Lord Curzon, a British Viceroy, once exclaimed that Allepey was the ‘Venice of the East’. Situated in an extremely picturesque region composed of canals, lagoons and backwaters a few miles north of Cochin, Alleppey is a small town that is perhaps one of the earliest towns in Kerala to adopt a plan in its development –quaint streets that cross with geometrical symmetry and lined with cafes and shops, an ancient light house(the first on the Laccadive coast), bustling market places and ancient churches, mosques and temples and laid back people.
The sea off the coast of Alleppey is renowned for its abundance of prawns, lobsters, turtles and varieties of fish. The wetlands that surround Alleppey are a delightful haven to staggering numbers of migratory common teal, duck and cormorants that flock here seasonally.
Visitors to Alleppey will marvel at the annual snake boat races held at numerous venues in the region where hundreds of oars flash in and out of the water in perfect unison to the accompaniment of songs that impel gloriously decorated boats towards the finishing line. Another annual event of interest to travelers is the ‘chakara’ – seasonal maturing and arrival of vast quantities of fishes and prawns off the coast in search of accumulated masses of plankton. The catch at this time is brought to shore and sold. It is also a time of much rejoicing and celebration among fishermen and their families.
AMBALAPUZHA SRI KRISHNA TEMPLE
Most definitely worth a visit – for the devout and for those interested in history and culture. This temple is believed to have been built during the 15th-17th century AD. The idol worshipped in the temple – the Hindu god Krishna – is seen holding a whip in its right hand and a conch in its left.
An annual temple festival is the highlight of the calendar of events at the temple which commemorates a time in the past when ruler of the area decided that the temple needed a Krishna idol and it was installed here.
The Ambalapuzha temple is also renowned for its ‘pal – payasam’ a sweet pudding made from rice and milk, offered to the deity in the temple and then served to devotees and visitors.
Champakulam is resplendent with pristine backwater canals, lush expanses of paddies and coconut groves. Houseboats are the best modes of transportation though the backwaters and lakes in the area providing an intimate view of the people who live on the shores and their culture.
The St.Mary’s Forane Church in Champakulam, a fourth century church and one of the oldest churches in India, stands as an eloquent witness to the history of the area. An annual event here – the Champakulam Moolam Boat Race, quite possibly the oldest and one of the most popular snake boat races is well worth attending. The race is a rousing sight, wherein dozens of boats each more than a hundred feet in lengths slicing through the water, propelled by a hundred rowers, their oars synchronized oars songs that urge them on. The upraised and pointed prows of the boats resemble the heads of snakes poised to strike, the reason that these boats are called snake boats. The characteristically shaped boats owe their history to the war boats of the Chembakasherry rulers of the area.
The Alleppey Beach is a popular picnic spot and locals and visitors throng here in the evenings to view rather spectacular sunsets. Vendors sell cotton candy, drinks, ice cream. Alleppey was once a busy port on the Kerala coast and today the ruins of a pier, more than a hundred years old ( that British administrators built to transport goods from and to berthed ships)extends into the sea and is visible from the beach. The Alleppey lighthouse nearby offers spectacular sweeping views and is worth a visit.
Situated very near Alappuzha, life at the idyllic fishing village of Marari still goes on as it has since time immemorial. At the break of dawn fishermen set out to sea to bring in the day’s catch. Guests will soak in the seemingly endless stretches of fine sand on the beach fringed by swaying palms and rippling green fields. Marari is also an idea base from which to explore Kerala’s magnificent backwaters.
The Vembanad lake, Kerala’s longest freshwater lake in Kumarakom is a gateway to the fabled backwaters of Alleppey and a popular destination on the state’s tourist map. The lake teems with bunerous species of marine and freshwater fish, notably, shrimp and ‘karimeen’ (Pearl Spot) and many of the shacks that dot the shores of the lake and canals – shops that serve fresh toddy are also a gourmand’s delight. Remember, no visit to Kumarakom is complete without exploring the fabulous bird sanctuary.
KUMARAKOM BIRD SANCTUARY
Spread along the southern bank of the Kavanar River, the 14 sq.km. bird sanctuary is the favored by numerous flocks of migratory birds besides serving as the residence of indigenous species as well. Once a rubber plantation know as Baker’s Estate, Baker, its former owner developed it into a haven for waterfowl, cuckoos, owls, egrets, herons, cormorants, moorhens, darters, Brahmani kites and ducks. In the season come migratory Siberian cranes, parrots, teals, larks, flycatchers and others.
At dawn, these birds rise out of their forest homes and wing out over the lake. An early morning trek well before sunrise is an ideal time to bird watch.