Chennamkary, village life in the Backwaters

Update 27/02/2014: Kerala Tourism officially announced I will be part of KBE 🙂 Yay!


UPDATE 02/01/2014: We’re competing to take part into a wonderful blog trip to Kerala. If you want to support us and see us go back to Kerala to take photographs and blog about it, please click the image below and vote for us:

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One of the things we were most curious about in Kerala, were the famous backwaters which “are a network of interconnected canals, rivers, lakes and inlets, a labyrinthine system formed by more than 900 km of waterways” (read more on this Wikipedia article).

This is a very touristy attraction and a huge business for locals. Most people who want to do the backwaters, rent a house boat for 24 hours. The prices are very high by Indian standards – about 80€ minimum.

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A typical Kerala houseboat

Even though the boat was a very tempting option, we decided that it would be more interesting to stay in a village in the backwaters and see how people live there.

So we took a ferry from Allepey (for those travelling in a shoestring, the local ferry is a great way to see the backwaters for a very low price – I think we payed 5 rupees each) and went to a little village called Chennamkary, where we had booked a room in a home stay type of accommodation. The room was the most expensive we had in India, but it was still a lot cheaper than doing the houseboat.

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On a ferry to Chennamkerry – a 5 rupees public ferry can be a good way to get a taste of the backwaters without having to spend lots of money.

At sunset we went for a walk with one of the owners, Matthew, who showed us what life along the backwaters looks like. He told us that the literacy levels are very high and perhaps for that reason the caste system almost doesn’t exist anymore in the area and everyone is treated fairly and equally (people are more aware of their rights). However, he said that one of the problems with people going further in their studies is that no one wants to work in the fields or do manual works. They are loosing the traditional way of working which is being replaced by machines.

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A silhouette of palm trees at sunset.

Matthew also explained us that during the monsoon there are normally flooding and he remembers as a child to have water up to his knees in his home. He told us that he, his brother and sister, used to catch fishes with their hands and give them to their mother, so she could cook them straight away.

During the walk he took us to the rice paddies, but the rice had been harvested just few days before, so we couldn’t see the green fields, but just water – which was still so beautiful and scenic, especially at sunset.

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A tree reflecting on the water in the rice paddy at sunset.
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A couple of water buffaloes in the rice paddy.
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Clouds reflecting on the water in the rice paddy.

We finished the walk and jumped on a canoe with Matthew and some local young boys. They sang to us some traditional songs in Malayalam (the language spoken in Kerala). Some of these songs were the songs that rice workers used to sing decades before, while working in the rice paddies. Matthew explained to us that he learned these songs from the elders in the village, and because he loves traditions he wants to keep them alive.

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Two mud diggers working at the rice paddy.
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Rice paddy workers taking a break.

We enjoyed so much this walk that we decided to do also a 4 hour morning walk organized by the home stay. This time our guide was Binu, who is a painter, but gives these walks for Matthew as a part time work to make some extra money.

Walking in the backwater villages was a really nice experience. He seemed to know everyone and everyone seemed to love him. He showed us the different plants, trees and flowers and showed us how local people use them for different purposes. He made whistles out of tree leaves and soap bubbles out of a little tree branch. Amazing 🙂

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Detail of a red flower.
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Our guide Binu shows us a pepper plant.
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Ants on a pipe.
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The local fishmonger selling door-to-door, going from one house to another with his bicycle.
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A villager.

Before taking a ferry back ‘home’, we stopped for a wonderful Keralan breakfast.

It was the most expensive Indian experience we made, but it was worth every cent. There are few other options if you want to get a taste of the backwaters, but for us going to Chennamkary was more rewarding than living on a boat house for 24 (or more) hours.

One thing that struck me was the total absence of roads, and therefore there were no cars, motorbikes, etc. The only means of transportation were bicycles and canoes, or other types of boats. Also there were no offices, except one bank and a number of food shops – some of these shops are places where people gather to socialize and in some cases men also drink Toddy (a typical coconut-based liquor). Another thing that we loved about the village was its peace. We went to bed and woke up with the sounds of the nature.

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Canoes are the main means of transportation in Chennamkary.

Because Chennamkary put our budget to some stress we just stayed one night. Around lunchtime the day after, we took a ferry back to Alleppey, and went back to cheap life 🙂

In Alleppey we stayed in a nice home stay for a honest price and took it easy (and also worked on the blog) for a couple of days before heading to Munnar to see the Kannan Devan tea plantations.

To see the complete set of pictures visit our Flickr account or our Facebook page.

To discover more about the Keralan backwaters, check