Kerala and backwaters are two sides of a coin, a visit to Kerala is incomplete without its backwaters. The most popular way to explore Kerala backwaters is by a houseboat, where you can stay overnight, meals are prepared in the boat and it cruises in Vembanad lake & some canals. Most of the time these houseboats revolve around Alleppey area. If you don’t want to spend so much on houseboats or maybe you are not comfortable staying on the water in these then Shikara boats are another option to see a part of backwaters. These two are most common and popular ways to explore the Kerala backwaters. There is another way to explore the backwaters i.e. traveling by Tourist Boat service between Alleppey to Kollam or Kollam to Alleppey. These tourist boats are double-decker and run by Kerala State Water Transport Department (SWTD).
The boat service starts at 10.30 A.M. on all days from Alleppey and Kollam. The booking offices open around 09.00 AM and boats are parked in the canal so that if you arrive early you can keep your luggage and settle in boats. There is no online ticket booking system so it is recommended to arrive early during peak season to get a seat.
I visited the SWTD office a day before the travel because I was staying in Alleppey town. The friendly guy at SWTD office told me that come in the morning and board the boat for Kollam. I was a bit anxious so I reached the jetty before 09.00 AM. The jetty in-charge and crew members of the boat were already there.
When I inquired about my boat, they pointed toward a double decor boat. As I reached the boat, another guy came and help me in keeping my luggage.
There was an area on lower deck assigned for keeping passenger’s luggage. There was still more than an hour for boat’s departure so I came down. Other passengers also started coming and the boat started filling with people.
There were a couple of shops inside the boat station compound and I bought the water bottle and some snacks for the journey. The boat station was clean and well maintained but the water in the canal was not clean. There were many Shikara boats around the Alleppey jetty.
Our boat departed on time from Alleppey. The journey from Alleppey took us through Punnamads Canal, where the world famous Nehru Trophy Boat Race is conducted and have the training center of the Sports Authority of India (SAI).
I could have “claimed” a seat on the upper deck as I reached early but I decided to sit in the lower deck because it was less crowded and it was easier to move around. There were no grills on the windows and it was easier to take photographs. The upper deck was full as there were fewer seats and most people were preferring the upper deck.
I saw some small churches, tree houses and a man catching fish (I was told Meen Moily) with hand.
The boat enters the Vembanad lake, after covering Pallana, we stopped at the village for Lunch. It was a small lakeside house converted into the restaurant. There were two options i.e. Vegetarian Thali or Nonvegetarian Thali. The only difference between two thalis was the additional fried fish in Nonveg thali. Food was made Kerala style, it was basic but fresh and good in taste. It was a small place so everyone from boat shared the table with other fellow travelers.
After lunch, we boarded the boat and started our onward journey. The boat then entered Thottappally where a huge spillway is constructed in between the lake and the sea to regulate the water flow between Lake and the Arabian Sea. There were two gates, which were manually opened by a man and our boat entered the Arabian sea. The backwaters are slightly lower than the sea in this area that’s why these gates were made to control the flow of water from one direction to another.
From here the journey resumes through the Kayamkulam Lake. I saw a floating church in backwaters.
Here I saw the fishermen in boats, a houseboat which is regarded as one of the best for Ayurveda treatment, and rows of many Chinese fishing nets are erected in the water. These Chinese fishing nets on both sides of the boat’s track looked interesting.
Soon after we approached Amritapuri, the headquarters of is Mata Amritanadamayi Mutt. The high twin towers next to backwater are known as Amrithapuri. This is the Ashram of the spiritual leader Mata Amritanandamayi. Some foreign tourist got down here as they were staying the Ashram for next one week. Most of the foreigners use the Kollam boat service because it is closer to the Amritapuri Ashram but some of them came all the way from Alleppey in our boat.
Our next stop was the Green Channel resort in Alumkadavu for a tea break.
Finally, we were back on board for our last leg of the journey to Kollam. I saw some villages, a small church, some resort on the side of backwaters as our boat approached towards Kollam.
I saw the sunset in backwaters, while on boat.
The crew members were friendly and helpful. One person was handling the engine controls from the rear of the boat and another person was steering from the front of the lower deck. Since I was sitting on the lower deck and the crew members gave me information about the places we passed on the way. They told me that the boat travels during the day and parked overnight at the destination. They return back the next day.
The travel by this boat took me from narrow canals to wide lakes. This eight hour-long journey was an unforgettable experience for me.
Also see surrounding areas Thekkady, Periyar, Kumarakom – Jewels of Kerala
Important things to know before traveling by “Tourist Boat Service” –
* The distance between Alleppey to Kollam is 80 Km.The boat departs from Alleppey and Kollam at 10.30 and reaches the destination at 18.30. Keep in mind the travel time.
* If you want to “Claim” a seat on upper deck then reach early.
* There is a basic toilet on board the boat and lunch & tea stops also have washrooms facility.
* The boat stop for lunch and tea en-route on a lakeside cafe.
* Most travelers preferred upper deck for a better view of surroundings and for taking photographs that’s why it is more crowded.
* The roof of the upper deck is comparatively low and that’s why it is not easy to move around.
* The boat trip runs all year except the monsoon months from June to August.
* The boat is not airconditioned so it becomes hot during the month of May.
* The boats are most crowded during holiday season near New Year and Dusshera holidays.
* This trip is not for everyone particularly people with small children due to the duration of the trip. However, it is one of the best ways to explore the Kerala backwaters.
* Call or visit the Kerala State Water Transport Department office in Alleppey or Kollam to check the running status of boats because sometimes due to the maintenance of boats or bridges on the way, they stop the service for a couple of days.