One of Kerala’s most valuable assets is the inland water system: 45 rivers and 1,500 miles of interconnected lakes, lagoons and channels that are called backwater. While the direct translation of the word means still water (first associations being mostly negative e.g. cloud of mosquitos above the dirty water), actually it’s completely opposite. Backwater is an unique salt and fresh water way system that was historically created for spices and rice transportation from one village to another and is still being used an alternative water path; all of which has been surrounded by hundreds of different shades of green (no exaggeration here!!!).
Once the only mean to use this water path was special wooden boats known as local kettuvallom. When roads were build and an alternative transportation system developed, boats gave up the important role to cars. As of today, boats are used only to carry sand necessary for construction or in places cars can’t reach.
Perhaps boats would have fallen into a complete oblivion if some local tourism legend Babu Verghese would not have been struck by a genius idea: turn a random boat into a floating hotel. Traditional sails and oars were substituted with a Yamaha engine and bamboo roof. Floating house project debuted in 1993. Now, everyone who is hard working enough, have build one by himself. It’s now estimated there is around 200 floating hotels – one and two bedroom luxury accommodations – in the waters of Kerala.
People stand in long ques to have a ride with one! Sometimes the motion in the water is so intense that it gets pretty frightening; traffic lights would save the day and my nerves, too…
The surrounding scenery is so comprehensively beautiful that even the biggest cynic would become at least a bit mushy. Some mother washer her child by the shore of the canal, the boy gives me a shy look. I notice the coconuts drying in the sun next to him.. LIFE here is so transparent.. Probably because all villages are clustered around the water.
In some narrow channel our boat was slowly trying to maneuver through the water hyacinth carpet, a moment later flowers retract leaving no trace. Hyacinths are subtle: extremely magnificent on the one hand, but a sign of contamination on the other. Rice fields are generously scattered with minerals in many places, surrounding houses drain their sewerage directly in water, tourist boats have diesel engines and majority them don’t have chemical toilers. The volume of fish has considerably diminished. Moreover, the clean water in Kerala domestic channel system is significantly shrinking, leaving the government with only two options: either to open the floodgates and let ocean salt water into the system so that it could heal everything or watch pollution spreading.
Three years ago the State of Kerala issued an order to control and manage the pollution of inland water system. In reality, it’s extremely complicated task due to small official human resources and there’s too little funding to increase the capacity as well. If a couple of years You could safely swim in Vembanad lake, now it is something only a mad man would do…