Sunday, August 31, 2014

Alappuzha (Alleppey)

Temples, Beach, Sand and Backwaters

The plan to visit Alleppey was there for quite sometime now. Finally the long weekend of 28th August gave us the opportunity.

I had decided to visit Alleppey and Kumarakom both together, but later dropped the idea to visit Kumarakom and decided to explore Alleppey only.

One reason was that I thought to just relax at Alleppey instead of trying to visit many places. Other thing was that I heard that Kumarakom is very costly so I left to for some future visit.

Alleppey is well connected by road and rail to different part of the country. It is famous for its backwaters though I found Alleppey beach as fascinating.

From Bangalore we took Kochuveli Express reaching Alleppey morning 6 AM.

There are many good hotels and homestays here. One can do good bargain.

We booked our accommodation at Palm Beach Resort. I decided it based on reviews at Internet. It is located on beach itself and from a sea facing room, sea is just at your doorstep.

Getting alighted, we took an auto from the pre-paid counter and in next 10 minutes or so we were at palm Beach Resorts.

It is a small resort not very "luxurious" but quite comfortable. Toilet and rooms were neat and quite decent. The major attraction is that it is located as close to the Arabian sea as it could be. Staff is cheerful and helpful, though I felt room service needs to be little better.

From room the view was just fascinating. I remained stood in balcony there mesmerized in beauty of nature for sometime.

One caution for strict vegetarian tourists. The options are limited but still you will get good stuff.

With the Arabian Sea on the west and a vast network of lakes, lagoons and rivers around everywhere, Alappuzha is very green and beautiful place. It is referred to as the Venice of the east because of multiple waterways, rivers, canals and lakes.

Many villages are interconnected by waterways here. I had got the opportunity to visit Venice in Italy in 2001. Our Allappuzha is not that "developed" but no less in beauty.

But the there is more to Alleppey than just houseboats and boat race!

The first impression that I had got about Alleppey was that go there, stay for a night in houseboat and depart. Most of the people, with whom, I discussed, shared the same experience.

But going through different articales on internet and some guidebooks, that I have, I had the opinion that Allappuzha is beyond just Houseboats.

And I am correct!

I had three days at Alleppey and I planned my trip in very relaxed manner.

Day 1: First half: To visit Mullakkal Bhagavathy Temple and Ambalapuzha Shri Krishna Temple. Second Half: Just relaxing on Sea.
Day 2: First Half: Boating across different canals, rivers and lakes at Alleppey. Second Half: Exploring Allapzha market, marketing for spices and then relaxing at Sea.
day 3: First Half: Visit Revi Karuna Karan Museum. Second Half: Relaxing at sea.

One can also accommodate visit to Krishnapuram Palace and/or Mannarasala Shri Nagaraj Temple and/or Pathiramanal Island. 

I skipped these for some other time.

From the hotel nearby are the Vijaya Beach Park, which has good attractions for kids.

Getting refreshed, we took good breakfast. My wife was on fast that day due to "Teej". From last few years, it has happened that her yearly "without water Teej fast" is during some excursions.

We just walked on beach for some moments after breakfast. The sea was a little violent, perhaps due to monsoon season. I have heard that in general the sea at Alleppey is a bit violent so due caution is required.

The mighty waves were challenging the shore. The shore was standing unfazed. The waves were threatening it, but it was smiling that it will be victorious!

Alleppey beach is one of the most popular spots in Alappuzha. There is a pier, which extends into the sea here, is about 140 years old. It is now in very dilapidated state and unusable for general people. I am not sure why it cant be repaired?

I called for an auto. Biju had picked us from pre-paid auto point to hotel. I had taken his number to be used if required.

Biju agreed for 400 bucks for trip to Mullakkal Bhagavathy Temple and Ambalapuzha Shri Krishna Temple. While the Bhagavathy temple is in the heart of Alappuzha town itself, the Krishna Temple is about 15 KMs south of Alleppey at the town of Ambalapuzha.

At around 930 AM, we took the auto and proceeded towards the temple of mother Goddess.

The temple timings are. Morning: 4.30 AM to 10.30 AM Evening: 5 PM to 8 PM

Mullakkal Bhagwati temple is one of the most popular at Alleppey. It is also known as Mullakkal Rajarajeswari Temple.

The premise has plenty of trees and Jasmine plants. The idol placed on the shrine is of Mother Goddess Durga with four arms. 

It was bright sunny morning. We reached temple at around 945 AM.

It is a typical Kerala architecture example. At the entrance point of the temple, around 20 feet area is kept under roofing. According to convention and old custom this roofed place is used for keeping large elephants.

Inside the Sanctum there is no roof, I am not sure the reason for this.

Inside the sanctum, all males need to remove cloths above waist. The idol is very beautiful with a smiling face.

We offered our reverence to the mother of universe.

There are also other shrines in the temple compound of Hanuman, Lord Ganesha, Subramanya, Nagaraja, Navagraha, Sree Krishna, and Lord Ayyappa. There is banyan tree inside the premise where the lingam of Lord Shiva is also placed for darshana.

There was also a big tusker just behind the temple. Kids were excited to see that.

Legend is that during the conquest of Kerala by Tipu Sultan, Namboodiri Brahmins escaped from Malabar region taking the auspicious idol of Mata Annapurneswari. They spotted the Jesmine garden as the place to make the shrine.

As her temple was placed in a Jasmine Garden she was given the name Mullakkal Bhagawathy.

Prior to 1961, the idol placed on the main shrine was of Mata Annapurneswari, who was seen ladle in one hand and pot on the other.  In 1961, one mentally unbalanced person entered the sanctum and all embraced the idol. Afterward it was observed that some cracks had settled on the idol’s body. An astrologer predicted that the Goddess had instructed to create a fresh idol to be placed on the shrine instead of the old one. A 4-feet Shri Rajarajeswari idol was placed on the shrine replacing the old and damaged one.

Bowing to universal mother, we took the auto again to Ambalpuzha some 14/15 KMs away.

Sri Krishna temple at Ambalapuzha is among Kerala's most famous temples with the typical temple architectural style of Kerala.

Weather was quite hot and humid now as we reached the beautifully carved gates of the abode of most playful Lord.

The Temple is believed to have been built during 15th – 17th AD by the local ruler Chembakasserry Pooradam Thirunal Devanarayanan Thampuran.

The temple timings are 3 AM to 12 PM and 5 PM to 8 PM.

Males have to remove all cloths above waist before entering the temple sanctum.

We entered through the arched gate into temple premises. In the sanctum, bags etc are not allowed, so I remained out and my wife and kids went to have darshan. I went afterwards. There are facilities to keep the bag etc, but as I had the camera with me so I did not wanted to keep that at those facilities.

As we enter left side is shrine of Shiva and then as we move further there is shrine of Krishna.

There was a little rush inside. I paid my reverence to Shiva and Krishna. The priest was cleaning the idol of Krishna, so I got the opportunity to have darshan of his "real" idol, without decorations.

The idol at here is image of Krishna in the form of "Parthasarthi" with a whip in the right hand and a Shankh (sacred conch) in the left. It is in black stone.

During the raids of Tipu Sultan in 1789, the idol of Sri Krishna from the Guruvayoor Temple was brought to the Ambalappuzha Temple for safe keeping.

Paintings of the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu are on display on the walls of the Sanctum.

The temple is famous for its Prasadam which is "Payasam" (Kheer), made of milk and rice.

According to the legend, God Krishna once appeared in the form of a sage in the court of the king who ruled the region and challenged him for a game of chess (or chaturanga). The king being a chess enthusiast himself gladly accepted the invitation. The prize had to be decided before the game and the king asked the sage to choose his prize in case he won. The sage told the king that he wished a few grains of rice. The amount of rice itself shall be determined using the chess-board in the following manner. One grain of rice shall be placed in the first square, two grains in the second square, four in the third square, Sixteen in the fourth square, sixtyfour in 5th square and so on. Every square will have its multiples of its predecessor.

Upon hearing the demand, the king was unhappy since the sage requested only a few grains of rice.

So the game of chess started and the king lost the game. It was time to pay the sage his agreed-upon prize. As he started adding grains of rice to the chess board, the king soon realised the true nature of the sage's demands. The number of grains was increasing as a geometric progression and the total amount of rice required to fill a 64-squared chess board is ((2^64) translating to trillions of tons of rice.

Upon seeing the dilemma, the sage appeared to the king in his true-form, that of Lord Krishna. He told the King that he did not have to pay the debt immediately but could pay him over time. The king would serve paal-payasam (made of rice) in the temple freely to the pilgrims every day until the debt was paid off.

The tradition thus started and continues. It is said that Krishna from Guruvayoor comes here to take the Payasam daily!

In the temple compound there is a beautiful pond from where I clicked the beautiful temple. Nearby an elephant was put under service of Lord.

Sometimes I feel it is cruel from human side to chain these magnificent animals. If they could speak, they would have cried leave us in forest!

The weather was quite hot and humid with dark clouds overlapping the blue skies. We got into auto just in time to be back to hotel though got drenched a little bit.

Intensity of rain reduced as we reached Alleppey. It was time to go for lunch at our hotel.

There was not much rush so the hotel chef took sometime to serve us the hot and freshly cooked food. Being strict vegetarians, we had limited choice.

After lunch, I wanted to take some rest as I started having headache, perhaps because I had not taken proper sleep the last night. Soon its intensity was very high leaving me with no choice but to lie down and take some rest.

It was around 6 PM, I felt better. Lord Anshumaan was painting the skies and vast waters with golden colors. Clouds and strong breeze were there.

Environment was very serene and peaceful and I felt rejuvenated.

A good sleep bring back the life in me.

Next day the plan was to enjoy the backwaters at Alleppey.

Vinu from Palm Beach Resorts had arranged a beautiful "Shikara" boat for us. At 930 AM, auto came to take us to the boat Jetty.

Boat Captain Gopi was waiting for us.Captain Gopi asked for 600/- Rs per hour but agreed on 500/- per hour for 4 hour trip across Alleppey in his beautiful Shikara.

There are two kinds of boats here. One smaller boats called Shikara can be hired on per hour basis. One need to bargain hard for price, it can be something from 400 to 600 bucks per hours dependoing upon boat. Each of these Shikara can carry 6-8 people easily.

Then there are house boats. They range from smaller one bed room to 3 or 4 bed room houseboats. They are costly (starting from 6000/- approx per night)

I feel its better to come here and directly negotiate for Shikara or Houseboat. Agents from other cities manipulate the prices and charge very high.

Shikara can be hired anytime in day but Houseboats start at around 12 midday and then by 5/530 PM they docks. House boats are not allowed to ply after evening till morning.

Checkout time from these houseboats is around 10 AM.

We were excited to board the boat, as it slowly strtaed moving with us into the vast network of canals, rivers and lakes for which Alleppey and Kerala is so famous.

Kids are particularly excited as they just sat comfortably on the small beds, while we adults took our confortable chairs.

The first thing that came to mind was the pollution from diesel engines from these Shikara and house boats.

The unregulated proliferation of motorised houseboats in the lakes and backwaters must have the adverse impact of pollution on these fragile ecosystem.

Not sure if authorities are listening......

As we sailed through water ways, we realised that there are many villages which are connected through these waterways. There were boat dispensaries and also we saw people using these waterways to go to market or other house hold things.

There were many schools, temples and churches on these waterways and boat are the only option to access them.

The backwaters at Allappuzha are a complex network of canals, rivers, lagoons and lakes lying parallel to the Arabian Sea coast (known as the Malabar Coast) of Kerala. The network includes five large lakes linked by canals, both manmade and natural and fed by multiple small and big rivers. 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 Ghat mountains.

There are Government authorized ferries as well as well demarcated Ferry Stops for the convenience of people.

Though I am a bit fearful of water and dont want to do boating etc. But I didnot felt any hesitation here. Though I inquired about life jackets and verified them.

The weather was quite excellent and slowly we sailed through the vast waters of Vembanad lake, which is known as Punnamada lake in this area.

We sailed through Punnamada and saw the beautiful Lake Palace Resort. The skyline dotted with hotels and highrise was quite beautiful.

Punnamada lake is known as Vembanad in the areas of Kottayam.

Now we were in Pamba river and we can see more boats and people activities in river than the vast lakes.

Other river was Achenkovil.

Now time was to enter into smaller canals.

These smaller canals were bustling with activities. Carrying Kitchen Cylinders, Newspapers, fish, kids going to schools, people waiting at ferry stops etc.

It was about 2 hours now and Captain Gopi decided to refresh us with a cup of hot tea. He parked the boat and bring us two cup of hot and refreshing tea. It was excellent experience to be in boat, sipping tea in midst of water and nature.

This was very nice experience... sipping tree in boat, in midst of waters, cool breeze and beautiful environment!

After Tea, we started again, Kids were sleeping by now.

Captain Gopi, guiding the boat through smaller canals, pushed further into canals, which were having dense population on both sides. Ladies cleaning cloths and kitchen utensils, people taking bath simultaneously while cleaning their mouth and catching fish!!

Vembanad is the largest of the lakes here, covering an area of over 200 km², and stretched over Alappuzha, Kottayam, and Cochin. The port of Cochin is located at the lake's outlet to the Arabian Sea.

This region of Kerala is also known as Kuttanad. Kuttanada is the rice bowl of Kerala because of its wealth of paddy crops. This is perhaps the only region in India where farming is done 1.5 to 2 meters below sea level. These waterways which flow above land level are an amazing feature of this region.

The dikes which were made by these village folks here in no way less than the engineering feat achieved by the dutch in their land.

Regular ferry services connect most locations on both banks of the backwaters. The Kerala State Water Transport Department operates ferries for passengers as well as tourists. It is the cheapest mode of transport through the backwaters.

Houseboats were mostly in rivers and lakes, but Shikara were more in smaller canals. If someone is interested in going the folk life here, it is better to be in Shikara.

Rush was not much but still there were quite a number of Shikara and Houseboats plying there.

There was feeling of elation. Silently I scanned the vast waters, greenry, coconut trees, birds and small islands as our boat swam effortlessly through these waters.

Whenever any bigger boat or houseboat used to pass through nearby, our small boat used to get some ripples. One one occasion, as it got some strong ripples, I saw towards the Captain Gopi, who understood my concern and assured me in his broken Malyalam English that he is in these waters for last 50 years and there was nothing to worry. 

These things looked amazing to us, but these are part of daily life of the people here. I thought we feel better to be here for 2-3 days, but is everyday life here so smooth as it looks?

Same thing I feel for people living in Himalayan region as well!

Daily life is not as easy as it looks.

People waiting for boats to go to school, hospital, workplace, market.... they cant walk, they can just wait for next ferry to come!

Boat races are arranged every year multiple times in these waters. One of the most famous is the Nehru Trophy race.

Snake boats (Chundan Vallams) are narrow boats over 100 feet (30 m) long, with a raised prow that stands 10 feet (3.0 m) above water and resembles the hood of a snake. Traditionally these were used by local rulers to transport soldiers during waterfront wars. Each chundan vallam accommodates about a hundred sailors.

The boat races starts with Champakulam Moolam Boat Race which is held on the Pamba River in the village Champakulam on Moolam day of the Malayalam month Midhunam, the day of the installation of the deity at the Ambalappuzha Sree Krishna Temple. 

PM Jawaharlal Nehru visited Kerala in 1952. Four traditional Chundan Valloms went to receive him and a boat race was organised for him. He was so impressed that when he went back to Delhi, he sent back a gleaming silver trophy for a boat race. 

Nowadays, the 1.5 km Nehru Trophy Boat Race is the most prestigious. It is held during the Onam harvest festival in August in Punnamada Lake.

The Kettuvallams (houseboats) in the backwaters are one of the prominent tourist attractions in Kerala.

These Kettuvallams were traditionally used as to transport the rice harvested in the fertile fields alongside the backwaters. They were also used as living quarters by the royal and rich families. Now these houseboats have become floating cottages having bedrooms, dining area and sit out on the deck. Most tourists spend the night on a house boat. Food is cooked on board by the accompanying staff – mostly having a flavour of Kerala.

It was about 130 PM and slowly we entered into the Boat Jetty. Thus concluded our long cherished and beautiful backwater journey at Alleppey. 

While returning to Hotel, the plan was to visit market and do shopping for spices etc. But it started raining heavily so we better went directly to hotel for a good lunch.

After some rest, in evening we took auto to market for some shopping. Target items were spices and a Kerala special saree.

As Onam was nearby so the market was abuzz with people, we took some spices and a Kerala Saree from SM silks.

Back to hotel, we went to beach to spend the beautful evening in sand and golden hues of Lord Anshumaan.

Morning I woke up early and sat in balconey just watching the roaring sea waves.. Lod Anshumaan was rising from east, birds were chattering, cool breeze and sea thunder sounds had made environment very soothing.

Being close to nature is meditation itself...completely effortless.

Today was our last day of trip at Alleppey, After morning walk at beach, we had planned to visit Revi Karuna Karan Museum.

Revi Karuna Karan memorial museum has been established at Alleppey in 2006.

I like to visit museums, though the tickets are a bit costly, but still its worth to visit it.

The Revi Karuna Karan family runs the Coir industry at Allapupuzha. They are the pioneers of this industry in Kerala and in India. 

This family has been an avid collectors of fine art and artefacts for over three generations. 

The museum was inaugurated on the 22nd November 2006 by the former Meghalaya governor, Sri. M.M. Jacob.

There are many section including collections on Porcelain, Ivory, Crystal etc, There is also a "Kerala room". The granary is very interesting.

The collection here is superb. Thanks to family of Mr Revi Karuna Karan, who has done this excellent job.

This museum is a must visit when you are in Alleppey.

We were back by lunch time. After a good lunch and little rest below the coconut trees on beach, we were back to room, preparing to pack ourselves for return journey to Bangalore.

It was bright sunny day and Lord Anshumann was at full glory. The vast waters of sea was glittering like silver.

We boarded the Kochuveli Bangalore Experss at 1715. It was a bit late but managed to drop us at Bangalore in time. It was raining heavily in the way and the water was getting inside our sleeper coach, but luckily no damage to luggage.

Morning 830, we were at home.


  1. Thank you very much to share this valuable information with very beautiful images. There are many places to see is the Alappuzha. The Road Distance Between Cochin and Alappuzha is 53 kilomere and expected travel time is 1 hours only.

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