The backwaters are a chain of lagoons and lakes lying parallel to the Arabian Sea coast of Kerala (the state where Bob's family is from). The network includes five large lakes linked by canals, both manmade and natural, fed by 38 rivers, and extending virtually half the length of Kerala. The backwaters were formed by the action of waves and shore currents creating low barrier islands across the mouths of the many rivers flowing down from the Western Ghats range. In the midst of this labyrinthine system of waterways (sometimes compared to the American Bayou) there are a number of towns and cities.
The backwaters have a unique ecosystem - freshwater from the rivers meets the seawater from the Arabian Sea. In certain areas, such as the Vembanad Kayal (where we were), man-made barrages keep sea water from mixing with the fresh water system. The backwaters are home to a vibrant menagerie of aquatic life including fresh water shrimp, crabs, frogs and myriad fish species; water birds such as egrets, terns, kingfishers, darters and cormorants, and fish eagles; and animals such as otters and turtles. Coconut groves, paddy fields, and banana plantations abut the waterways, providing a lushly verdant hue to the surrounding landscape.
The kettuvallam or 'boat with knots' is so called because coir ropes tied in knots hold the entire structure of the boat together; not a single nail is used when assembling the boat. The boat is made of huge planks of Jack wood or 'Aanjili' joined with coir, and then coated with a caustic black resin made from boiled cashew kernels. Thatched roofs cover the wooden hulls - some as long as 100 feet. Traditionally, these boats were used to transport spices, sand, rice and other goods along the Kerala coast. Today, these boats are primarily for recreational use, bringing Indian and foreign tourists out into the backwaters to enjoy tranquil views and delicious meals - far from the hustle and bustle of everyday life in India.
|...and the double-decker, deluxe model.|
|Rush hour commuters|
|Home again, home again, jiggedy-jig!|
|The welcome squad (a bit addled from their afternoon toddy session)|
|Tourist parking lot|
|The view from the deck|
|Mowing the lake|
(workers gathering the invasive water hyacinth to prevent it from marring the view for the tourists)
|Parking lot for the locals|
|The Shrimp and her dinner. |
(Each of these fresh water shrimp can weigh up to 3/4 pound)
|Fisherman setting his net at twilight|
|No Photoshop here!|
|Fishermen retrieving their catch at daybreak|