India, Kerala
Comments 29

Afloat in Alleppey.

I rotate the wheel towards the right, giving it several turns at one go. Joseph chuckles at my effort to maneuver between an approaching houseboat on the left and a long canoe on the right. I succeed, and a carpet of bright green leaves greets us as though to applaud me. The backwaters of Alleppey (Alappuzha) are as picture perfect as I remember them to be from the last time I was here. Only this time, Joseph, our boat driver, happily hands over the wheel to me.

We float through a large stretch of still water dotted with rows of tall coconut trees, undisturbed by the scurry of household chores along the villages on the shore. I ask Joseph if the village folk mind that their backwaters are now infiltrated by scores of tourists every year. Nodding no, he explains that these waters were rather polluted before houseboat tourism picked up almost 10 years ago, and their maintenance is now complimentary to tourism. He talks about his life in the gulf where he lives for the large part of the year; driving houseboats is how he spends his holidays when he visits home. His well built physique and fluent English would barely do justice to turning wheels I imagine, but he insists he would do this any day if only it paid half as well.

Alleppey, backwaters, kerala, India travel blog

 A half-filled houseboat floats past, and the people on board smile as they see me (expertly) driving our boat. The villages on the shore are replaced by shiny green rice paddies, interspersed with banana plantations. Agriculture was once the primary source of income of these backwater villages, but low yield over the past years has increased the need for tourism-related income & ‘working in the gulf’.

As a small flock of sea crows appear in the water, a man rowing a large canoe from the opposite direction yells something in Malayalam to Joseph. Flustered, he immediately asks me to hand over the wheel and I comply. There might be someone inspecting houseboats ahead, and letting a guest take charge is an obvious no-no.

Alleppey, backwaters, kerala, India travel blog, birds

We ride along, now through narrow canals, now alongside palm-fringed shores, now past prawn-sellers. Our serene journey is occasionally interrupted by blaring music, and my friend spots the culprit in a tall coconut tree. A small canoe rowed by a fellow traveller passes us by and we burst into a little laugh at his painstaking efforts to propel the canoe forward. He laughs with us and poses for a snap!

Alleppey, backwaters, kerala, India travel blog, palm trees

Alleppey, backwaters, kerala, India travel blog, canoe, small boat

As we alight from our boat after the round trip, I look back at the calm of the backwaters and the houseboats readying to set afloat on them, and wonder how visiting these backwaters 15 years ago would’ve felt, with no houseboats, no tourists, and perhaps no common language with the people who live ashore.

Alleppey, backwaters, kerala, India travel blog

 Have you journeyed through the backwaters of Alleppey? How long ago, and how different was that?

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This entry was posted in: India, Kerala

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Over 3 years ago, I gave up my home, sold most of my stuff, stored some in the boot of a friend's car, and started calling the road home. Thanks for coming along virtually on my adventures! I'm always eager to hear your thoughts; leave me a comment and let me know how your travel dreams are shaping up and what you'd like to hear about more on my blog. Connect with me on Instagram/Twitter @shivya.

29 Comments

    • Thanks Shankar, which part of the west coast did you go to? The landscape changes pretty rapidly from the north to the centre to the south, all beautiful in their own way.

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  1. This is lovely, I’ve never been to Kerala, I read it’s paradise on earth, hopefully next time I go to India!

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    • It really is, and personally I think the north of Kerala more than the south, for being less touristy and more picturesque 🙂 Visit soon!

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    • It’s worth planning a trip for, though I love the backwaters in the north of Kerala much more for being less touristy.

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    • Thanks! I’ve heard Kumarakom is lovely. Got to make a visit the next time, though I’m afraid it might be a little too crowded for my liking.

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  2. Zara says

    Oh gosh I lived in the backwater of Kerala over 20 years ago and let me tell you (I lived there for 4 years), it was so much nicer , calmer and serene. We used to hate the fact that there was no other ways to travel to the mainland other than a boat across the sleepy waters. Language was a barrier too. Little did I know how lucky I was.I was so shocked when I visited in 2008, to see it linked with bridges and the piece of paradise disappearing among the crowded buses, rickshaws. Trees cut down to put cell phone towers and homes. The owls hooting at night, was long gone, instead of listening to the birds and the river floating by as we waited for a boat, now you heard horns honking and buses roaring by.
    It was sad. As an evironmental engineer i was disappointed at how there was absolutely no regard to preserve nature while developing. It was hot and humid. Now when I want to remember that paradise as it used to be, I visit Maine.
    someday I hope to return.

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    • Lucky you. I wish I was born & travelling at a time when the backwaters were still untouched by mass tourism, and as were other parts of India. When walking was the main mode of commuting. When money couldn’t buy everything. Those must’ve been good days.

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  3. Backwaters of Alappuzha gives me goosebumps! For some unknown reason this place keeps getting me back to it and for records, I have been to Alappuzha thrice in last 15 months. The spell it has cast over me with its beauty is so very strong!

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  4. We’ve been to the backwaters of Kumarakom twice, once in 2010 and once in July this year. We rented a houseboat and stayed on it overnight, both times. We had an amazing experience, both times. 🙂

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  5. You must explore more of Kerala, People think its just the backwaters and allepey..The wildlifes at waynad, tea gardens in munnar and the mani rathnam fame falls in Trichur are simple awesome places …. waiting for more of kerala 🙂

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  6. Wonderful post! I am going to visit all these places n after seeing all these places i am very excited…

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