Backwaters of beauty and peace

The Vembanad Lake of Kerala is not only the second largest wetland in India, it is also the longest lake in the country. Its beauty and peaceful environment is unparalleled. Although much of that is withering due to pollution and excessive tourist activity, there is enough left for the seekers of tranquility.

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By Journey Man

Fast pace of ‘development’ are depleting natural wastelands, swamps and inland water bodies at a faster pace. This has been proved to be bad for the environment. In such a situation it is gladdening to see the preservation of some wetlands in this country. The Vembanad Lake of Kerala is one of them. It has immense natural beauty, though some of it is in danger through indiscriminate human intervention.

The Vembanad Lake or wetland of Kerala and is considered to be the longest lake in India. It is also the largest lake in Kerala. Spread over an area of more than 2000 sq km it covers the districts of Ernakulam, Kottayam, Thrissur and Alappuzha. The wetland consists of backwaters, lagoons, mangroves, marshes, canals and reclaimed lands. The lake is a part of the Kerala backwaters’ tourism, and houses many aquatic habitats, with beautiful houseboats floating on it and a large number of resorts along the shoreline.

The lake is separated from the Arabian Sea by an island known as the Thanneermukkom barrier to prevent interruption of salt water within the lowlands. Because of this the lake has been divided into two parts. One part is the brackish perennial water and the other is the fresh water from the rivers draining into the Vembanad Lake. There is no natural release of pollutants due to this type of man-made structure hindering the growth of prawns and fish. Several water weeds are developing into it and is hindering ecological balance.

Vembanad Lake emits the hues of sapphire and emerald. The sight of emerald green coconut fringes flanked by the sapphire led backwaters is a treat for the eyes. At 96 km long and 14 km wide, the Vembanad Lake is recognized as not only the longest lake in India but the largest water reservoir in Kerala. Moreover, it is the heart of Kerala backwater. People from around the world come here for a boat ride and to spoil themselves in the scenic beauty of the backwaters.

A complex aquatic system
Vembanad Wetland is spread over the districts of Alappuzha, Kottayam, Ernakulam and Thrissur of Kerala. The wetland has an area of 1521.5 sq km and volume of 0.55 cubic km, fed by 10 rivers flowing into it, adding up to a total drainage area of 15,770 sq km. It is a complex aquatic system of long coastal backwaters, lagoons, marshes, mangroves and reclaimed lands, with intricate networks of natural channels and man-made canals.

The wetland is at the heart of Kerala Backwaters tourism with hundreds of kettuvallams (houseboats) crisscrossing it and numerous resorts nestling on its banks. Five rivers originating in the Western Ghats drain into this water body. The Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary is located on the east coast of the wetland. Vembanad is famous for its scenic beauty and has become a major tourist attraction. However, because of overuse, The area of Vembanad has shrunk from 36,329 hectares in 1834, to 12,504 ha in 1984 and the water holding capacity consequently declined from 2.449 cubic km to 0.559 cubic km.

The wetland was included in the list of wetlands of international importance, as defined by the Ramsar Convention for the conservation and sustainable utilization of wetlands in 2002. It is home to more than 20,000 waterfowls in India. Major livelihood activities include agriculture, fishing, tourism, inland navigation, coir retting, lime shell collection.

Serene and tranquil backwater of Kumarakom turns into a starlit affair during the festival of Onam and snake boat race. During these festivals, the backwater springs back to life as thousands of people gather to cheer for their favourite Chundan Vallams to chase the title of the fastest. More than just a sports event this grand carnival calls the international as well as domestic crowd to cheer the participants getting involved into an energetic activity.

Get in tune with nature
Canoes and houseboats are best recommended to traverse the length and breadth of Vembanad Lake. Life at Vembanad Lake runs at a very slow pace. Vembanad Lake is the place known for its serenity, peace and the aquatic animals that breed here. Houseboat rides in Vembanad Lake will take tourists to the Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary and small islands where they can see paddy plantation, hyacinths, traditional style of fishing, and a sightseeing experience that is truly exhilarating.

Tourists can also spot fascinating yet beautiful avian species that are thriving in the temperate season. For photographers, the lake is nothing less than a bountiful ride that will show them the most pristine form of nature. Surroundings of the lake are too-good-to-be-true.

The vast array of rivers and canals that Kottayam is blessed with, empty themselves into the picturesque Vembanad Lake. It is a lovely place to go for a picnic and has also turned into a prominent backwater destination. There are many boating, fishing and sightseeing options available in the area. The Kumarakom Tourist Village has many house boating and holiday packages available.

Onam brings new life to these waters with stunning Snake Boat Races. As oarsmen in large numbers dictate the rhythm of the water underneath, one is transported to a new dimension altogether.

Ecological importance
Vembanad Kol Wetland was included in the list of wetlands of international importance, as defined by the Ramsar Convention for the conservation and sustainable utilization of wetlands It is home to more than 20,000 waterfowls – the third largest such population in India. It is also an ideal habitat for shrimps. Major livelihood activities of the people living on the shores of the lake include agriculture, fishing, tourism, inland navigation, coir retting, lime shell collection.

The uncontrolled mining of shells from the lake bed is also posing a threat to the ecosystem. The sewage effluents and the heavy load of organic material released from the neighbouring areas including a medical college at Alappuzha are let into the water and are responsible for the decrease in dissolved oxygen content in the water in the water body.

The pollution factor
Heavy metals and pesticides have caused massive contamination in this lake. This, in turn, has created health risks for people living in and around the lake. Studies conducted have showcased that the contamination may lead to the disruption of biochemical processes and the biological body.

In addition, household waste and industrial activities have majorly impacted this zone in Kerala. This has led to the waning of transparency and depth of the Vembanad estuary along with dissolved oxygen level. The decrease in oxygen level is mainly due to houseboat tourism and sewage discharge. Rusted boats, waste dumping and development activities that have been taking place in the canals of Alappuzha have given birth to massive contamination.

Getting there
Nearest railway station: Kottayam, about 13 km
Nearest airport: Cochin International Airport, about 63 km

Best Time To Visit
Vembanad Lake can be visited by tourists at any time of the year. Here you can go for a walk with family or friends at any time of the year. But if we talk about the time of day, then sunset time is the best time to visit Vembanad Kol. At that time the place looked completely different. This is really worth experiencing.

THINGS TO DO
Bird watching: Vembanad has a suitable environment for the flora and fauna found in it. Because of this, the lake is very special for bird watching. You can see different types of colourful birds here. Tourists visit Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary located on the banks of the lake for an exciting birding experience. Where you can see birds like cuckoo, owl, the egret, heron, Brahminy kite, parrot, flycatcher, lark, teal and Siberian crane.

Boat ride: Boating amidst the clear waters and cool breeze is certainly one of the fascinating activities to do in Vembanad Kol. Tourists can choose Night Boat Tours or Day Boat Tours as per their convenience. One can see the surrounding scenery while boating in Vembanad Kol. Along with that, you can spend a pleasant time with your family in the midst of natural beauty. The night boat rides in the lake are also attractive.

KUMARAKOM
The village of Kumarakom is a cluster of little islands on the Vembanad Lake, and is part of the Kuttanad region. The bird sanctuary here, which is spread across 14 acres is a favourite haunt of migratory birds and an ornithologist’s paradise.

Egrets, Darters, Herons, Teals, Waterfowls, Cuckoo, Wild Duck and migratory birds like the Siberian Stork visit here in flocks and fascinate all visitors.
An enchanting backwater destination, Kumarakom offers visitors many other leisure options. Boating and fishing facilities are available at the Taj Garden Retreat, a sprawling old bungalow-turned-resort.

Waterscapes, the backwater resort of the Kerala Tourism Development Corporation has independent cottages built on stilts, set amidst coconut groves offering a panoramic view of the backwaters. Holiday packages involving houseboats and traditional Kettuvallams (rice barges) offer great experiences.

Festivals
The tranquil and serene beauty of the lake is transferred into a crowdie place during the festivals of snake boat race and Onam. A huge number of people gathered around the lake to cheer for their favourite rider. It is something more than sports and the grand carnival invites lots of people from local as well as national places to take pleasure in the energetic activity.

  • Places of interest
  • Vaikom temple- famous Hindu Shiva temple
  • Alappuzha beach– sandy beach offering houseboat tours
  • Kumarakom bird sanctuary- bird watching spot
  • Andrew’s Basilica- the largest shrine of St. Sebastian in the world
  • Kumarakom Museum- Best Antiques Craft Museum in Kerala

    Major tourists attractions
  • Vallam Kali is one of the major and popular snake boat races held in the month of august every year.
  • A backwater cruise would help you to have a close look at the nearby villages and know the life of the people.
  • Exploring the main tourist spot, the island of Pathiramanal on the lake is another major attraction that can be reached only by boat.

    Activities
    For enjoying the beauty of the lake you can take canoes or stay in the houseboats and float along the length and width of the water body. The houseboats can take you to the bird sanctuary and the nearby islands where you can feel a sense of bliss of nature. Water hyacinths, paddy plantation, traditional way of fishing and the green sight all around are really exhilarating. The fascinating avian species can also be spotted by the tourists flourishing in the temperate zone. The wonderful scenario while enjoying the boat ride is truly a lifetime achievement.

    Drawbacks
    The wetland was much bigger in size previously and gradually it is getting dried up due to land reclamation. But still it holds enough water to make it the largest lake in the state as well as in India. A huge pollution is seen to occur in some parts of the lake which resulted in threat to the ecosystem. The uncontrolled shell mining, releasing organic material into the wetland made the oxygen content low in the water. Due to this many aquatic animals are facing threats.


WHERE TO STAY
Kumarakom Lake Resort: Starting price @ Rs 3,599
The rooms, villas and suites at Kumarakom Lake Resort are a perfect blend of Kerala’s traditional architectural charm with luxurious, modern comforts. Each is a careful reconstruction of manas, the 16th century traditional homesteads of Kerala, with many such manas having been transplanted from their original locations and reassembled painstakingly by hand, plank by plank, tile by tile, to create the luxurious abodes at Kumarakom Lake Resort. The traditionally styled, luxuriously modern, open-roofed bathrooms set in small, aesthetically designed courtyards are a common feature to the villas and suites.

Kayaloram Heritage Lake Resort :  Starting price @ Rs 1559
Kayaloram Lake Resort Managed by Mir Group of companies, Kayaloram Heritage Lake Resort,set in the enchanted landscape of Alleppey, offers impeccable services at par with international standards. Ideally suited for business travelers and tourists alike, the resort is set in the lush green settings of Punnamada in Alleppey, the Venice of the east. Kayaloram is a true blend of the rustic ambience of Alleppey and the facilities of a modern resort.The resort also offers an Ayurvedic centre which has all the major treatments.Kayaloram has been classified under the title of Heritage Resort, by the Government of India.Sizzling backwaters Cruising along the stunning and unique backwaters of Alleppey gives you the most enchanting holidaying experience.

The backwater cruise along the narrow canals that interweave the rustic villages of Kuttanad gives you the most awesome experience. Hear the ripples of Vembanad Lake and feel completely relaxed in the rustic charm of the villages. It is fascinating to watch the village girls engaged in the various household chores in front of every house & men doing their daily works.

In a set of traditional Kerala-style cottages, this relaxed garden-set resort overlooking Vembanad Lake is 7 km from both Alleppey LightHouse and Alappuzha Beach.