Living With Our Rapido 963f Le Randonneur Motor Home.

Monday, 3 June 2013

A Cruise On The Canals of India.

In April this year, during our tour of India, we called at Alleppey, or what is now known as Alappuzha. We take our canal system here in the UK for granted  as being part of our industrial heritage, now using for leisure what is left of a network that was designed purely for the transport of industrial goods and food produce. Much has been written and photographed about its history, and how the network is used now, but India also has a network of canals that have developed over hundreds of years, and are still used for transport as part of every day life as well as for leisure and tourism these days.

Alleppey is one of about eight 'backwater' regions in the state of Kerala. The Kerala Backwaters are a chain of brackish lagoons and lakes lying parallel to the Arabian Sea coast of Southern India. These lakes are interconnected by both man made and natural canals, and are fed by 38 rivers. The town was established in 1762 alongside a canal that ran through the strip of sand between the backwaters and the sea. It soon developed into a bustling waterway, with shops, factories, and commercial establishments springing up alongside its banks. This attracted merchants from other parts of India, and by the 19th Century, the sea had receded a mile, offering further land beside the canal to develop into a busy port with trading vessels visiting from other nations, transshipping goods to and from smaller vessels that used the canal system.

In 1859 the first coir, (coconut fibre), loom was established here by an English sea captain, and soon other British owned weaving establishments followed. The commercial importance of Allepey began to decline in the late 1920's as nearby Cochin was developed in to a major sea port. Today, tourism thrives alongside the coir, coconut oil, and fishing industry. The canals themselves still form a large part of everyday life for the local population. The town is no longer a working port, and the beach is now cleaned daily, to be used by the locals, mainly in the evenings and weekends. For those interested in history, as I am, it also remains much as it was in its hey-day, with the old port buildings still in tact but derelict, alongside a now derelict railway, complete with sidings and station that run into town towards the sea front loading pier that is also now derelict, although clearly visible, with railway lines now buried in sand. Our hotel here was The Raheem Residency, which until 2003, had been owned by the family of one of those merchants mentioned above, who came here when the port was thriving over 100 years ago. Use the link to visit their website, the history page is very interesting.

Above - our boat for the day. More like the African Queen than a UK canal narrowboat.

For those with an engineering interest, this is the engine - a 2 cylinder diesel, but what make? It is situated by the helm at the fore end of the boat.

A working boat being loaded with rice. The paddy field is just to the left of the picture.

Another working boat - apparently overloaded, as are many of the vehicles used for transport in India.

A desirable canal side residence. 

Above is a Kettuvallam, or Kerala houseboat. They are based on the design of the original working rice boats, just as our narrowboats are based on the design of the original working boats. These can be hired by the day, or longer, with overnight stays if you wish. They are crewed by a driver, an engineer and a cook. This is the cook preparing vegetables at his work station in the galley. I will provide links to a hire company at the end of this post.

This view is similar to many I have taken on English canals.

Above is a floating supermarket where everything is available to sustain the local population.........

.........and this is how you get to the shop.

Just as we have available to us, there are canal side services along the route.

The marinas are very similar, it is the boat design that is different. This marina is located in Vembanad Lake.

Another working boat. This time the goods are building materials. Unlike our canals today, the Indian canals are still part of everyday life, and are used for washing the dishes, cleaning teeth, and daily hygiene.

Interestingly, boats navigate on the left, and pass starboard to starboard, even though road vehicles in India drive on the left just as we do here.

Here are several links to companies that specialize in this kind of trip.

River and Country is the company we used to hire a Kettuvallam with an overnight stay in October 2011. In April this year we chose a day boat at random from one of the many businesses that operate from the side of the canal in the town of Alleppey.

Here is another company who specialize in this type of hire: Rainbow Cruises.

Our travel agent in India arranged the tour for us, including the hire of the Kettuvallam:

And if I was to make a future trip to India, I would again use Etihad Airways to fly in to Cochin, arrange a driver to be with us for a tour of Kerala, to take in a canal trip of course. But, I would stay around 4 nights in each of these hotels:

Before flying home out of Trivandrum Airport. That would provide a spectacular, and luxurious 3 week holiday in the affluent South of India to anyone who has an interest in canal transport and its history, as well as getting to see many of India's historical sites by road. We have stayed in all but one of the above hotels. They are fabulous! Finally, a slideshow of images from the 2011 trip, which focussed on Kerala as the destination.

Here is a link to the Official Kerala Tourism Website, together with some of their images..... and

And finally, a link to their blog.....

India is the most fascinating place in the world and we can't wait to return.


  1. Nice to read this post. In last year, i visited Kerala with my friends in the office. Houseboat journey was an awesome experience. One of my friend in India suggested me "ToursInIndia"for the trip. We had a wonderful time there enjoying the karimeen and tharavu curries.

  2. Very interesting post. Ofcourse, Kerala is very beautiful place to visit. We can enjoy the beauty of nature in Kerala, especially in Kumarakom. There we will get an opportunity to enjoy boat cruise through backwaters of Kerala. For best houseboats in kumarakom and for getting various houseboat packages, just contact "Kumarakomhouseboatholidays".


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