The Kerala backwaters are a chain of brackish lagoons and lakes lying parallel to the Arabian Sea coast. Five large lakes are linked by canals, both manmade and natural, fed by 38 rivers, and extend virtually half the length of Kerala state, forming more than 900km of waterways. 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 range. The largest of the lakes, Vembanad Kayal, the longest lake in India, covers an area of 200km2.
If you come to Kerala, a must do is an overnight stay on a Kettuvallam (houseboat) in the backwaters. Traditionally used as grain barges to transport the rice harvested in the fertile fields alongside the backwaters, Kettuvallams are ridiculously picturesque and these days have been converted (or built new) to accommodate tourists with ensuite bathrooms, dining rooms and comfortable outdoor sitting areas to sit and while the day away as you cruise quietly along the canals, past coconut fringed paths and small villages that laze on the myriad islands along the backwaters. Past green rice paddies spreading away into the distance and coconut groves with the occasional temple or church. Past Chinese fishing nets and children waving from the banks. As you sail along, you are reminded that life is carried on here at a pace that has not changed for centuries.
Situated on a car-free island, our favourite spot in this favourite region is Greenpalms Homestay, around 10km south of Alleppey. When staying here, our hosts spend time with us showing us around the island, by foot and canoe. Witness the traditional rice cultivation, spend time chatting with the locals, ride a bike, row a canoe or just sit in a hammock and do absolutely nothing as you watch the boats go by. If you’re really lucky you might get to experience an impromptu folk song rendition as you get canoed around the canals. In addition, you get to enjoy some of the best food you will ever eat in India.