Oman Travel: Postcard from Alappuzha, Kerala

24 Aug 2017
POSTED BY Alvin Thomas

Alappuzha’s bucolic way of life has long fascinated visitors. This means more people are opting to stay in house boats floating along the backwaters of the city (which is also known as “Alleppey”) than ever before, says Alvin Thomas.

Temperate climate, beautiful landscapes, serene backwaters, relaxing resorts, and to top it all; friendly people: what more can you ask for when you’re heading out for a vacation? I’m not implying that Alappuzha is one of the best destinations to visit in Asia; I’m telling you that it is up there with the very best.

They don’t call it the “Venice of the East” for nothing, either. Much like Venice in Italy, Alappuzha is home to several canals, lakes and lagoons. Oh, and if that isn’t enough, there are beaches (!), on which you can lie and detox from your work stresses.

The city is flanked by the Vembanad lake, which splits into six major tributaries that spread out before joining the sea. Each of these is a separate source for tourism; some serving as areas for recreational boating while others are home to off-shore floating resorts (better known as houseboats), and fishing hubs.

The latter have gained traction in the city. Alappuzha has long been a source for the state’s fish and prawn farming (yes! it’s now termed farming). The city also boasts an annual marine phenomenon when the coast deposits shoals of fishes (mostly large mackerel and seer fish) and prawns on the shores. This phenomenon is called “Chakara”.

Chakara is a festive season for the people of Kerala, and tourists prefer visiting the city during this period. The price of food and other commodities drop sharply. The Alappuzha ‘neymeen polichathu’ (fish roast) and duck roast are renowned worldwide. Reports of restaurant chefs from the US and Canada visiting Alappuzha for learning the trade of preparing these dishes surfaced a while ago.

But, fret not, for Alappuzha is more than just backwaters and fancy cuisines. It is one of the oldest inhabited cities in India, with settlement recorded from as early as the first century.

Due to its Portuguese and Dutch roots, Alappuzha is also deemed as one of the originating sources for Christianity in India. The results are a wealth of churches and basilicas, which are of great value to the residents and visitors, alike.

There are also several must-see museums, in the city. But, if you’re really interested in the history of Alappuzha, it is best you travel around in the local buses and boats along with the commuters. Most Alappuzha residents are educated (the city has the third-highest literacy rate in Kerala [Kerala has the highest literacy rate of any other state]), and can speak English.

That said, there are an array of shops, street markets and galleries; some selling valuable Indian handicraft for cheap prices. And if you’re missing home, you’ll always be able to find a European or American food at your fingertips. Surprisingly, the city is one
of the largest producers of Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) ingredients for Asia. Weird, but true.

My favourite place- I hail from Alappuzha, so it’s hard not to be lenient towards this city. But, my favourite spot has to be the backwaters of Kuttanad (an administrative colony of Alappuzha). I’ve spent hours on the boats, here, and my time has been nothing short of blissful. The lakes are calm, and the silence in the air is only broken by the occasional sound of a house boat passing by you, and the waves smacking your boat, as you rock from side to side.

Highlights- It’s hard to pick one highlight. But, because Alappuzha is a coastal city, the temperatures are quite stable, albeit a bit on the hot and humid side. But, couple that with the monsoon season, you’re left with a cool and nonchalant city to spend your vacation in. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about the food. Oh my lord, the food’s great: the duck roast, chicken and fish curries are beyond what you will find in any other state in the country. If Yorkshire in the UK is known for its fish and chips, Alappuzha is known for its delightful curries. Then you have the ‘Nehru Boat Race’, an annual race to crown the fastest boat in the state. Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen can only dream of such rivalry.

Lowlights- As is the case with most cities, tourists will be overcharged. So, make sure you bring one of your ‘malayali’ friends along. Pay for his or her meals and accommodation and you’ll still end up spending less than when you’re travelling with a tour guide or alone. That said, you can tour Alappuzha for a month for less than RO500.   

Souvenirs- The street shops are known to sell some beautiful Indian handicrafts such as churches and temples, or even elephants and boats carved on stones or wood. If that doesn’t cut it, ask one of the hotels to freeze a packet of duck or prawn curries for you to take back home (trust me, I do it all the time).

Getting there- Alappuzha is a mere two-hour drive from the city of Kochi. All major buses stop at the city, if you’re travelling from afar. Meanwhile, Kochi also has one of the largest and busiest airports in Asia. You can fly in with British Airways or even Air India Express (if you’re feeling a bit adventurous, as the flight has been known for being delayed for days).

Where to stay- Two words: house boats. The charge for a houseboat can range anywhere between RO20 and RO50, for one night. You can haul in as many as 15 passengers for the same rate. If you’re not into boats, then there are numerous four- and five- star hotels, or even inns in the vicinity. Last I checked, there’s also a YMCA and YWCA for those looking for cheap accommodation.

Top 5 Things to do

1. Take a relaxing cruise down the backwaters in a house boat.

2. Cheer with the crowds at the annual Nehru Boat Race.

3. Take a stroll down Alappuzha beach.

4. Visit the churches and temples in the city.

5. Go fishing in the backwaters.

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