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Backwater

Kerala's backwaters - the most popular tourist attraction of Kerala….

With its palm-fringed, tranquil backwaters which were once the states trade highways. Kerala is her backwaters and lakes. They have a bearing on her history, shaped her present and promise a future by virtue of offering incomparable beauty and unique experiences… Experience the tranquil environs in Saroma’s own magnificent houseboat.

The Backwater of Kerala is one of the most popular and sought after tourist destination of Kerala. Backwaters are a chain of brackish lagoons and lakes lying parallel to the Coastline (known as the Malabar Coast) of Kerala. The network includes five large lakes (including Ashtamudi Kayal and Vembanad Kayal) linked by 1500 km of canals, both manmade and natural, fed by 38 rivers, and stretching virtually half the length of Kerala state. The backwaters were formed by the action of waves and shore currents creating low barrier islands across the mouths of the many rivers flowing down from the Western Ghats.

  Kerala Backwaters 1
     

Vembanad Lake is the largest of the lakes and the place was once known as the rice bowl of Kerala. It covers an area of 200 sq km bordered by Alappuzha (Alleppey), Kottayam, and Ernakulam districts. The port of Kochi (Cochin) is located at the lake's outlet to the Arabian Sea. Alleppey, "Venice of the East" has a large network of canals that meander through the town. During monsoon, these backwaters reverberate with the sound of the traditional snake boat races (Vallam Kali), a major tourist attraction, featuring the 130 feet long Chundan boats.

The three main backwaters in Kerala are :

Alappuzha Backwaters: Backwater cruise along the Punnamada Kayal takes you along canals past scenic islands. Its beauty is not merely in its backwaters, but in the man-made islands that you will find here. These islands are hedged by mud walls, which are a haven for migratory birds, and with paddy fields inundated with water all through the year. It is also perhaps the only place on earth where farming is done below sea level.  

Valiyaparamba Backwaters: The scenic Valiyaparamba backwater is an unexplored and rush-free area for cruising up north of Kerala. Numerous little islands, narrow strips of beaches and densely packed grooves of palm and areca-nut are fed by four swiftly flowing rivers. One can spend the whole day (or stay overnight) exploring the backwaters.  

Kochi Backwaters: Kochi, also known as "The Queen of Arabian Sea", is the perfect example of the symbiotic relationship between the land and the sea. The Vembanad Kayal is home to the fisher folk. You can see them gliding along in their graceful canoes, wide nets trailing.

 

Kettuvallam is a kind of houseboat in Kerala. The kettuvallam or 'boat with knots'- is so called because the entire boat is held together with coir knots only - not even a single nail is used during the construction.

During the time when road and rail transportation was expensive or unavailable, this was the main mode of transportation in inland waterways for the traders. These Kettuvallams were used to carry rice and spices from Kuttanad to the Kochi port. The boats had enough facilities for cooking and sleeping for the boatmen. Sometimes boatmen's families also accompanied them. These boatmen were also famous for the folk songs they sang while rowing the boat and for their style of cooking which they developed for the conditions inside the boat.

 Kettuvallam

When the modern trucks replaced this system of transport, Kettuvallams were converted into houseboats for leisure travel. Only natural products are used in the construction of houseboat. Bamboo mats, sticks and wood of the areca-nut tree are used for roofing, coir mats and wooden planks for the flooring and wood of coconut trees and coir for beds. The outside of the boat is painted using cashew nut oil, which acts as a protective coating.

Today, the houseboats have all the creature comforts of a good hotel including furnished bedrooms, modern toilets, cozy living rooms, a kitchen and even a balcony for angling. Parts of the curved roof of wood or plaited palm open out to provide shade and allow uninterrupted views. While most boats are poled by local oarsmen, an engine powers some. Boat trains - formed by joining two or more houseboats together - are also used by large groups of sightseers.

What is truly magical about a houseboat ride is the breathtaking view of the untouched and otherwise inaccessible rural Kerala that it offers - while you float!

 

Vallam Kali (or Vallamkali) literally means traditional boat game (race). It is mainly conducted during the season of the harvest festival Onam in monsoon. Vallam Kali includes races of many kinds of traditional boats of Kerala. The race of Chundan Vallam (snake boat) is the major item. Hence Vallam Kali is also known in English as Snake Boat Race and is a major tourist attraction.

To watch the grand gala race, thousands of people assemble on the banks of the river. The sight becomes endearing when one looks at the beautifully decorated boats being rowed by oarsmen dressed in white dhotis and turbans. A traditional song Vanchipattu, sung on the rhythm produced by splashing of boats further adds to the overall excitement of the team event.

Each boat comprises of 150 men of whom four are helmsmen, 25 men are singers and 125 are the actual oarsmen.

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The most remarkable feature of the Snake Boat Race is the depiction of the great team spirit. It also displays the importance of being united and to be in harmony with nature. A single mistake by one person can produce imbalance and could lead to the overturning of the boat. 

The popular Boat races in Kerala are :

Chambakulam Boat race: The oldest among Alleppey's boat races, it celebrates the arrival of Lord Krishna's idol at the Ambalapuzha temple.

Aranmula Boat race: Twenty-six boats recreate the journey of the idol of Aranmula's Sri Parthasarthy Temple, which was brought to the temple on a bamboo raft during Aranmula's boat race. This is held in the Malayalam month of Chingam (August-September)

Payippad Boat race: It is held on the third day of Onam and celebrates the installation of the idol found in the Payippad lake at the Subramanya Swamy Temple in Haripad.

Punnamada boat race: World famous and the best among all the boat races in Kerala. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was once invited for a boat ride from Kottayam to Alleppey. En route, he witnessed a boat race on Alleppey's Punnamada Lake, which excited him so much that he jumped into the boat that won the race. The Punnamada boat race, held every year on the second Saturday of August, is now known across the world as Nehru Trophy boat race.

Indira Gandhi Boat Race: It is held during Onam (August & September), Kerala's harvest festival. Indira Gandhi Boat race is a befitting climax to a week of revelry. Sleek Serpent boats (Chundans) vie with one another, the furious paddling turning the waters fronting Marine Drive into one frothing melee. It is pure theatre.