Known locally as the Kuttanad, the backwaters are a network of shimmering waterways and canals that stretch some 75km up the coast from Kollam in the south to Kochi in the north. These vary from shady green streams to wide open palm-fringed lagoons which shimmer in the sun. Settlements line the banks of many, and you get an insight into village life as you slowly drift past in a way that would never be possible from the road. Houses, farms and temples can be glimpsed amongst the lush vegetation and occasionally a bridge spans the waterway - sometimes a drawbridge that can be raised on ropes - but most people rely on small boats to ferry them to the opposite bank. Houses are built overlooking the water and there is always activity at the water’s edge; women doing the laundry, children playing, or a farmer washing the mud off his buffalo.
The traditional longboats are known as kettu vallam and glide past powered by boatmen and sometimes sails, often barely afloat under the weight of the cargo bound for the markets. The best way to visit the backwaters is to take a cruise in a houseboat, a converted kettu vallam equipped to provide comfortable accommodation as your cruise the region.
Many of the backwaters open into Lake Vembanad , the largest lake in Kerala. The lake is very shallow, rarely more than 4 or 5 foot deep, and fishermen can often be seen far from the shore walking through the water, dragging a boat behind them as they dredge the lake floor. There are several resorts on the shores of the lake at Kumarakon where you can relax and explore the wooded Kumarakon Bird Sanctuary.
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facts and information
Time: GMT +5½ hours
Flight time: Flight time from London to Delhi is 8 hours 30 minutes and to Mumbai is about 8 hours.
Language: The official language is Hindi, which about 30% of the population speaks. English is very widely spoken and is used for official and commercial purposes.
Visas: Required for British travellers. Other nationalities should obtain advice from their embassy.
Health: There are no compulsory vaccinations.