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Cruising the Kerala Backwaters

Cruising the Kerala Backwaters Cruising the Kerala Backwaters
£ 2890

Join Marie-Thérèse on a pioneering cruise through Kerala from the ancient port town of Alleppey (Alappuzha) to the modern port city Cochin (Kochi), passing through Kottayam, land of latex and spices. Travel aboard a traditional 9-cabin wooden rice barge on what promises be an enlightening as well as an extremely relaxing holiday.

Kerala has an extensive network of water ways that lace its interior coastline, stretching along almost its entire length of around 600kms. It is a land of copious rainfall which flows from the hills and mountain passes in freshwater canals and streams to join the 40 odd rivers in the State. This labyrinthine network of canals, streams and rivers, which converge to form lagoons, make up the Backwaters and give rise to a unique eco system which is a haven for nature.

The area has been named by National Geographic as the Green Venice of the East due to the green coconut trees which turn the backwaters an emerald shade of green, with the setting sun adding splashes of red, all contributing to the serenity of this tropical destination. The water-ways team with life as wooden boats are the only way of travelling between villages and along the way we will visit temples, churches, marketplaces, paddy fields, beaches and boat building yards. We will learn about and experience the vibrant culture of the region including coir handloom weaving, snake boat regattas, traditional toddy tapping, local dances, martial arts and festivals.

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12 days from
per person
Tour Date:
3rd November 2021 -
14th November 2021
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Day 1-3 London / Cochin
London / Cochin

Day 1:

Suggested flights (not included in the cost of the tour) Emirates EK2 departing London Heathrow at 13.40 hrs.

Day 2:

Arrive in Dubai at 00.40 hrs and connect to EK530 departing Dubai at 02.45 hrs arriving Cochin at 08.05 hrs. Transfer to the Taj Malabar Resort & Spa where two nights are spent. Situated on Willingdon Island with a magnificent view of Cochin harbour, the Taj Malabar Hotel combines old-world elegance with modern day convenience. The Heritage Wing of the hotel was built in 1935 and houses graceful Victorian interiors whilst the Tower Wing rooms mix the classic with the contemporary. With varied restaurants and a fantastic swimming pool this is an excellent hotel in which to relax. Dinner under own arrangements.

Day 3:

Walking tour of Mattancherry, the bustling part of Old Fort Cochin and the epicentre of the spice trade for centuries. The tour reveals Cochin’s multi-layered past, a rich brew of Arab, Portuguese, British, and Dutch influences. See St. Francis Church, India’s first European church famed as the original burial site of Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama. Next visit the picturesque Chinese fishing nets, unique to Cochin, introduced by the Chinese explorer Zheng He in the 14th century.

Lunch under own arrangements. Afternoon at leisure. Welcome dinner at the Rice Boat Restaurant.

Day 4 Cochin / Maradu / Vaikom
Cochin / Maradu / Vaikom

Check out and drive to the nearby village of Nettoor to visit a Kalari – a training centre for Kalaripayattu, the martial art form of Kerala – and witness a performance. Drive to Maradu Village in the southern part of Ernakulam (the urban area of Cochin) to embark on the river cruise boat RV Vaikundam.

Traditional lunch on board. Set sail to explore the Backwaters of Cochin, a magnificent network of waterways formed along the coastal belt by the rivers from the Western Ghats before draining into the Arabian Sea. Talk on Cochin, the Queen of the Arabian Sea, and its geographical, cultural and social significance. Stop at the ancient village of Vaikom in Kottayam, the land of natural rubber latex and spices. Walk to the cultural centre in Vaikom to watch a performance of the traditional dance Kathakali. Tuk tuk ride to the ancient Temple of Shiva, one of the largest in Kerala, where following Keralan tradition each element of the temple represents an element of the human body. Dinner on board.

Day 5 Chenganda / Kumarkakom
Chenganda / Kumarkakom

Cruise to Chenganda Village and see the locals making coir, demonstrating how to collect mussels and prawns and their indigenous methods of fishing and coconut farming. Return to the boat and cruise through the Thanneermukkom Barrage which divides the lake into two: one half with perennial saltwater and the other with freshwater enriched by the rivers.

Lunch at a farmhouse located on an island which was made by the men of the house, by reclaiming land from the Backwaters. Take a walk on the farm and enjoy a demonstration of traditional Syrian Christian cuisine by the mother and her daughter-in-law. Return to the boat and continue cruising. Dinner on board.

Day 6 Kumarkakom & Lake Vembanad / Kavalam
Kumarkakom & Lake Vembanad / Kavalam

Early this morning set out by local boat to watch the migratory as well as endemic birds of Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary, which is made up of a cluster of lagoons of Lake Vembanad with a backdrop of mangroves, paddy fields and coconut groves. Waterfowl, cuckoo, owl, egret, heron and the water duck are some of the endemic species seen here. Parrots, teal, larks, flycatchers, wood beetle, and other birds are seen here during their respective migratory seasons. Return to the boat for breakfast. Cruise the lake, passing expanses of the oldest paddy cultivating regions reclaimed from the lake and below sea level.

Lunch on board. Arrive in Kavalam where the River Pampa reverses its course and drains into Lake Vembanad. Take the local ferry to explore the region, walk along the dykes surrounding the expanses of paddy fields and interact with the farmers and a women’s collective. Cruise on until sunset and, along the way, meet toddy tappers and learn about the process of making toddy, a local alcoholic beverage made from the sap of the flower of coconut palm and usually consumed accompanied by tapioca. Dinner on board.

Day 7 Kainakari / Chavara Bhawan / Mankompu
Kainakari / Chavara Bhawan / Mankompu

Cruise to Kainakari, another vibrant village in the interior, and take a local boat through the narrow canals. Stop at Chavara Bhavan, the ancestral home of Saint Kuriakose Chavara, the first canonised Catholic male saint of Indian origin. The ancestral home of the Saint has now been preserved as a museum.

Lunch on board. Continue cruising with an onboard talk by an Ayurveda doctor about this ancient form of treatment and holistic way of life. Arrive in Mankompu village and see a cultural performance. Dinner on board.

Day 8 Aranmula / Champakkulam / Changankari
Aranmula / Champakkulam / Changankari

Drive to Aranmula Village which is home to a family of craftsmen who are skilled at making mirror from a special combination of certain metals. Visit the workshop of the mirror makers whose secret formula has been passed down through generations. See the nearby ancient temple of Krishna ‘Aranmula Sree Parthasarthy’.

Lunch at a local house with beautiful architecture, located on the banks of the Pampa, the holy river of natives. Visit the institute of Traditional Architecture and Mural Painting. Return to the boat and cruise to Champakkulam Village, settled more than 1000 years ago by Syrian Christian traders, who later converted to Roman Catholicism under the Portuguese. Their cultural heritage can be seen in the monumental St. Mary’s Church on the riverside, built in 1550. Visit the church and meet the local tailors and artisans who make biblical figurines. Cruise on to the remote village of Changankari. Dinner on board.

Day 9 Changankari / Thottappalli
Changankari / Thottappalli

Early morning walk in Changankari Village. Continue sailing towards the coastal village of Thottappalli, passing by the spillway in the southern area of Kuttanad, which prevents the saline water at river mouth from flooding the low-lying paddy fields. Learn about indigenous practices of paddy cultivation on reclaimed land below sea level.

Stop to plant a coconut sapling to mark the cruise. The coconut tree is considered the ‘Kalpavriksha’ or the Divine tree of Kerala because all parts of coconut tree are used in one way or the other. Drop anchor at Thottapalli and take a walk along the beach to see local coastal life. Dinner on board.

Day 10 Mannar / Karumadi / Kanjippadom
Mannar / Karumadi / Kanjippadom

Drive to visit a temple where serpents are worshipped, the only temple with female priests, and see the rituals. Continue by road to Mannar Village, famous for ornate locks, lamps and vessels used in temples.

Return to the boat for lunch. Arrive in Karumadi Village. Here an 11th-century statue of Buddha is preserved in a small shrine. After taking a walk through this quiet and rustic village, cruise to Kanjippadom Village to visit a boat yard where traditional wooden boats are built and repaired. You might be able to see the art of traditional Kettuvallum or coir rope lashed wooden plank boat building. Return to the boat for a farewell dinner.

Day 11 Punnamada / Alleppey / Cochin
Punnamada / Alleppey / Cochin

Cruise to Punnamada Lake, where the annual Snake Boat Race is held using traditional boats, once maritime war boats, decorated in Keralan style. Cruise to Alleppey, the ancient port town, criss-crossed by rivers, lakes, canals, lagoons and paddy fields, known as the Venice of the East. Disembark and take walk through the marketplace. Transfer to Cochin.

Lunch at the Courtyard by Marriott Hotel. Overnight at the Courtyard by Marriott Hotel. Dinner under own arrangements.

Day 12 Cochin / London

Transfer to Cochin Airport for suggested flights (not included) Emirates EK531 departing at 09.40 hrs arriving Dubai at 12.10 hrs. Connect to Emirates flight EK3 departing Dubai at 14.30 hrs arriving London Heathrow at 18.20 hrs.

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