Our short photographic exploration of Kerala’s backwaters.
For most people with any knowledge of India, the ‘communist’ state of Kerala, more than any other, is synonymous with high literacy, good education, above average standard of living and moreover, for its extensive brackish backwaters ecosystem that extends for over half the length of the state.
Barriers formed by low islands created by the action of the sea currents meeting the numerous out-flowing rivers, create this extensive network of natural and man-made lakes and canals that offers a fascinating area of India to explore.
With nearly a thousand kilometres of maze-like watery thoroughfares, together with small towns that act as start and end points of waterborne tours, there’s no shortage of material for the curious photographer and explorer.
Most journeys for visitors and travellers are aboard the traditional but well-appointed houseboats, which can be hired for anything from a day trip to a week of live-aboard.
We’re based on the shores of Lake Vembanad, the largest of the inland lakes, at the wonderful Kumarakom lake resort and perfectly situated for access to both the lakes and the narrow canals where we’re up close and personal with daily local life.
There’s an element of voyeurism with any houseboat tour through the narrow canals, as you’re practically on top of the little canal-side hamlets and huts; whilst their inhabitants conduct daily chores at the waterside. There’s an element of curiosity for them as well, even though they must be used to cameras pointing at them during the most personal of pursuits. A friendly wave from either side of the lens is always met with a cheerful response.
Colourful shrines and temples, schools, markets, homes and water-taxi berths crowd the river banks but there’s also plenty of uncluttered lush greenery, palms, rice paddy fields and agricultural cultivation to give the backwaters a sense of tropical peace.
Heavily laden cargo barges, overcrowded and oversized, motorised canoes, quaint individual dug-outs with couples or solo rowers and urgent water-taxis pass us by as we chug along the waterways; as well as numerous palm roofed houseboats with groups, parties and stylish couples cruising the waters.
Whatever the weather there’s a story to tell photographically as life goes on uninterrupted.
There’s no shortage of wildlife in the area either, with many species of aquatic life such as crabs, frogs and mudskippers, animals such as otters and turtles and water birds such as terns, kingfishers, darters and cormorants. For us, it’s the first time we’ve seen a ‘murmuration’ of cormorants as several flocks coalesce and formate in the early evening as the sun sets.
For us, the Keralan backwaters are a way of participating in local Indian village life whilst maintaining a discrete distance, even given the close proximity of much of it. There’s an almost mutual agreement that each should respect the other – the locals for the much needed wealth it brings to the area, in return for the colourful spectacle they in turn provide to travellers.
There’s never a dull moment on board for the curiously interested – but if all else fails you can always simply relax over a sumptuous meal or drinks on board your own boat.
From a personal perspective we think that a day or one night aboard is enough to get a true flavour of what the area has to offer – you can always come back for more – but a journey on Kerala’s backwaters puts you in touch with a gentler, less frenetic India that reminds the traveller of what India once was before its huge commercial expansion.
If you simply want more information about this wonderful area of India then follow the link here – or why not ask us to arrange your own tailor-made travel throughout Kerala and India – see below.
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