Travel: ‘Venice of the east’ beckons tourists
Looking for a serene and scenic place to spend your vacation? Pack your bags and head to Alleppy (Alapuzha), the ‘Venice of the east’ situated in India’s southern tip.
Seafarers arriving at Venice by ship are greeted by iconic structures like the Ducal Palace and Bridge of Sighs. Tourists coming to Alleppy by boat are greeted by the clear blue sky, criss-crossing canals, lagoons and backwaters, swaying coconut palms lining the shores, verdant mangroves and paddy fields and boats loaded with passengers, fruits or coconut husks.
In Venice, the traditional boats or gondolas take tourists through lagoons while in Alleppy, ‘valloms’ do that job. The gondolas and valloms are painted black and both come down from times of old romance.
Another feature common between Venice and Alleppy are the annual boat races held in their respective lagoons. While small, sporting gondolas fly down the Grand Canal to the finishing line during the Campioni su Gondolini race in Venice, a series of fast-moving ‘chudan valloms’ (snake boats) and ‘cheru valloms’ (small boats) compete on Punnamda Lake during the Nehru Trophy Boat Race held near Alleppy in August every year.
A first-time visitor to Alleppy during the British Raj wrote: “Here nature has spent up on the land her richest bounties. Alleppey, the Venice of the East.” The visitor was Lord Curzon, the then viceroy of India.
The best time to visit Alleppy is from January to March or from September to December. The closest international airport is near the ancient port city Kochi from where a 30-minute journey by boat to Alleppy will give you a rocking time in nature’s cradle.
Tourists looking for luxury rides through Alleppy’s backwaters can hire house boats called ‘kettu valloms’ (‘boat with knots’). Ropes made of coconut fibre (coir) tied in knots hold the structure of the boat together. No nail is used in the construction. The boat is made of huge planks of Jack wood (Artocarpus hirsuta) or ‘Aanjili’ and tied with coir.
Natural materials such as bamboos and palm leaves are used for the construction of these eco-friendly boats.
Sixty-seven feet long and 13 feet wide in the middle, the boats are virtual floating homes with living rooms, bed rooms, sundeck, balcony, kitchen and bio-toilets. About 150 such house boats ply the lagoons and backwaters of Alleppy.
If you are not interested in staying overnight on the backwaters, opt for a 5-hour cruise package from 11 am to 5 pm. For a couple, tour operators charge approximately Rs 5,500 (US$ 146). For children below 5 years, the ride is free of cost.
As you step into the house boat, its chef and two oarsmen greet you. Sink into a chair and watch the scenes along the shores running past as the boat gathers speed. Since land and river almost stand on the same level in Alleppy, boat riders can take a closer look of the pastoral scene: a woman washing clothes on the canal bank, an elderly man taking a dip in the water, children quietly heading for school, the milkman on the bicycle, the village girl leading cattle to a meadow and ducks swimming around the banks.
For tourists, a more alluring experience will be an overnight stay on the backwater. From the boat, one can watch the sunset, the large Chinese fishing nets set against the crimson sky and darkness spreading over the watery expanse. As night falls, the traditional lanterns are lit. The delicious smell of steamy rice, tapioca and fish curry wafts in. The chef is preparing dinner which is soon served in the living room. Sipping cold toddy (coconut wine), spend a lazy hour over meals.
Soon everything falls silent. All one can hear is the plashing of the oars, the gentle tap of the waves against the prow and the distant murmur of sea. The lassitude after the meal lets your thoughts wander. As the ship moves slowly, you feel like sailing into eternity.
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