Asia | India – Mouthwatering Kerala Backwaters near Kochi
Kochi, also known as the Queen of the Arabian Sea is a cluster of islands on the vast expanse of the Vembanad Lake. It includes picturesque islands like Bolgatti, Vypeen, Gundu and Vallarpadam and has one of the finest natural harbours in the world.
The backwaters are a unique contribution of Kerala to the world and is found no where else. This is a network of lakes, canals, estuaries and deltas of 44 rivers that flows into the Arabian Sea from the Western Ghats. These backwaters are a self-supporting eco-system teeming with aquatic life. These canals connect villages together and are still used for the local transport. Over 900 kms of these intricate water world is navigable. The largest backwater stretch in Kerala is the Vembanad Lake which occupies 3 districts and opens out into the sea at the Kochi port. The Ashtamudi Lake, literally having 8 arms and covers a major area of kollam district in the south is the second largest and considered the gateway to the backwaters. For this report I am concentrating on the backwaters specifically around Kochi city. Kochi, having possessed a very good harbour from ancient times, natuarally attracted mariners from Arabia, China, Holland, Portugal and Britain over the years. They all have left their mark on this beautiful island city. Kochi derives its name from the Malayalam word Kochazhi meaning small lagoon. This was shortened to Cochin by the westerners for easy pronounciation. It reverted back to its original name Kochi in 1996. Half the fun of visiting Kochi is moving around on the local ferries. A conducted tour through the winding waterways will take the tourist to several quaint spots. The most exciting thing about the backwater tourism is undoubtedly the Kettuvallam (traditional houseboat) which has now become the hottest tourism product today in India. These are country crafts over 60 feet in length that have been converted into houseboats some even possessing up to 3 luxuary bedrooms with attached baths. With 30% of the land area covered by water, the visitors to Kerala backwaters will be able to have a close encounter with the village life of the local people while cruising along, visiting interesting places scattered around the waterways.
As the backwaters are massive and beautiful, it is hard to choose a favourite spot. Yet for this report, I choose the present day Kochi City which includes Ernakulam Town, Wellington Island, Fort Kochi, Mattancherry, and outlaying islands such as Kumbalanghi etc. Catching local ferries and mixing it with buses can be very enjoyable. One example of this is traveling from the main boat jetty near general hospital in Ernakulam by boat to Vypeen Island. After an hour or so there (chinese fish nets, light house, old church etc) catch another ferry across to historical Fort Kochi. The ideal way to explore this area is by renting a bike. Cycle around leisurely and see the wonderful sites around. Mind you, this is an old obscure fishing village that became the first European Township in India which was shaped by the Portuguese, the Dutch and later the British. After finishing the exploration around these areas one can catch a bus back to the base at Ernakulam easily.
Whats really great:
The most wonderful aspect of the backwater tourism around Kochi city is the diversity available to explore while relaxing in a slow moving boat around Vembanad lake. As Ernakulam Town, Mattancherry, Wellington Island, Fort kochi, vypeen, vallarpadam, Gundu and Bolgatti Islands are all situated in and around the vembanad Lake within 10 kms radius, it is pretty straight forward to hop across from one place to another. One can use ferry boats (which are cheap in western standards) or go for a boat cruise by the Kerala Tourism Development corporation. More details can be found at http://www.ktdc.com. The most popular cruise lasts for nearly three and a half hours and covers kochi harbour, Wellington Island, mattancherry palace, Jewish synagogue, Fort Kochi and Bolgatti island.
Almost all the important sights around Kochi City is already mentioned elsewhere in this report. There are interesting places close to Kochi. One of the most important of these places is ‘Kaladi’, on the banks of Periyar River in the north of Kochi. It is known as the Spiritual Sanctuary of India and perhapes even the World as it is here ‘Adi Sankaracharya’, the founder of the Advaitha School of Philosophy grew up in the 8th centuary. There is a seven storey Keerthimandapam, the Sringeri Mutt various schools and colleges here. There is a hill in Kaladi where St Thomas the Apostle paused to pray en route to Mylapore in Chennai (formerly Madras). There is an old church in Malayatoor near Kalady from 52 AD which was visited by Apostle St Thomas on his missionary journey through Kerala. There is a famous Ayurvedic Centre called Nagarjuna ayurvedic centre in Kaladi named after the Buddhist Scholor (78-120AD) from Gaya, who is said to have introduced metallurgy to ayurveda.
There is varied accomodation for a visitor to Kochi, spread around Ernakulan Town in the mainland, Fort Kochi, Mattanncherry and Wellington Island. At the expensive end there are a) Brunton Boatyard in Fort Kochi, b) Taj Malabar in Wellington Island, c) Le Meridian Resort in Kochi, d) Bolgatti Palace Hotel in Bolgatti Island followed by a wide range of four and three star hotels. In the middle rang there is The Avenue Regent, Ernakulam followed by Hotel Whyte Forte and several others. Decent hotels at the lower end includes BTH Sarovaram, Hotel Abad Plazza and Hotel Abad
There are a wide range of restaurants serving north indian, south indian and continental cuisine spread around Ernakulam, Wellington Island, Mattancherry and Fort Kochi. Details about those and in general about Kochi are available from the following telephone numbers: a) District tourism promotion council – 0484 2367334, b) Department of tourism information counters – 0484 2360502, c) Kerala tourisn development corporation reception centre – 0484 2353234 (web site – ktdc.com) and d) India Tourism office – 0484 2669125
Pubs and clubs:
There are no clubs available here in the western meaning of the word where tourists can visit to have a merry time. The only clubs there are the exclusive memder only clubs like The Lotus Club and The Ramavarma Club which can only be visted as a guest of an exsisting member Similarly There are no pubs available anywhere in Kerala including Kochi. All the major hotels do have their own bars for the convenience of their customers. There are little shops where one can taste ‘toddy´, the locally brewed alchohol from coconut tree. Its a delicious drink but is better to enlist local help from trusted friends before venturing into it.
If you are willing to extend your trip a bit further there are other interesting places reasonably close to Kochi. These include a) St George´s Forane Church, built in 595 AD and the Museum of Kerala History both in Edappally, b) The Hill Palace, once the summer retreat of Maharaja´s of Kochi, now a museum in Tripunithura, c) Kanjiramattom Mosque, famous for its ´Chandanakudam Festival´, held in January where pilgrims carry pots covered with sandalwood paste in a procession. caparisoned elephants and musical accompaniments in Hindu Style are unique here
On the whole this is one of the hottest holidays avaiable for the international tourist who is visiting Kerala and without a semblance of doubt very very enjoyable as well. Hope my humble attempt of putting together a report on Kerala Backwaters around popular Kochi proves helpful and interesting to you all. Thanks for reading it. Happy holidays!