The Amazing Kerala Backwaters

Trip Start Mar 14, 2004
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Trip End Ongoing


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Flag of India  , Kerala,
Monday, January 9, 2012

The Kerala Backwaters are an amazing aqua-landscape of forty four rivers and interconnecting canals and inlets that drain into the Arabian Sea.  The resulting labyrinth of water channels and rice paddies provides 900 km (558 miles!) of navigable waterway that connects the towns and villages scattered about coastal Kerala state.  The locals still use them today as they did centuries ago.   There is no place else quite like this on the planet and it's been awarded a '50 Destinations of a Lifetime' by National Geographic.  To spare you more wordage and blah blah blah, I will simply state that this place is really cool. 

The only difference today from centuries ago is that in the late 1980s, some clever bastard decided to convert a traditional rice barge called a kettuvallam into a houseboat.  Once the locals realized they could charge a premium to wealthy foreign and Indian tourists alike for a live-aboard excursion through the backwaters, the floating cottage industry was born along with a new career path for thousands.  Now there are hundreds of houseboats of varying degrees of luxury plying the waterways: so many that in high season there are traffic jams in the canals.  Some boats are as luxurious as a modern yacht with air conditioning and all the amenities.  Personally, I could not stop daydreaming about shredding up the water on a jet-ski. 

You will notice I don't have a single photo from inside a houseboat.  That's because I was never on one.  The prudent traveler can see everything the tourist sees from a houseboat simply by taking the public ferry from village to village, just as the locals and school kids get around.  The only downside I could find with choosing this experience was the lack of servants offering lobster and chilled white wine.  

Arriving in the village of Kollam, I was determined to stay and relax for a few days.  Except I found one MAJOR problem.  Hindu priests were celebrating a holiday by reading out of a holy book and broadcasting it over loudspeakers for the whole village to listen to.... for a week or something!   To keep their voices strong and fresh, they rotated a new priest in every thirty minutes.  Thanks!  After a few hours, I decided this was a psychological torture and I had to get the hell out of here.  I'm taking the train to Varkala Beach! 
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