Fringing the coast of Kerala and winding far inland is a vast network of lagoons, lakes, rivers and canals. These backwaters are both the basis of a distinct lifestyle and a fascinating thoroughfare. Travelling by boat along the backwaters is one of the highlights of a visit to Kerala. The boats cross shallow, palm-fringed lakes studded with cantilevered Chinese fishing nets, and travel along narrow, shady canals where  coir (coconut fibre), copra(dried coconut meat) and cashews are loaded onto boats.

Along the way are small settlements where people live on narrow spits of reclaimed land only a few metres wide.  Although practically surrounded by water, they still manage to keep cows,pigs,chickens and ducks and cultivate small vegetable gardens. Prawns and fish, including the prized karimeen, are also farmed, and dredged by hand to be later burnt with coal dust to produce lime. O the more open stretches of canal, traditional boats with huge sails and prominent prows drift by. The sight of three or four of these sailing towards you in the late afternoon sun is unforgettable.

Backwater Village Tours

An increasingly popular way to explore the backwaters is on a village tour. Usually this involves small groups of less than 10 people, a knowledgeable guide and an open work boat or covered kettuvallam. The tours last from 2 1/2 to six hours. You are taken to villages to watch coir making, boat building, toddy tapping and fish farming, and on the longer trips a traditional Kerala lunch is provided. These tours are more rewarding to the tourist and the villagers, and they are very accessible-some of the best village tours operate out of Kochi.