Do you know that India has a place which is known as the 'Venice of the East'.
I am in the Venice of the East or Alleppey or Alappuzha as it is also known. And I am here to experience what Kerala or 'God's Own Country' is famous for. The Backwaters experience.
A lot of my travel choices have been influenced by the movies or video songs I have seen. I first saw the stunning backwaters of Kerala in a beautiful pop song 'Ho Gayi Hai Mohabbat tumse' which made the lead singer very famous.
Well, the image of the model in the video remained in my mind 😉 and so did the backwaters..
After that, there has always been a desire to visit God's own country and more so the backwaters. The backwaters are a labyrinthine network of lagoons, lakes and canals that lie parallel to the Arabian Sea.
The backwaters are so popular that they are listed among '10 paradises on the world' by National Geographic Traveler magazine.
Among all the places which have backwaters, Alleppey and Kumarakom are the most preferred choice for backwaters experience. Both these places are very developed and have some great resorts as well as houseboats offering the experience.
We chose to visit Alleppey because it offers both the town and the houseboat experiences whereas Kumarakom is more a collection of islands and is better if you want to have a totally relaxed experience.
Alleppey - The hub of Kerala backwaters
Alleppey is the at the centre of the Kerala Backwaters, home to a vast matrix of interconnected canals, rivers, lakes and inlets which are formed by more than 900 km of waterways and lie parallel to the Malabar coast also known as the Arabian Sea coast.
Interestingly, these waterways have been used since centuries for essential activities like transportation, agriculture and fishing by the local communities who reside at the edge of the backwaters.
Itinerary - 3 days 2 nights
We have three days and decide to spend one night on a houseboat and one night at the Vembanad Lemon Tree Lake Resort.
Having already booked a cruise on a houseboat with the help of a friend, we look forward to experience the famed backwaters.
Know your houseboat
The vessels which are used as houseboats are basically traditional boats called kettuvallam (made by tying pieces of wood together with coir rope, made from coconut fibres).
In the olden days, these boats used to collect cargo from villages along the waterways and carried it to traders in town. Now they are used for houseboat trips and are on the wishlist of most of the tourists visiting Alleppey.
A backwater cruise in an exclusive boathouse for an overnight stay (1 day and night) is normally priced at Rs. 7500 for a one bed room at Rs. 10000 for a two bedroom houseboat. The houseboats have one or two bedrooms along with a kitchen and a small living area which is normally furnished with basic amenities.
Experience life beyond cities
Our houseboat operator is a jovial man and greets us with a nice and cool coconut drink as we board the boat . As the houseboat chugs along the waterways, we take our spots in the deck.
It is a different feeling to get a glimpse into the life of people going about their daily chores, like fishing and farming.
We see some school going children waiting probably for the boat to their home. The simplicity is really striking in contrast to how different life is in big cities.
I feel at peace while we move past the coconut grove and the l ush green beautiful paddy fields.
Lunch is served and we are delighted that the cook has made fresh and delectable Kerala food consisting of chicken curry, rice, Appam, sambar, chutney and buttermilk.
Later,we buy Karimeen fish (Pearl Spot fish) which is cooked for us at dinner time. The curry is tangy and we just love the taste of it.
The afternoon passes in a lazy haze as if take in the views around us.
The sun is beginning to set and the boatman serves us some fresh fritters and tea.
The birds are returning to their homes and it is very peaceful all around.
We see this..
And then after a while this..
The gentle breeze caresses our face. The lush green palm trees provide a stark contrast to the orange grey skies and the green waters.
The boatman moors the houseboat once the sun sets.
He tells us that this is done so that fishing activity isn't disturbed. There are many other houseboats moored near our boat. Some of them disturbing the quiet and peace by playing loud music.
There is nothing much to do. The signals on the television are weak and there is almost no network on the phone. May be sometimes lack of technology is a boon.
We spend time talking and playing some board games which are very kindly provided by the boatman. He also shares his experiences of operating houseboats and life in the villages along the backwaters.
We go to sleep a bit earlier than usual and have a relaxing sleep. In the morning, we have a fresh breakfast. The trip is coming to an end and we say goodbye to the boatman at 9:30.
My thoughts on whether you should the overnight stay
While I did enjoy the 2 day 1 night trip on the houseboat, I would suggest you to skip the overnight stay. While it was a relaxing trip, the boat docks in the evening and after that there is really not much to do.
There are other options too. You can take a Shikara boat for the day which is smaller in size and can be navigated easily through the smaller canals. You can also hire a private charter and cruise along the backwaters till the evening.
If you want to explore the backwaters on a budget, there is an option of travelling on Government ferries. It gives you a firsthand experience of observing the locals up, close and personal and travel like they do. Obviously, you can't stop at your will and since such boats are bigger, they go to limited places.
Fringed with coconut trees and lush greenery, Alleppey has already pulled us in its charm. Floating over the green waters, observing people go on about the business of life, a world far removed from our hectic city lives, is a humbling experience.
An evening exploring Alleppey
The houseboat trip over, our driver picks us up and we drive down to the beautiful Lemon Tree Resort Vembanad. On the way, we notice that Alleppey is very clean. The lush greenery enhances the beauty of this small city.
Our resort is located on the shores of the beautiful Vembanad Lake. The rooms are great with all amenities and have a great view.
After resting a bit, we go to the Alleppey Beach. It is a small stretch of beach but clean. There are a lot of people standing on the shoreline. We see people playing with the waves while we take in the mesmerising sight of the sun going down.
After spending some time relaxing, we go and have fresh coconut water from the nearby stall.
When is Kerala, do try to have fresh coconut water. Its top quality, sweet and refreshing and is full of healthy nutrients. And if in the mood for it, ask the coconut seller to scrape the flesh (malai as it is commonly known in India) and have it.
There is a 137 year old pier which extends into the sea and looks as pretty as a picture, though it lays in ruins.
Nearby, is the orange white candy striped Alappuzha Lighthouse towering over the beach. The lighthouse was built in 1862 to aid sailors bringing their boats into the Alleppey port which used to be one of the biggest trading ports in Kerala.
We climb up the steps to get an amazing 360 degree view of Alleppey (be careful since there are quite a few steps which you need to climb). There is a also small museum with an original oil lamp.
The lighthouse gets very crowded between 3PM to 5PM due to slightly lower ticket prices. It makes more sense to go after that. For Foreign tourists, the ticket price is INR 25/- and for Indians, it is INR 10/-. Camera fee is INR 25/-.
Spending time at Lemon Tree Resort Vembanad
Night has fallen and we head back to the hotel, looking forward to some relaxing Kerala Ayurvedic massage. The massage at the Ayurveda Spa is refreshing and we feel pampered.
Dinner is a quiet affair with traditional fare at the Citrus Cafe.
We wake up next morning to a beautiful sunrise at the Vembanad Lake. It is very quiet and feels like a surreal morning. The only sound which can be heard is the chirping of birds who I think are chatting incessantly.
We decide to head to the infinity pool and relax a bit. Breakfast is an elaborate affair at Citrus Cafe with a great mix of food-North, South and Continental.
It is almost time to check out. We stroll about the gardens a bit. And then check out at around 11:00 since we have to head to Kochi.
Read my blog post on Top 5 things to do in Kochi.
Best time to visit
Alleppey is best visited between the the months of November and January. The weather is present. Though it is peak season and prices can be really high, it would still be the best time to visit. Summers are really really hot and monsoons are very heavy.
Though Kerala looks very pretty during monsoons (July to October), still sometimes it has such heavy rainfall that it is difficult to explore.
Alleppey is very well connected to Kochi and Kochi International Airport is very well connected to major Indian cities and to Middle East countries and South East Asian countries.
The Alleppey Railway Station is the nearest railhead that connects the city with major cities like Cochin, Trivandrum and many more.
Buses also ply from some major cities in the South of India like Bangalore, Chennai, Mysore, Trivandrum etc.
We had used the services of Maharaja travels for our trip to Kerala. The car provided by them was in good condition and the driver spoke decent English and acted as our guide too.
I loved my 3 days in Alleppey and also cruising on the lovely backwaters. Hope this post is useful to you. You can ask any questions or share your experiences in the comments section below.