As I think of lake cruises in Kerala, old memories of a river cruise come to mind. Long ago, we traveled along river Periyar (see pic below) in country boats. The Periyar flows behind our homestead and one of our pastimes on holidays was taking out the small country boat (that could hold only two persons) and rowing it along the river. As boys, we rowed to "deep and dangerous" spots (that were, at best, three meters deep).
Then there were the annual trips to a festival on a beach some six kilometers away. The festival is held in the night on a particular day, and we would be ready by dusk. Father, mother, myself and brothers would get into the boat (much larger than the two person boat). The boatman would stand at one end of the boat and use a bamboo pole to push the boat along. We floated on the dark river under the starlit sky, talking and chattering all the way (unaware of the beauty all around us).
Those days are long gone. No boatman is there these days to push a boat for such distances. You use a speed boat for long river journeys. Or travel by land vehicles (along newly built roads) to this particular beach festival.
We now come to lake cruises proper. The major lakes in Kerala are listed towards the end.
You could start your lake cruise in Kerala from Ernakulam (pronounced Err-nn-aa-koo-llum). Ernakulam is the junction of two lakes - the Vembanad lake to the south and Kodungalloor lake to the north. From the Marine Drive at Ernakulam, you could get into scheduled boat services to nearby islands - Willingdon Island, Fort Kochi, Mattanchery and Vypeen or "on-demand" house boats (like the houseboat pictured left) for short or long cruises.
Ernakulam and these islands are part of the Cochin port, a major port where cargo and cruise ships berth regularly. At the time of this writing, Queen Elizabeth was the latest cruise liner to berth at this port.
While the scheduled-service boats could give you an authentic flavor of daily backwaters travel, you might prefer to hire a tourist boat and take a tour to the mouth of the Cochin harbor, where the Arabian Sea meets the backwaters.
You could then ask your guide to arrange for lake cruises along different lakes of Kerala, listed next.
The nine major lakes and lagoons that constitute the Kerala backwaters are (starting from the south):
In addition to the above, there are smaller lakes further north, such as Chavakad, Ponnani, Kozhikode (where da Gama landed) and Ezhimala at the northern end of Kerala. There are plans (still on paper) to link all these waterways to allow inland water cruise from north to south.
You would find state and private agencies that arrange boat tours along these waterways. These tours usually involve houseboats, where accommodation and food are also provided. New packages are constantly appearing.
The lakes listed above are mostly coastal sea-water lakes, separated from the sea by islands or peninsular land projections. Kerala also has a number of fresh water lakes, the most well-known one being the Periyar Lake among the mountainous forests in the east. This lake is adjacent to the Periyar wildlife sanctuary where elephants and tigers roam.
There are smaller lakes such as Malampuzha, Vazhani, Parambikulam, Bhoothathankettu, Pamba and Kakki.
This is indeed a land of lakes and rivers and missing a lake or river cruise in Kerala would be missing a fascinating experience.
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