Kerala Backwaters – what are they?
The Kerala backwaters are a network of brackish lagoons and lakes lying alongside the Arabian coast. This coast is also known as the Malabar coast of Kerala state in Southern India, and includes a myriad of interconnected canals, rivers, and inlets, formed by more than 900 kilometres (560 miles) of waterways.
The network includes five large lakes linked by canals. The backwaters were formed by the action of waves and shore currents creating low barrier islands across the mouths of the many rivers. In the midst of this landscape there are a number of towns and cities, which serve as the starting and end points of backwater cruises.
The Kerala backwaters – stay at the Ourland Hotel
We wanted to experience the Keralan backwaters and had booked rather randomly into the Ourland Island Resort hotel, an eco hotel, marooned on its own little island. As the narrow red dirt road ran through the vivid green paddy fields, it just simply ran out altogether at the edge of the glittering lake. We wondered where on earth we were going.
An old man in a canoe (who turned out to be called Bhanu) came paddling around the corner with a big smile on his face. He proceeded to pile our rather large cases in a precarious manner onto his rather narrow little wooden canoe. He then paddled us out to the Ourland hotel nestled on its own little verdant island in the middle of the gleaming expanse of water.
The Ourland Island Resort is quite a special destination. It has won many awards for responsible tourism, and the accommodation is chic and pristine in small white bungalows. Stay in the tree house if you like, as an aerial alternative. You will find the light switch in the tree trunk!
You eat your meals together with the other guests assembled from simple and nutritious local food from fresh ingredients. Afternoon tea is served promptly at 4pm in the English tradition. Masala tea of course.
Kerala backwaters – the sunset cruise
We arrived just in time to join the nightly sunset canoe cruise. As we glided out into the waterways we got to see hundreds of nestling egrets descend upon the one special tree they favour on the Ourland Island.
Huge fruit bats swoop across the sky as the evening draws in. We stop at one of the duck farms to see a huge flock of 5,000 young Indian Runner ducks – doing a bit of Indian running around their pen. Ducks are kept for their meat and for their eggs.
We could see the tourist houseboats returning to base after their daily outings but being so close to nature from canoe level is hard to beat.
Aryuvedic treatments at the Ourland Hotel
Specialist Aryuvedic treatments are available here. I had a very oily and surprisingly firm massage from a tiny beautiful 18 year old Indian girl. This was followed by a steaming session in a strange Dr Kellog type wooden steam box. Next came a shower with a strange black liquid soap which left my hair gorgeously soft and shiny. It was supposed to be totally rejuvenating and I certainly felt quite relaxed afterwards.
In the morning before breakfast we enjoyed walking around the waterways with our guide to bird watch. We also got to see how the local people live along the banks of these expansive natural waterways. Ratheesh was a mine of information as he showed us around. Sporting his binoculars and his birds of the Indian Sub continent book.
Children go to school by foot and on bicycle, people are fishing, and washing and working. Animals relax about and within the small dwellings. Cats and goats and chickens all seem to get on fine. The intense green of the lush paddy fields, Kerala’s rice bowl, are the permanent backdrop.
Explore the villages and backwaters of Kerala
Kingfishers, Kites and Orioles and Herons all thrive here. There are actually over 106 species of birds to be identified from around the Ourland estate. These unique waterways are beautiful tranquil places and well worth exploring if you get the chance.
The Ourland estate is an intelligent tourism destination with only a small number of rooms. Everything you eat here is organic. There is no Wifi either, so you really do have to detach from the modern world.
You can swing lazily in a hammock and enjoy the peace and quiet of somewhere that is a very much an away from it all destination. All too soon it was time for us to repackage ourselves and our cases into the small canoe and paddle off to take a taxi to Cochin the next destination on our adventure.
Check out the next stage of our trip as we reach Cochin