29 lakes, 44 rivers and some 1,500 kilometres of waterways – this is the fertile hinterland of the Malabar Coast in the southern Indian state of Kerala. A boat trip here is an experience – and almost free by ferry.
What did I think in advance? The anticipation of the backwaters was marked by doubts and always new research. Which route? Which provider? What can all this cost? And then it comes in the end very differently than expected.
Travel Report Backwaters
The starting point is the city of Kottayam. After arrival, unfortunately, I realize that due to a major event in the local stadium, all hotels are fully booked. No matter where we go with the auto-rickshaw, the answer is always the same.
It gets uncomfortable with time. Although in such a small vehicle miraculously drive ten Indian easily. But with three backpackers with heavy pastries, it gets tight. The solution in the tourist Tetris – a backpack behind the heads, two across our legs, fits!
That looks pretty funny when we interpret correctly the reactions of the Indians we are passing. We can barely move when the driver drives to the next gas station to first pump air into the three tires. With more pressure we continue, but we still can not find accommodation and it’s getting dark.
From Kottayam to Kumarakom
After a short discussion and a few phone calls, we decide to drive to Kumarakom, 16 kilometres away. There we want to visit a bird park the next day anyway.
The last five kilometres are a gravel road with more potholes than road. The traffic, which does not run very sparsely here, is looking for its way. Right-hand traffic, left-hand traffic, there is no system to recognize. The backpacks on the legs are agony, the bubble presses, but then we are finally here. A small hotel on the edge of a waterway will be our home for one night.
All birds are already gone
The next morning we get up very early. The reason is a trip to the nearby Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary. Many migratory birds stop at the five-hectare site. Let’s take a look at that.
The bus stops right outside our door. However, since we do not know where we have to go, and no one understands us, we drive a bit too far. We get off and take the bus back from the opposite direction.
Then – finally – we find the park and notice that the birds are probably free today or otherwise prevented. At least we see on the two-hour hike almost no bird. On our involuntary bus tour we had seen thousands before, in all colours and sizes. Somewhat disenchanted, we get on the bus home to the hotel.
Ride on the ferry
After breakfast, we head back to Kottayam, from where we take the ferry to Allepey (Alappuzha). We pay 11 rupees (about 18 cents) for the three and a half-hour drive. Since we are early on the investor, we can put us in the very top of the seats with the best view.
The ferry route is one of the most beautiful routes through the backwaters, one of the main attractions in Kerala. The inland waters consist of a vast network of rivers, canals and lakes.
After the boat has started, we get first insights into the lives of the people here. Women wash clothes in the water, while children happily dabble next to them. We drive a few meters away and keep stopping at any tree to pick up passengers. We quickly realize how important this connection is for the residents. We use the ride for inexpensive backwaters sightseeing, but for everyone else on board, the ferry is an everyday means of transport.
Impressive landscape, lots of traffic on the water
On the banks are rice fields, palm trees and now and then small villages. The inhabitants of this area do their daily business instead of using cars or motorbikes on small boats.
Later the water surfaces get bigger. Instead of humans, birds have settled here in the shore area. Possibly also those who did not find the bird park in Kumarakom. We see huge swarms moving across the fields.
An impressive landscape lies around us, waterways and lakes as far as the eye can see, in all directions.
As we approach Alleppey, the number of houseboats is increasing dramatically. It is the best of tourists to rent a houseboat. Starting at 80 euros, it is possible to cruise through the backwaters for a day and a night, be on board and then spend the night on the water. The luxury scale is open at the top. Houseboats with TV, Wi-Fi, hammocks and allegedly even with swimming pool are on offer.
The other side of the coin is pollution. More and more boats navigate the waters, oil enters the ecosystem, and the animals are disturbed at their nesting sites.
We dispense with our boat and content ourselves with the fascinating impressions that we gained on the ferry ride. Therefore, the day ends with a beer in a small hotel in Alleppey.
In many travel forums, the question arises again and again whether a two- or three-day tour is the right one. Often the answer is that one day is enough. And I felt like I saw everything after three and a half hours. Surely it is an experience to spend the night on a houseboat and watch the water landscape at sunrise. But the ferry ride can be considered as a cost-effective alternative.