The Backwaters of Kerala


One of the highlights of staying in Kerala is to take a tour of the backwaters on a Kettuvallam or houseboat.

A Kettavallam or houseboat in Kerala


The boats leave from Alappuzha or Alleppey as it was formerly known, and take you through the maze of canals, rivers and lakes that make up the backwaters.

The original kettuvallams were used to carry rice and spices to Kochi. They were simply constructed from planks of jack wood joined together with coir. The hull of each was then painted with a black resin made from boiled cashew kernels. Bamboo mats would be used for roofing and coir mats for the floor. Today most have simply decorated bedrooms and showers, basins and flushing toilets to make an overnight stay recommended. A beautiful big deck lets you sit out and enjoy the passing view whilst your chef prepares a delicious southern Indian curry for you to enjoy.


The interior of a Kettuvallam or houseboat in Kerala

The passage way of our kettuvallam showing the bamboo roof and coir knots keeping it together!


The canals were dug over one hundred years ago to help transport coir, a coconut husk fibre used in floor mats and rope. It is still the only means of transport in some of these areas.

Coconut trees and  lush undergrowth line the banks as you glide by. Sometimes the weeds in the canals make it seem like a continuous sea of green.

Everyday life is played out along the banks. Men fish, women wash their clothes and the children play in the water as the delivery boats pass.


The backwaters of Kerala



The backwaters of Kerala






kerala backwater Collage


The backwaters of Kerala


The backwaters of Kerala


The backwaters of Kerala


The backwaters of Kerala


Apart from being a very relaxing way to see the area,  it is an interesting window into the way of life of those living in the backwaters of Kerala.



Have you been to Kerala?




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44 Responses to The Backwaters of Kerala

  1. Leigh March 7, 2013 at 11:07 am #

    Should I ever make it to India, Kerala is one of the places I would visit – just so I could enjoy a ride on the houseboat. I love being able to watch a slice of daily life.

    • [email protected] March 7, 2013 at 4:24 pm #

      India is fascinating Leigh because every region is different to the other and Kerala is no exception. The backwaters of Kerala are unique and it is one of the highlights of a visit there.

  2. Jackie Smith March 7, 2013 at 11:50 am #

    I too wrote about canals this week for TPThursday, isn’t it interesting how a single noun like ‘canal’ can look so different when it becomes reality!? Most interesting post and photos.

    • [email protected] March 7, 2013 at 4:27 pm #

      Thanks Jackie. They’re very different canals aren’t they! So opposite in so many ways but both fascinating in their own right.

  3. Tonya @ The Traveling Praters March 7, 2013 at 12:13 pm #

    I’ve never heard of Kerala so I really appreciate the insight that your photos and post offer. If I ever make it, I’ll be sure to take one of those houseboat tours. What a wonderful way to see the area!

    • [email protected] March 7, 2013 at 4:38 pm #

      This is just one aspect of what Kerala offers Tonya. There’s spice plantations, tea growing areas and fishing villages further up the coast but the backwaters is certainly the one area for which it is well known.I hope you get to visit one day

  4. Cherina March 7, 2013 at 12:30 pm #

    What a wonderful way to explore Kerala! I only know of Kerala from the reading the book The God of Small Things – have you read it? Sounds like a beautiful area of India!

    • [email protected] March 7, 2013 at 4:31 pm #

      Kerala is famous for its backwaters so it’s an area that should be seen. I loved the book Cherina. I try to read books pertinent to where I’m travelling at the time and I remember reading this on my trip across southern India.

  5. budget jan March 7, 2013 at 1:37 pm #

    This is one of the areas of India I know I would like to visit. The pace of life on the canals would be such a contrast to other areas in India. I enjoy boats and the water very much so Kerala is most definitely on my list.

    • [email protected] March 7, 2013 at 4:34 pm #

      Kerala is so different to any other part of India. It reminds me more of Sri Lanka or Asia than India. You’d enjoy the canal trip Jan.

  6. Muza-chan March 7, 2013 at 4:28 pm #

    What a beautiful boat 🙂

  7. Johanna at ZigaZag March 7, 2013 at 6:52 pm #

    What a wonderful trip, Jenny, and I just love the Houseboat. Years ago I nearly went on one in India, but missed the chance. This has made me wish I’d persevered and done it 🙂

    • [email protected] March 7, 2013 at 11:42 pm #

      What a shame you missed the trip to India Jo. If you ever go, don’t forget about this trip in Kerala

  8. Debra Kolkka March 7, 2013 at 8:01 pm #

    Kerala is one of the places I really want to visit.

    • [email protected] March 7, 2013 at 11:44 pm #

      It’s very interesting Debra as there are so many different faces to it…spice plantations, tea growing areas, fishing villages, Kochi and, of course, fabulous food!

  9. InsideJourneys March 7, 2013 at 9:34 pm #

    Simply beautiful and ingenious. I caught a snippet of a piece on the many uses of coconut, including coir. We use it to make mats and paper here. I didn’t realize it was that strong.

    • [email protected] March 7, 2013 at 11:45 pm #

      It’s incredible what you can do with it isn’t it Marcia. Perfect when its from the area!

  10. Amy March 8, 2013 at 12:54 am #

    India isn’t currently on my list, but if I were to go I think I’d prefer to go to a location like this. Thanks for the insight!

    • [email protected] March 10, 2013 at 6:08 pm #

      India is a fascinating country Amy. Kerala is probably a softer option if you did want to go to’s very different to Rajasthan.

  11. Debbie Beardsley @ European Travelista March 8, 2013 at 2:26 am #

    I’ve never heard of Kerala but enjoyed your serene pictures. That boat was awesome! Reminded me of an armadillo.

    • [email protected] March 10, 2013 at 6:11 pm #

      Thanks Debbie. I can see your armadillo likeness! The backwaters of this southern state of India are very peaceful.

  12. Mary @ The World Is A Book March 8, 2013 at 3:46 pm #

    I would love to see India and other places through canals and rivers. These houseboats are wonderful places to stay at and a really great way to see their everyday lives. I’ve never heard of Kerala or a kettuvallam but alas, the wonders of reading travel blogs and constantly being amazed at what others have done. Thanks for this, Jenny.

    • [email protected] March 10, 2013 at 6:27 pm #

      I hope I have tempted you to visit India one day Mary! This southern state is very different and offers so much to see..spice plantations, tea growing areas and the fisherman of the coast…not forgetting the houseboats of the backwaters!

  13. Sophie March 8, 2013 at 7:25 pm #

    Staying in a houseboat on Dal Lake in Kashmir has always been high on my list. Didn’t know you could travel by houseboat down south in Kerala; how cool. Looks very tempting, watching life as you slowly glide past. I’ve heard Kerala is a lovely, hot part of India.

    • [email protected] March 10, 2013 at 6:31 pm #

      It’s a beautiful part of India Sophie ad offers so much that is different to Rajasthan and the north. I too missed the good days of staying on a houseboat on Dal Lake!

  14. Cj Thapa March 9, 2013 at 7:06 pm #

    I’d choose Kerla than other place of India of course. I don’t want to miss fish items, lunch on banana leaf and curious to know the way of living.

    • [email protected] March 10, 2013 at 10:43 pm #

      There’s so much to see in Kerala. I agree the food is so delicious…..

  15. Karen (Back Road Journal) March 10, 2013 at 4:42 am #

    Such an interesting post…it is like another place in time. It must have been a wonderful experience.

    • [email protected] March 10, 2013 at 6:49 pm #

      Thanks Karen. it was definitely a fabulous trip. I had travelled from Chennai so it was great to sit back, relax and see the life on the canals.

  16. Karene March 10, 2013 at 7:04 am #

    Kerala is another place I had not heard of till you blogged about it. Beautiful! I think I just want to stowaway in your suitcase–you take the most amazing trips!

    • [email protected] March 10, 2013 at 7:10 pm #

      India has always fascinated me Karene, so over the years I have seen quite a lot of the country. Kerala is one fo the better known areas of India

  17. Nancie March 10, 2013 at 9:29 am #

    Beautiful! The boat looks so comfortable. I haven’t been to India. This reminds me of Inle Lake in Myanmar. I spent a number of days visiting the communities, and there only mode of transportation are small boats.

    • [email protected] March 10, 2013 at 7:11 pm #

      Thanks Nancie. It was very comfortable. It sounds as though it could be quite similar to Inle Lake in Myanmar.

  18. [email protected] March 10, 2013 at 11:20 pm #

    Hi Jenny, I din’t make it to Kerala when I visited India. Kerala is on top of my list to visit when I return. I heard so much about its backwaters. Your photos are very transporting and convey why the backwaters are worth visiting. I like how you captured the tranquility and way of life along the canals. Really beautiful post.

    • [email protected] March 13, 2013 at 10:52 pm #

      Thanks Marisol. I love that you have to keep returning to India to see all the different regions.The backwaters are only one part of this interesting area. Theres also the spice plantations to see, the tea growing areas and the fishing villages along the coast. Kochi is also fascinating. Hope you get to visit one day!

  19. Hotels March 11, 2013 at 12:27 am #

    I am very interested in India since I first visited New Delhi, Agra and Varanasi and I was so impressed by this country. The whole essence of life is on the ghats of Varanasi! Thanks for the wonderful images from Kerala, I am now considering to visit.

    • [email protected] March 13, 2013 at 10:54 pm #

      Kerala is certainly an area worth visiting. You’ll find it very different to the other areas you have visited. Hope you get to explore Kerala one day. Thanks for stopping by and commenting

  20. Happy Philippines March 11, 2013 at 5:20 pm #

    amazing! would love to ride that boat! beautiful indeed. thanks for sharing! 🙂

    • [email protected] March 13, 2013 at 11:00 pm #

      Happy to share! I can recommend the boat trip on the backwaters. it is certainly a very relaxing way to see everyday life along the canals

  21. Andrea March 11, 2013 at 11:36 pm #

    Those boats are incredible!

  22. Michele {Malaysian Meanders} March 13, 2013 at 4:54 pm #

    I’ve never been to India, and most of my mental images of it are the Taj Mahal and Rajasthan. I enjoyed you giving us a peek into the backwaters of Kerala and what boat travel is like there.

    • [email protected] March 13, 2013 at 11:34 pm #

      For me, the fact that Kerala is so different to Rajasthan contributes to my fascination of this diverse country. I hope you get to see it for yourself Michele whilst you are living so close.

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