Boats, Beaches, And Culture: A Guide To Alappuzha In Kerala

Hang out at Alappuzha Beach which has an old lighthouse and a century-old pier. Explore the backwaters in a houseboat. Take in a dose of culture. There is much to do in Alappuzha
Tree-lined canals of Alappuzha
Tree-lined canals of AlappuzhaChristian Ouellet/Shutterstock

Discover the magical charm of Alappuzha, popularly known as the Venice of the East. This stunning destination in Kerala is an ideal getaway for those who wish to immerse in a rich maritime history, beautiful backwaters, and a beach with an ancient lighthouse and pier. The Alappuzha beach is also known for adventure sports. And don't miss the famous boat races. Carved out of erstwhile Kottayam and Kollam (Quilon) districts, the district was formed in August 1957. Incidentally, this region had a prominent role in various social movements. The campaign for the eradication of untouchability was organised in this district by erstwhile journalist TK Madhavan in 1925, when the approach roads to the temples, especially to Ambalappuzha Sree Krishna Swami temple, were thrown open to all castes under Hinduism. Here is a guide to the many charms of Alappuzha.

Enjoy The Beachfront

Yes, the famous backwaters await, but first let's talk about Alappuzha Beach. This stunning beach has an old lighthouse and a century-old pier at the Vijaya Beach Park. In the past, Alappuzha was known as the busiest coast south of Mumbai, and its canals and backwaters helped with the transportation of cargo to the sea.

The striking lighthouse on Alappuzha beach
The striking lighthouse on Alappuzha beach Augustin09/Shutterstock

The lighthouse and pier were essential for the boats that ferried across and facilitated trade. Today, the 1,000-ft-long pier, built in 1862 by a certain Captain Hugh Crawford, still has a distinct colonial charm. Additionally, there's a children's park run by the District Tourism Promotion Council (DTPC), which is quite nice despite the garishly painted swings.

A Dose Of Adventure Sports

If you are into adventure tourism, don't miss the chance to have a bird's eye view of the Arabian Sea. The District Tourism Promotion Council (DTPC) of Alappuzha has introduced sports such as parasailing, and catamaran sailing on the beaches of Alappuzha. You can also walk over a floating sea bridge here.

The beach has many attractions
The beach has many attractionsEric Al/Shutterstock

Explore Life On The Backwaters

Alappuzha, also known as the Venice of the East, has an extensive network of canals that are worth exploring. There are several navigable canals, and in the east, they open to the Punnamada Kayal, which connects the city to a mesh of backwater trails that are abuzz with reinvented kettuvalloms (houseboats). The kettuvalloms were originally used to transport rice and spices. With modernisation, kettuvalloms began to lose their utility, but soon it was discovered that these boats, which were strong enough to last several generations, could be repurposed into houseboats for travellers to cruise down the backwaters.

Inside a houseboat sailing on the Kerala backwaters
Inside a houseboat sailing on the Kerala backwatersCYSUN/Shutterstock

In the backwaters, a freshwater and saltwater ecosystem, you can experience a slow-paced way of life. As your boat glides through the channels, the banks, adorned with coconut trees, look like one long tapestry. The boats move silently over the water, providing an excellent opportunity for bird watching. Meanwhile, their in-house kitchen will serve you dishes from the vast range of Kerala cuisine. As you drift past, you will see people fishing, children in uniform rowing their canoes, and kingfishers swooping into the water with a flash of brilliant blue.

The backwaters of Alappuzha also offer kayaking opportunities. Kayaking through the palm-fringed waterways is an excellent opportunity to experience village life at close quarters.

Get A Feel Of Maritime History

A houseboat sailing in Alappuzha backwaters
A houseboat sailing in Alappuzha backwaterssaiko3p/Shutterstock

Alappuzha has a rich maritime history. It is believed that Raja Kesavadas, who was the Dewan of Travancore in the 18th century, played a significant role in developing Alappuzha and its port. Goods were transported from the hinterland via the Vembanad Lake and then loaded onto ships bound for foreign shores. In the 19th century, Alappuzha became an important centre for coir manufacturing and shipping. The town even had a sea bridge for loading and unloading cargo from ships. During this period, Alappuzha experienced significant development and enjoyed its golden age. However, in the 20th century, after the port in Kochi began to flourish, Alappuzha lost its maritime importance.

The upcoming Alappuzha Heritage Project is expected to highlight this aspect by showcasing the unique history, culture, and heritage of the region. Several dilapidated heritage buildings are being converted into exhibition spaces to showcase the area's rich past. The project will comprise around 20 museums, 11 memorials, and five other public places. Read more about it here.

Experience The Boat Races

Snake boat races in Alappuzha
Snake boat races in AlappuzhaAJP/Shutterstock

The Nehru Trophy Boat Race named after Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru is conducted on the Punnamda Lake, near Alappuzha, on the second Saturday of August every year. The highlight of the race are the elaborate snake boats with their curved hoods. Thousands come from across the world every year to witness the spectacular Chundan Vallams (snake boats) race to traditional chants and drum beats on the lake. Read more about it here.

A Dose Of Culture

This region also has a rich history of cultural forms. For instance, Chavittu Natakam, is an art form that originated in Kerala's Latin Christian community during the 15th century. The troupes used to travel from place to place, performing for 14 days, and drew huge crowds. The small island of Gothuruthu, located near North Paravur of Ernakulam district, is the birthplace of this unique art form that evolved from a blend of elements. You can also witness the magic of Kalaripayattu, an ancient martial art form, in numerous venues across Alappuzha.

Go On A Temple Trail

The 500-year-old Mullakkal temple is a grand temple built in the traditional Kerala style. The main deity here is Goddess Durga. Other deities in the temple include Lord Hanuman, Lord Ganesha, Lord Krishna, Lord Ayyappa, Nagaraja, and the Navagraha (the nine planets). It hosts the annual Mullakkal Chirappu festival which lasts for 41 days.

Address: F8WV+Q8R, Mullackal Rd, Mullakkal, Alappuzha, Kerala 688011

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