One of the biggest freshwater lakes in Kerala, the Vembanad Lake is a stunning tourist stopover. Surrounded by mangrove forests and coconut trees, the lake has a mirror-like sheen, and taking a cruise on a houseboat here fills one with contentment and peace. These cruises let tourists explore the interiors of the region, taking them to tiny hamlets and lagoon islands. The tranquil backwater cruises in the lake are a unique experience, be it short ones in small canoes or boats, which meander through narrow canals, or longer stays on luxurious houseboats, which let you float along the emerald waters fringed with palm and coconut trees, as the serene countryside glides by.


The houseboats that ply here are modified kettuvallams or large traditional trading vessels used for transportation of rice and spices to nearby towns. As road transport gained importance, these graceful sailing behemoths faded away, only to re-emerge as floating hotels offering tourists all the luxuries of modern life. While the scenic beauty around the waterways is mesmerising, these spacious and well-decorated houseboats add to the charm of the experience.


Traditionally, a kettuvallam measures around 60 ft long and about 15 ft wide at the beam. Some of the newer houseboats have a length of more than 80 ft! Constructed from locally-sourced natural materials such as jackfruit tree wood, palm wood, coconut fibre, bamboo poles, ropes, bamboo mats etc, these boats offer guilt-free tripping. They are constructed by tying together (rather than nailing) wooden planks with coconut coir. The planks are coated with resin extracted from cashew nut shells. Bamboo poles and palm leaves are used for constructing the roof. Some of these boats also have solar panels for generating electricity. If carefully maintained, these boats can last for decades.


Spanning a length of 83.72 km and a width of 14.48 km, the Vembanad Lake hosts a small and beautiful island. A birdwatcher's paradise, the Pathiramanal (meaning midnight sands) island floats on the backwaters. It boasts around 50 species of exotic and 91 types of endemic birds. Some of the common birds one can sight here include common teal, pintail ducks, cormorant, night heron, darter, Indian shag, whistling duck, little cormorant and whiskered tern. The island is also home to many medicinal plants.


The best time to visit the lake is in August and September, when it becomes the focal point of several festivals. During the harvest festival of Onam, snake boat races are organised and it is amazing to see about a hundred people in one boat, slicing their way through the waters. An important feature of the lake is the Thanneermukkom Bund, a saltwater barrier and the largest mud regulator in the country that divides the lake into two - one half with perennial salty water and the other with fresh water enriched by the rivers.

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