A world reclaimed from the sea by Parashurama according to Hindu mythology, a world that is a geographical marvel, a world where waterways are a way of life – such is the world that dwells in the backwaters of Kerala. This world is a crisscross of backwaters of the several rivers that cascade down the Western Ghats and link several emerald clusters of low lying islands.
Running almost parallel to the Arabian Sea, the freshwater from the rivers teasingly interact with the salt water. Human intervention has erected a barrage near Kollam to check the flow of sea water and keep river water fresh. This fresh water is used to grow crops and plays a major role in the emerald look of this world. This unique confluence is home to several species of aquatic life like turtles, otters, crabs, frogs, fishes, kingfishers, terns, cormorants and darters being a few of them.
The primary tourist attraction of this world are the houseboats – kettuvallams. Originally used to transport grains, these houseboats have now metamorphosed literally into a house floating on water with modern amenities while offering a natural view of the pristine surroundings. The construction of a kettuvallam is exemplary of harmonious living with the environment. Made of planks of jack-wood bound together with coir without the use of any nails, it is ensured that even the black resin that coats the boat is made by boiling cashew kernels.
For the locals the topography not only provides livelihood as a tourist attraction but also positively impacts employment opportunities in the boat making and coir industry. Backwaters are a part of life of this world with most families owing a small canoe or boat, ferry services as public transport, children playing and women catching fresh fish for dinner in the rivulets that flow just outside their homes.
Making the best of different worlds – land and water, fresh water and sea water, material requirements and natural resources – the backwaters of Kerala are truly a world within a world.