SWe first discovered Kerala’s backwaters years ago in
Alleppey, and immediately fell in love with its many charms.
During the one-hour cruise in a hired motorboat, we purred
down avenues of water whose banks were ablaze with a riot of
vegetation; our senses assailed by green in all its subtle shades
and hues. Surrounded by this overwhelming celebration of
nature, we felt a sense of compelling calm and peace.
Life along the backwaters moved on as though there was
nothing unusual about the setting. Children with satchels
strapped to their backs skipped nimbly over log bridges on their
way to school. Men paddled by in carved-out canoes laden with rich harvests of bananas, coconuts and farm produce.
One canoe even ferried a buffalo across the waters! Large
spider-like Chinese fishing nets strained the water for its riches.
An agitated politician addressed his audience in rapid fire
Malayalam. A toddy tapper scaling a palm tree was silhouetted
against the blue sky.
The sight of schools and churches, a hospital with a water
ambulance parked at its jetty, police patrol boats and thatchedhut
provision shops along the banks testified to the ingenuity
of the backwaters community. For here the realities of the
modern world meshed comfortably with unchanging tradition.
‘We are the Venice of the East.’ We heard the phrase often
enough in the backwaters’ most famous towns and all along the
1,500km network of canals, estuaries and lakes that comprise
the backwaters. This refrain, however, is off the mark to the
degree that while the setting in Venice is distinctly urban,
in Kerala the backdrop is largely rural. If at all there are any
similarity between the two, it is that both are vibrant, living
waterways that serve as the highways, by-ways and lifeline
of the communities that live along their banks. And both
romance the tourists.