India’s best-kept secret

Wednesday 12th November 2014

Away from the much-visited and crowded major sites of India, Kerala remains a rather unknown and less-visited area. Rich in microcosms of Indian history and culture, Kerala is a true treasure. Bustling towns, colorful markets, diversified ethnic groups, mythological religions and temples, and a multilayered past of Arab, Portuguese, British, and Dutch influences make up this special place. Its life dates back thousands of years, with connections to a small Jewish community when, during King Solomon’s reign over 2000 years ago, large-scale trade took place between the Middle East and the Malabar Coast.

St. Francis, India’s first European church (ca. 1510), is famed as the original burial site of Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama, who died in Kochi in 1524 while on his third visit to India. Not immune to the turbulence of the colonial era, the originally Catholic St. Francis changed hands – and denominations – with each new power that took control of Kochi, becoming a Protestant Dutch Reformed church under the Dutch in 1663 then Anglican under the English in 1804.

This unforgettable cruise pays a visit to the picturesque Chinese fishing nets unique to Kochi. These iconic land-based nets combine elegance and ingenuity, their massive frames balanced by counterweights manipulated by teams of up to six men.

Cultural performances, such as the highly-dramatic and mimetic Kathakali dance, where facial expressions and hand gestures are combined with movement to create this expressive traditional Kerala artform, depicts great Indian epics for all passengers to enjoy.

Cruising through the Thottappali Lake, breathtaking views are augmented with greenery and life – wildlife, fishing, and scenic nature – along the path. The Spillway ahead splits the lake with the fresh water part to the east and saline Thottappally river mouth to the west merging with the Arabian Sea. All can take in a personal moment on this charming journey.

Cashews, prawns, carpentry, and fishing – all are major elements of Kollam business life to witness. Kollam produces the best cashew in the international market. Prawns are another major produce of the region. Men are adept in creating traditional wooden houseboats and fishing boats. Women are engaged in coir-making, peeling and deveining of prawns, and cashew nut-shelling.

After meeting the people at work and strolling along the shore of this peaceful village, cruise through the lake that runs parallel to the sea separating Alumkadavu village from the coastal line. The lake is alive with the fishing boats and ferries.

Follow along the opposite shore of the backwaters arrive in Amrita Puri, the ashram of Holi Mother Amritanandaayi, for a colorful and picturesque scene of rich Indian spiritual culture. Devotees from across the world come here seeking spiritual enlightenment, surrendering worldly pleasures and engage in serving nature and community.

Visit Chavara Bhavan, located in Alappuzha, the ancestral home of the blessed Kuriakose Elias Chavara. It is now a holy shrine and spiritual resort where thousands of devotees gather for prayer, receive favours, and feel amply gratified. Here, a 250 year old historically important beacon of light is preserved intact in its original and primitive form.
While taking in the vast cultural offerings this cruise provides, both vessels themselves are a mix of traditional and modern design, assuring every comfort whilst not detracting from the authentic feel of a traditional “Kettuvallum” (rice barge). Built in the traditional style, not one nail has been used in the construction. Each plank of wood is joined to the next with strong coir rope then coated with caustic black resin obtained from boiled cashew kernels and fish oils. Solar panels provide the attached bathrooms with hot water and the houseboat is fitted with modern waste disposal units that ensure that there is no trace lest of the journey along the pristine waterways. Each air-conditioned cabin is tastefully decorated with an enchanting mix of antique and modern accessories. All in all, it will be an experience like none other, an occasion never to forget.

SOURCE: Kerala Backwater Cruises

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