Kerala’s Mystical, Magical Backwaters
Kerala is one of India’s smallest provinces, but it’s big on discovery and magnificent natural wonders. Nestled in the southwestern corner of India, it stretches 370 miles at the Malabar Coast of the Arabian Sea and extends just 7 miles inland at its narrowest point and 75 miles at its widest.
The small city of Alleppey lies in the midst of a vast network of peaceful, isolated backwaters where life goes on much as it has for centuries. Within this magnificent, unspoiled maze of rivers, lakes, canals and lagoons – a circuitous labyrinth of some 600 miles that has earned it the nickname “Venice of the East” – rice paddy fields and dense forests teeming with wildlife blanket the shores; fishermen ply calm waters in traditional longboats or in vallams, a type of canoe; children splash on shallow banks; and kingfishers perch in riverside coconut palm trees waiting for an opportunity to snatch an unsuspecting meal from the waters.
Kerala is home to an astonishing diversity of flora and fauna. About one-quarter of all India’s plant species are here, remarkable for such a small region. Also roaming the forests are 102 species of mammal, including the Indian elephant and Bengal tiger; 476 types of birds such as the great hornbill; and 169 reptiles, including India’s legendary king cobra and mugger crocodile.
But it’s not only the natural beauty and simple living for which this breathtaking region is known. Within these forests, medicinal plants have been harvested over the centuries and given birth to the Ayurveda movement. It’s a long tradition rooted in the herbal oils and exotic spices that first drew Portuguese explorers to these shores. Today, the natural treatments first discovered here and the principles of Buddhism they follow form the basis of alternative health practices and philosophies of well-being all around the world.
In your Discovery Tours small group, you’ll board one of the kettuvallams that cruise among these serene waters. These elegant houseboats were originally used to transport rice, spices and other goods; thatched roofs protected the harvests from the elements. Later, a select few were converted to royal barges, extravagantly outfitted for the pleasure of maharajahs and their families. You will embark and get underway with your crew. As you quietly drift along, you’ll marvel at a way of life that you never dreamed still existed. You might even see some fishermen wading into the waters up to their necks, seeking out fish with their feet.
During your cruise, your expert crew will prepare a lunch of authentic Keralan cuisine, flavored with the spices for which this region has long been celebrated. Perhaps a curry or masala dish will enhance your backwater experience, with ample locally grown rice. You’ve never had a “farm to table” experience quite like this, in a setting so magical. It is an experience unlike any other.