While in India’s southern tip, a cruise on the backwaters may be de rigueur. But given how popular Kerala is as a tourist destination, it is also a good idea to eschew the familiar for the unexplored. In other words, think Poovar instead of Alleppey, using Trivandrum as a base instead of Kochi.
It is in Poovar that the Neyyar river joins the Arabian Sea, giving rise to a long stretch of placid backwaters lined with coconut palms on either side. A boat ride of an hour or two is just perfect to cruise through the narrow canals with their lush mangroves, looking out for the dozens of avian species that thrive in this ecosystem.
The water is muddy and brown in the initial tract due to the recent rains, but my boatman Joseph says it is pristine most of the year through. It is a cloudy day but that does not stop the birds from making an appearance along the banks. From cormorants sunning themselves on treetops to pied kingfishers swooping in and out of the water in search of breakfast, with the occasional painted stork as an added bonus, the backwaters are rich with birdlife.
Just over half an hour after the boat ride begins, we take a turn into an open expanse of water, with only a thin sandbar separating the canal from the sea. It is locally called the Gold Sand Beach, and as far as I can see sitting in the boat, the fine sand is indeed glowing molten gold in the mild morning sunlight.
There are several fishing boats on the shore, perhaps just returned from an expedition into the sea early in the morning. A few local kids are playing on the beach, climbing up a flat rock jutting out from the edge of the canal, just to dive from that height back into the water. There is a lot of shouting and laughing, pushing and shoving in that game that has me as fascinated as the kids.
Another bend, and in a few minutes, we fetch up at Pozhiyoor, the spot that marks the end of Kerala, with Tamil Nadu right ahead. All along the ride, there are plenty of tall crosses perched on top of rocks raising their heads above the water, interspersed with the occasional Hindu shrine on the shore – Poovar seems a perfect representation of the cultural harmony in this region.
Travel info: Poovar is about 35 km, or an hour’s drive from Trivandrum, but for the best experience, stay at one of the backwater resorts.