The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, July 23, 2000

Cruises & coconuts in Kerala
By Kamaljit Singh

WHILE in Kerala, Ihad the first ever opportunity of enjoying a boat ride in the azure backwaters for which it is so famous. On my return journey from Kayamkulumin Alleppy district, where India’s first gas-based power plant is located, Ihalted at Quilon, now called Kollam. The famous Ashtamudi lake formed by the backwaters and surrounded by coco-palms and cashew plantations is located here. Kollam is a typical Kerala town, with old wooden houses whose red-tiled roofs overhang winding streets. This is the southern gateway to the backwaters of Kerala and is well-known for the eight-hour Quilon-Alleppy backwater cruise.

Kerala is famous for its picturesque backwatersThe backwaters are a unique geological formation and are the basis of the distinct lifestyle of the people inhabiting its surroundings. These are a network of lagoons, lakes and rivers, fringing the seacoast of Kerala. The shallow water bodies and palm-fringed lakes have small settlements on their edges where Keralites live on narrow spits, only a few metres wide. Surrounded by calm waters they rear cows, poultry and pigs and cultivate small vegetable gardens. Prawns, shellfish and other common fish are farmed. Shellfish are dredged by hand to be later burnt with coal dust to produce lime. Kerala has 29 major lakes on the backwaters, out of which seven drain into the Arabian Sea.

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Package tours of various ranges are available to cater to every pocket size. The best way to tour the Ashtamudi lake, is to hire a houseboat which is a converted Kettuvallam. These were traditionally used as freight carriers across kingdoms. These were covered with bamboo and coir and served as rest rooms and kitchens for the crew. A familiar sight on the backwaters, these vessels are built with planks of Anjili wood joined together with coir rope and coated with a caustic black resin made from boiled cashew kernels. Now they are fitted with furnished bedrooms, modern toilets, cozy living rooms and out-board engine of Japanese make. However many of these are still poled by local oarsmen.

District Tourism Promotion Council (DTPC), Kollam is the lone government agency rendering hospitality at Kollam by offering various cruises in a variety of styles and fashion. Among the various packages, the ethnic tour is the most exciting. It is an unforgettable experience for all those who want to enjoy the glimpses of art, culture and traditions of interior Kerala. Tourists are taken to interior villages to get a feel of the life of the village folk who are engaged in various traditional practices. Also, it gives a good chance to experience the traditional way of life.

The eight-hour cruise between Kollam and Alleppy is also highly popular with tourists from the West. Cruises are organised by Alleppy Tourism Development Cooperative (ATDC) and DTPC, Kollam located near KSRTC bus stand. The one-way fare is Rs 150 and boats depart at 1.30 p.m. and arrive at their destination at 6.30 p.m., with two main stops on the way — one for lunch at Thrikkunnappuha village and another for tea at Lekshmithuruthu. A demonstration of the expressions and gestures of Kathakali is available here for Rs 250.

To reach Kollam regular bus service is available from Thiruvananthapuram. The express buses take less than two hours travelling on National Highway 47 which is dotted with beautiful mosques. If you start out early in the morning the bus ride to Kollam can be a pleasant experience.

Once in Alleppy, which hosts the famous annual snake boat race, one can see many distinctive features of the architecture of Kerala by simply walking through the streets. Alleppy is built on canals amidst coco trees. Though originally, the snake boat race was held once in a year in August, now it is held in January as well for the benefit of tourists from the West. This event, watched avidly by thousands of spectators, celebrates the seafaring and martial traditions of ancient Kerala.