Sep 19, 2011

Kochi (Cochin)--Part I: The Backwaters

When you speak about South India, Kerala usually emerges as the favourite on everyone’s list—in fact, it’s the second most visited state in India.  While it is one of India’s most beautiful and successful states and where women are more empowered than elsewhere in the country, for tourists it’s synonymous with the ‘backwaters’.  And in turn, the backwaters are synonymous with the city of Cochin and to a lesser degree, Alleppey.

Locals on the backwater

So what are backwaters exactly?  It is a ‘...900km network of waterways that fringe the coast and trickle far inland.  Long before the advent of roads, these waters were the slippery highways of Kerala...’ (Lonely Planet, South India, 2009).   The waterways themselves are an interconnection of canals, rivers, lakes and the sea; the water is always flowing.  The canals are tidal and have no salinity.  Like the ‘junk’ cruises in Halong Bay and the ‘felucca’ trips down the Nile in Egypt, the thing to do here is to explore the backwaters on a traditional covered ‘rice barge’ or kettuvallam boat, either overnight or as a daytrip. We did the latter and it was a very peaceful and serene day (it would have been even more so were it not for our 2 talkative children!).  As it is currently low season, it was only us on board along with another couple, although the capacity was for 20 passengers.  In the afternoon, the other couple (by prearrangement) left us to continue on with a different tour, so we had the boat to ourselves!   We did stop to get a tour of a ‘coir’ factory (coir is the fibre from the husk of a coconut which is spun into rope and then carpets and larger rope is made from it--also known as ‘jute’),  a shell factory which processes mussels into calcium hydroxide and into lime, and a spice garden where we saw pepper, nutmeg, beetle nut, and turmeric plants. 

Our kettavallum
Pepper Seeds

Spinning Coir

Tasting Nutmeg Leaf

It was a wonderful way to spend the day, being pushed along by 2 boatsmen, with a light breeze and nothing but birds, water and coconut palms to look at.  It cost us Rs650/$16.25 USD pp, kids under 5 free, with lunch and a friendly knowledgeable guide included. And we even learned a few things.  Luckily too none of the monsoonal rains that had been lurking around the past few days fell on us either and we had nothing but clear blue skies.  The only thing that we would have done differently was that we should have packed more things for the kids to do—towards the last hour of our trip, they were getting quite fidgety. But naturally, they both fell fast asleep once we got into the car for the hour-long ride back to our hotel!  

Our 'rear' boatman

Backwater scenery


  1. I have been considering taking the kids here. Our problem is that we only have weekends.. I would love to try and fit it in though.

    1. Ft Cochin is definitely worth a visit and the old town is so laid back, especially compared to the rest of India. Unfortunately, I wouldn't recommend a canal tour with young kids though as it can be very long and boring for them on such a small boat. If you do it, make sure you bring lots of activities for them (beware of toys overboard though) and snacks to keep them occupied!

  2. Wow village!!!!!! I like it very much.Petter Joe

  3. How old were your kids? We are considering taking our 6 year child and our 18 month baby but I am concerned about (a) the toddler falling overboard, and (b) mosquitoes (malaria? dengue?).
    We went on an overnight backwaters boat trip near Allepey before having kids and LOVED it.

    1. hi!
      Our girls were 6 and the youngest had just turned 5 when we did the backwaters' trip. Personally, I don't know how a 18mo old would fare on the trip as i can be quite 'dull' and the physical space on the boat is limited. i know our 2 girls found the trip a bit 'boring'--luckily the land excusion of visiting the pepper and jute plantation broke it up a bit. i'd advise for the older kids to bring some sort of activity for them like colouring in, etc.

      I don't recall the mosquitos being too much of a problem but i'm sure we would have just had liberal applications of repellent on--that's really the best you can do against malaria and dengue. i do recall that we found that mosquitoes were most horrible in Alleppey--couldn't wait to get out of there!

      hope this helps--feel free to inbox me for more info. thanks for stopping by our site!