One of the most memorable experiences for travellers in India is the opportunity to take a boat journey on thebackwaters of Kerala. The area known as Kuttanad stretches for 75km from Kollam in the south to Kochi in the north, sandwiched between the sea and the hills. This bewildering labyrinth of shimmering waterways, composed of lakes, canals, rivers and rivulets, is lined with dense tropical greenery and preserves rural Keralan lifestyles that are completely hidden from the road.

The region’s bucolic way of life has long fascinated visitors. And the ever entrepreneurial Keralans were quick to spot its potential as a visitor destination – particularly after it was discovered that foreigners and wealthy tourists from India’s cities were prepared to pay vast sums in local terms to explore the area aboard converted rice barges, or kettu vallam. Since its inception two decades ago, the houseboat tour industry has grown exponentially in both size and sophistication, and has brought with it major environmental drawbacks as well as increased prosperity. You can, however, explore this extraordinary region in lower-impact ways, too.


The most popular excursion in the Kuttanad region is the full-day journey between Kollam and Alappuzha. All sorts of private hustlers offer their services, but the principal boats are run on alternate days by the ATDC and the DTPC. The double-decker boats leave from both Kollam and Alappuzha daily, departing at 10.30am (10am check-in); tickets (Rs300) can be bought in advance or on the day at the ATDC/DTPC counters, other agents and some hotels. Both companies make three stops during the eight-hour journey, including one for lunch, and another at the Mata Amritanandamayi Math at Amritapuri – ashram of Kerala’s famous “hugging saint”, Amma – around three hours north of Kollam. Although this is by far the main backwater route, many tourists find it too long, with crowded decks and intense sun. There’s also something faintly embarrassing about being cooped up with a crowd of fellow tourists, madly photographing any signs of life on the water or canal banks, while gangs of kids scamper alongside the boat screaming “one pen, one pen”. One alternative is to charter a four- or six-seater motorboat, which you can do through DTPC and ATDC for around Rs300/hr. Slower, more cumbersome double-decker country boats are also available for hire from Rs250 per hour.


Quite apart from their significant environmental impact, most houseboats are too wide to squeeze into the narrower inlets connecting small villages. To reach these more idyllic, remote areas, therefore, you’ll need to charter a punted canoe. The slower pace means less distance gets covered in an hour, but the experience of being so close to the water, and those who live on it, tends to be correspondingly more rewarding. You’ll also find more formal “village tours” advertised across the Kuttanad area, tying together trips to watch coir makers, rice farmers and boat builders in action with the opportunity to dine in a traditional Keralan village setting.


Whoever dreamed up the idea of showing tourists around the backwaters in old rice barges, or kettu vallam, could never have imagined that, two decades on, six hundred or more of them would be chugging around Kuttanad waterways. These houseboats, made of dark, oiled jackwood with canopies of plaited palm thatch and coir, are big business, and almost every mid- and upmarket hotel, guesthouse and “heritage homestay” seems to have one. Nearly five hundred work out of Alappuzha alone, the flashiest fitted with a/c rooms, wide-screen plasma TVs on their teak sun decks, imported wine in their fridges and Jacuzzis that bubble away through the night. One grand juggernaut (called the Vaikundan, based near Amma’s ashram in Kollam district) holds ten bedrooms and won’t slip its lines for less than Rs100,000 ($2200). At the opposite end of the scale are rough-and-ready transport barges with gut-thumping diesel engines, cramped bedrooms and minimal washing facilities.

What you end up paying for your cruise will depend on the size and quality of the boat and its fittings; the number and standard of the bedrooms; and, crucially, the time of year. Rates double over Christmas and New Year, and halve off-season during the monsoons. In practice, Rs6000–15,000 is the usual bracket for a trip on a two-bedroom, a/c boat with a proper bathroom, including three meals, in early December or mid-January. The cruise should last a minimum of 22 hours, though don’t expect to spend all of that on the move: running times are carefully calculated to spare gas. From sunset onwards you’ll be moored at a riverbank, probably on the outskirts of the town where the trip started.

You’ll save quite a lot of cash, and be doing the fragile ecosystem a big favour, by opting for a more environmentally friendly punted kettu vallam. This was how rice barges were traditionally propelled, and though it means you travel at a more leisurely pace, the experience is silent (great for wildlife-spotting) and altogether more relaxing.

Houseboat operators work out of Kollam and Kumbakonam, but most are in Alappuzha, where you’ll find the lowest prices – but also the worst congestion on more scenic routes. Spend a day shopping around for a deal (your guesthouse or hotel-owner will be a good first port of call) and always check the boat over beforehand. It’s also a good idea to get the deal fixed on paper before setting off, and to withhold a final payment until the end of the cruise in case of arguments.

Kuttanad is a beautiful place and one of the hottest tourism destinations of Kerala. Kuttanad is located at a distance of 20 Km from Alappuzha town in Alappuzha district. The place is regarded as Netherlands or Holland of Kerala.

Kuttanad called The Rice Bowl of Kerala because of its wealth of paddy fields. The region is spitted into three divisions generally known as, Upper Kuttanad, Lower Kuttanad and Middle Kuttanad. This is one of the lowest places in India and this is situated below the sea level.

The scenic countryside of Kuttanad also has rich crops of coconuts, banana, fruit trees, etc. Kuttanad is also an important center for Buddhism. Few Buddhist places can be viewed in and around the place.

Kuttanad is situated next to the backwaters and you can find numerous small picturesque villages that may be viewed in this region. A few of the villages are Kainakary, Kaipuzha, Kumarakom, Edathua, Pullangadi, Manalady, Nedumudi and several others. Kumarakom is one of the most well-known among these villages because of its mind-blowing backwaters. Local food in these villages includes fresh river fish as well as vegetables and there are numerous places across the backwaters which put up for sale these things. This is the best opportunity for food fans.

You could also find Kuttanad, a little more thrilling, in case you hire a boat. You can actually hire motorboats, houseboats from the boat jetty operated by government and private groups near the KSRTC Bus Station at Alappuzha otherwise you can also get one from a place called Kidangara, which is located on the Alappuzha-Changanasserry road. The few places worth visiting in Kuttanad area include Nedumudy, Kaavalam, Champakkulam etc.

You can find a huge Dam which is found in this area and this was primarily constructed to separate the backwaters from the sea.


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