Kerala backwaters

The Backwaters and Hill Stations of Kerala: Top Attractions and Things to Do

culture: kerala houseboat on backwaters

In two weeks, I will be embarking on a journey to Kerala, a place for years I have longed to see. I was first intrigued to visit this lush area of southern India when a friend told me about its peaceful backwaters and the quiet easy pace of life. He said Kerala was the most “serenely beautiful place on Earth,” which made him return once a year to glide along its gentle brackish lagoons, lakes and canals. Life happened on these rivers, he said to me, and there was no better way to soak in the local culture than from the ledge of a kettuvallams (Kerala houseboat).

So I planned a trip to Kerala seven days ago because I realized there are some things in life that should not wait. I have only one week to explore all that I wish to see, which will be difficult, but not impossible. With guidance from several people living in Kerala, I was able to plan out a trip that should give me a glimpse into the region’s art, historic sites, food culture, stunning natural landscapes and way of life. All of the people I spoke with recommended visiting Fort Cochin (Kochi’s colonial district), a hill station and the backwaters.


Fort Cochin

Here, the cosmopolitan history of Kerala’s colonial trade is well preserved. Great shopping and dining are abound in this area of Kochi, and so are several museums and religious sites. A stroll over to the port for a glimpse of the Chinese fishing nets is a must-see. The size and elegant construction of the nets are said to be photogenic, and the slow rhythm of their operation quite hypnotic. Local catches can be purchased individually and brought to a street vendor who will cook it onsite for you.


Hill Station

Munnar, Wayanad, Periyar, or any villages in the Cardamom Hills region of the Western Ghats promise spectacular views and peaceful settings. Finding a reputable homestay may be the best way to explore the myriad spice plantations, sample delicious home-cooked Malayalam cuisine, and participate in guided treks through some of the wildlife sanctuaries scattered throughout the region. Avoid tours specifically set up for tourists and opt for a local guide who will most likely show you around on foot.


The Backwaters

Floating along this web of waterways may be the highlight of one’s stay in Kerala. At its heart is Vembanad Lake, where a cluster of islands surrounded by lush tropical waterways and low-lying paddy fields are spread about the lake’s network of rivers and canals. This area, known as Kumarakom, is what most dream about before coming to Kerala. Here, travelers can indulge in Ayurvedic therapies, visit the Bird Sanctuary or disembark on a day cruise to explore a way of life that has remained the same for centuries.


 Photo by: flickr/rowland_rick

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The Culture-ist