Tucked between the Laccadive Sea and a network of interconnected rivers and lagoons, Alappuzha (Alleppey) offers a picturesque waterside spectacle of palm groves, luxuriant rice fields, kingfishers darting over the water and cormorants lazily stretching their wings, fishermen repairing nets outside their doors and laundry women busy at their task.

 


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Backwaters
Alappuzha

Backwaters

Boating is the big thing in Alappuzha, set as it is beside the brackish lagoons and lakes of the Kerala backwaters.

Alappuzha

Kayaking in the backwaters

Touring the backwaters in a traditional canoe or, if you’re the sporty type, a kayak, you can reach the most out-of-the-way parts of the waterway network, close to nature and the life of the villages along the banks.

Alappuzha

Villages along the banks

The more romantically inclined will opt for a trip on one of the famous house-boats or kettuvalloms (literally “rice boats”), made from eco-friendly materials such as bamboo and coconut fibre. Kettuvalloms were once used for transporting goods to isolated villages.

Alappuzha

Kettuvalloms, Kerala’s traditional house-boats

Once roads were built and ferries introduced these elegant barges lost their goods transport function and were gradually converted into floating hotels. A kettuvallom trip is a wonderful way to explore the beauty of the backwaters in comfort, with a cosy bedroom and delicious meals.

Chavara Bhavan Church
Alappuzha

Father Kuriakose Elias Chavara

This peaceful sanctuary, lost among the Kerala backwaters and reachable only by boat, was created by a Catholic priest, Father Kuriakose Elias Chavara, a social reformer who played a major role in educating the poor.

He was canonised by Jean-Paul II in 1986. The hut where he preached can still be seen, and there is a small church.

Alappuzha

Alappuzha and Marari Beaches
Alappuzha

Marari Beach

Alappuzha Beach is a fairly ordinary family beach, but Marari Beach, some 20km from Alleppey, is an absolute dream of a tropical holiday postcard spot with fine sand, palm trees, lagoons, turquoise sea and all. Perfect. To be missed on no account.

Amritapuri Ashram (60km)
ammaji

Amma embracing devotees

 

Amritapuri, “place of immortality”, is the birthplace of Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi, better known as Amma (Mother) and considered a spiritual guide and saint not only in India but in many countries around the world.

The ashram began as two simple huts beside Amma’s family’s home, and officially became an ashram in 1981. It is now home to over 3000 spiritual seekers from all over the world and the headquarters of Amma’s NGO, the Mata Amritanandamayi Math (MAM).

Amritapuri Ashram, view from the backwaters

As a small child, possessed of an immense love of humanity, Amma wanted to help all the suffering people she met: she gave them food, care and clothing and began to console them with hugs. She has been hugging people like a loving mother ever since. A hug from her is considered darshan, an auspicious glimpse of a saint. She is said to have hugged 34 million people around the world to date.

She also tours the world spreading her message of love and tolerance.

Coir, ropes made out coconut fibres

The NGO she founded, Embracing The World, is now a vast network of charities including orphanages, dispensaries, hospitals, social services, schools, training centres, micro-credit programmes, ecological projects and more. ETW also has Special Consultancy status at the UN as an organisation with expertise in emergency relief.

The best way to get to the ashram is by ferry across the backwaters.

Chinese fishing nets on the way to Amritapuri


Festivals not to miss


Nehru Trophy Boat Race


The Nehru Trophy Boat Race named after Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru is conducted on the Punnamda Lake, near Alappuzha, on the second Saturday of August every year
. On the day of this fiercely fought boat race, the tranquil lake front is transformed into a sea of humanity with an estimated two lakh people, including tourists from abroad for watching it. For the people of each village in Kuttanad, a victory at this race for their village boat is something to be celebrated for months to come.

The boats used are called chundan vallams or “snake-boats”. The long, 100–120ft canoes, made from a wood known locally as aanjili thadi, are manned by about a hundred men who row to the rhythm of the vanchipattu, the boatmen’s song. Don’t miss this race if you’re in the area at that time of year.

+ KNOW MORE ABOUT THE SNAKE-BOATS


Payippad Boat Race 

snake-boat This is a snake boat race held annually on the Payippad River in Alappuzha. It commemorates the legend associated with the installation of the idol at the Subrahmanya Swamy Temple, Haripad.

The race has the largest participation of snake boats after the Nehru Trophy boat race. Apart from the breathtaking race of the snake boats and other country boats the event is made more impressive by colourful water pageants.

Neelamperoor Pooram Padayani

1380662_553777754696122_422471622_nNeelamperoor Pooram Padayani is one of the famous festivals celebrated in the Indian state of Kerala. This festival is hosted at the Neelamperoor Pally Bhagavathi Temple which is situated in a village known as Kuttanadtaluk in the district named Alappuzha in Kerala. The main divinity of this 1700 year old temple is Goddess Vanadurgaalso known as Maa Kali.

A parade known as Padayani is one of the main celebration during the festival. This march symbolizes Goddess Kali’svictory over Darika. The parade begins as the village people gather with few dry leaves of coconut lighted, known as choottu. They move ahead raising the choottu blissfully.

Chettikulangara Bharati

20131031143708_10_1Chettikulangara Kumbha Bharani is an important festival celebrated every year at the Chettikulangara Devi Temple, Chettikulangara, Alappuzha district.

It is held is in the month of March or April, the date being determined according to the Malayalam Calendar. The festival is under consideration to be bestowed with the Intangible Cultural Heritage status by UNESCO.

What makes the festival stand out among the other festivals of Kerala is a spectacular event called Kettukazhcha, a ceremonious procession of brightly decorated structures.


Patan is a fortified town dating from the 8th century CE. It was the capital of Gujarat until 1411, when the sultan Ahmed Shah moved his capital to Ahmedabad. It now owes its fame to its magnificent Rani-Ki-Vav stepwell, a Unesco World Heritage site, built under the Solanki period. It is also renowned for making much-sought-after saris in hand-woven patola fabric.

 


Rani-Ki-Vav stepwell


The Rani-Ki-Vav (“queen’s well”) is said to have been commissioned by Queen Udayamati in 1050, in memory of her husband Bhimdev I (1022-1063 CE). He was the son of Mularaja, founder of the Solanki dynasty.


It was buried in silt after repeated floods from the nearby river Saraswati and was only rediscovered in 1960, by the Archaeological Survey of India.

Stepwells are a distinctive form of subterranean water resource and storage systems on the Indian subcontinent, and have been constructed since the 3rd millennium BC.


Rani-ki-Vav was built at the height of craftsmens’ ability in stepwell construction and the Maru-Gurjara architectural style, reflecting mastery of this complex technique and great beauty of detail and proportions.

Designed as an inverted temple highlighting the sanctity of water, it is divided into seven levels of stairs with sculptural panels of high artistic quality.

More than 500 principle sculptures and over a thousand minor ones combine religious, mythological and secular imagery, often referencing literary works.

The fourth level is the deepest and leads into a rectangular tank 9.5 m by 9.4 m, at a depth of 23 m. The well is located at the westernmost end of the property and consists of a shaft 10 m in diameter and 30 m deep. (source UNESCO)


Art of Patola


Patan’s other speciality is the art of patola. Patola is the term used in Gujarat for double ikat silk weaving.

Double ikat is produced by tie-dyeing both warp and weft threads with all the colours to be used in the design, at very precise intervals, so that when they are woven together the pattern emerges with all the right colours in the right places.

This method makes the cloth reversible, as it is almost impossible to tell the difference between the two sides.

For high end saris the dyes are made from natural pigments. The colour is said to last for more than 300 years.

Kirron Kher wearing a Patola sari of the designer Gaurang at the Lakme Fashion Week 2013

Because the technique is so complex, it can take six months to a year to make a double-ikat patola sari – which is why they are so expensive. The cheapest cost about 140 000 roupies (€2000).

Of the original 700 families of Patan patola weavers there are now only three who continue the traditional double-ikat technique. One of these families, the Salvi family, has built the Patan Patola Heritage Museum not far from the Rani-Ki-Vav. Their small workshop in the city centre also bears eloquent testimony to the beauty of the art.


Other places of interest


Sahasralingam tank: This is one of the many artificial reservoirs built in different parts Gujarat under the patronage of Siddhraj Jaisinh (1093-1143 CE). It is one of the largest. Sahasralingam tank takes its name from the many small temples containing Shiva lingams that once stood around it, though they were demolished at the end of the medieval period.

Panchasara Parsvanatha Jain temple – Patan has more than 100 Jain temples, reflecting the importance of Jainism in the Solanki period. One of the largest is the Panchasara Parsvanatha. It is dedicated to Parsvanath, the 23rd Tirthankar (Jain saint), who lived in the 9th century BCE. The temple was built in the 16th century CE and has several courtyards and a number of finely sculpted shrines.


Indian food without herbs and spices is unimaginable. They are at the heart of every dish. They have been used since ancient times and are mentioned in Hinduism’s oldest sacred scriptures, the Vedas.

Most of the numerous spices used in India are grown on the subcontinent. Some are “hot”, others add a delicate flavour to the dish. Each spice can be used on its own, but they are usually mixed in subtle combinations to give unique fragrances that differ from one region to another. Read More

Dussehra marks the end of one of the biggest Hindu festivals called ‘Navaratri’. This festival lasts for nine nights and ten days. Its purpose is to celebrate the Universal Mother, or Shakti: the primordial force. The tenth day is commonly called Vijayadashami, the day of victory of light over darkness. Vijayadashami is also called Dusserha or Dasara in some parts of India, where it associated with Lord Rama. Read More

It is said that Kanchipuram gives eternal happiness to those who visit it. Located 65km from Madras on the banks of the river Vegavathy, Kanchipuram is known as the City of Gold or the City of a Thousand Temples. It is one of India’s seven most holy places, the Sapta Puri. Read More

To Hindus, the Sapta Puris are the seven holiest cities in India. Sapta means ‘seven’ and puri means ‘town’. These seven holy cities are also called the Sapta Moksha Puris, the ‘seven cities of liberation’ or the Sapta Tirtha, ‘seven places of pilgrimage’. Read More

Chitrakote Falls, 50km from Jagdalpur in Bastar district, are in a horseshoe-shaped gorge on the Indravati river, and affluent of the Narmada. At 30m high they are India’s biggest falls and have been called “India’s Niagara”. Although they are only a third as wide as their Canadian counterpart, they are just as impressive. Read More

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