 am next day and that for a day cruise was 11 am to 5 pm the same day. After negotiating with few houseboat owners we settled for a day cruise keeping in mind the time constraint, as we had to visit Fort Kochi on the following day.

At scheduled time, our houseboat left the shores. These houseboats had all the facilities one might require for a luxurious stay. They had spacious bedrooms, music system, drawing room arrangements like a sofa and dining tables, breakfast, and lunch facilities. Costliest of these houseboats had air conditioners installed, all running on batteries which also drive the propeller motors. These houseboats have a staff of three to four including the one who is in-charge of the helm. The boats going for overnight journey halt at a pre-decided place. There you can see a long line of houseboats providing a view of clear sky away from city’s lights. There they provide the cable connections to watch TV programmes. All this we got to know after having a conversation with the houseboat staff.

Shortly after our boat left we were provided a light breakfast. After that, we came on the upper deck of the houseboat. Slowly the canals became broader and broader and after an hour, we were in the canals surrounded by fields leaving behind the city of Alleppey. We stopped at one place to buy snacks. There the staff had lunch. We got beautiful views from the boat. With slow winds passing by the boat and sun shining at its maximum we were enjoying the lush greenery surrounding the backwater canals. There were small houses along the canals and almost all of them had their own boats. We jokingly thought that in these lands, these small boats owned by those families were status symbols of these households as bikes were elsewhere.

If one observes closely, one would find that the water level of these backwaters was few feet higher than the surrounding farm fields. It means that these fields were formed by land reclamation. In land reclamation, the land is regained from sea, riverbeds or lakes by creating dikes along the coast. This is particularly popular in Netherlands, where one-sixth of the total area of the whole country is reclaimed land. A marveling labyrinth of shining lakes, canals, rivers and rivulets was separated from bright green fields by dikes. A representative of rural lifestyles, this area is called 'rice bowl of Kerala' because of its paddy fields. These backwaters were also famous for snake boat race organised annually in the first week of august. 

We reached Vembanad Kayal, the largest lake in backwaters of Kerala. Covering an area of more than 2000 sq km, this lake is the venue of the celebrated Nehru Trophy Boat Race. For a moment, paddy fields disappeared, all we could see was water. There were other houseboats visible now in the lake. If one can see this from air, these would appear as tiny little dots in the blue background. Our houseboat started taking a U-turn, it was time to traverse back the path. We were provided lunch in the houseboats. For a while, we were at the helm, the wheel controlling the direction of boat's movement. Yes, turning the boats the way we wanted was a nice experience. 

When our boat cruise ended it was already evening and it was time to go again for a sunset at a coast, this time at Alleppey beach. For years, I have wondered, why people like sunrise and sunset. For its sheer beauty, sunrise against the backdrop of a mountain and sunset at a sea-coast should be a must do for everyone. I think people like sunrise because of its promise of a new day, a new beginning, with fresh air and chirruping of birds in the background adding to that effect. People like sunset because it gives them time to think on something after a hard working day, reminding of the ultimate finality of everything. Obviously, all these feelings occur with an eye-soothing view of the red sky.

Alleppey Beach is situated facing the Laccadive Sea. The remains of Alappuzha Sea Bridge reminds us of the golden old days which the city had as an important seaport in the colonial Kerala. Today this bridge is in ruins, but is a sitting place for birds, providing a nice opportunity to click these birds with the red sun in the background. We thought not to go into the water this time, instead preferring to enjoy from a distance, but we could not resist the temptation to play with the waves and as a result drenched our clothes. After sunset, our journey to Alleppey came to an end. We left for the final destination of our trip, Cochin.

Aerial photos of Kerala's backwaters:

aerial photos of Kerala's backwaters

aerial pictures of Kerala's backwaters

Venice of the East: Kerala's backwaters

See Photos of Alappuzha, Kerala also. Find pictures of Alappuzha on Flickr here.

This post is a part of the series Kerala : God's Own Country.

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