There are many attractions along the 900 km of tranquility offered by the backwaters of Kerala. Cochin port city with a very safe harbour and several historically important islands with monuments, offers the greatest attraction. Nicknamed 'Queen of the Arabian Sea', Cochin (Kochi) has a lot of attractions for all tastes.
Leaving this natural port and turning south, the cruise boats would take the tourists into the heart of the backwaters where the scenery and vistas become rural. The lakeshores are fringed by coconut trees swaying in sea-breeze, the farmlands with rice fields below sea level look like emerald – green carpets spread out to welcome guests, water – lilies of white, blue and red flowers, birds of different species including migratory ones from Siberia, local people busy with everyday life, blue sky with the tanning tropical sun, temples, churches and their festivals and pageants, tropical flora and flowers with brilliant colors, fishes of various species, and a lot more.
Kumarakom, on the vast Vembanadu Lake, has a bird sanctuary, where birds like egrets, darters, herons, cranes, teal and migratory birds can be seen.
'Pathiramanal' situated near Kumarakom is a lonely island in the Vembanadu Lake, where migratory birds have been coming regularly in addition to the local resident birds. This island is being developed as a tourist destination exhibiting the bio-diversity of the tropical climate.
A cruise on the lake, gently rocked by the waves rippling to the rhythm of the swaying coconut palms on the distant banks, would be an exhilarating experience.
The southern region of the Vembanadu Lake is mostly situated in Alappuzha district. It is a district of immense natural beauty with a vast network of lakes, lagoons and fresh water (not salty like the water in the lagoons) rivers.
The heart of Alappuzha district is a region called 'Kuttanaad', where rice cultivation is predominant making it the second largest 'rice-bowl' of Kerala (the largest being Palakkad). Besides rice, coconut trees, bananas, fruit trees, vegetables, etc. are also cultivated here wherever possible.
Inland waterways, which flow above land level is an amazing feature of this unique region around the backwaters.
Kumarakom Lake and village with the nearby bird sanctuary together have become an enchanting picnic spot and a fast-developing backwater tourism destination. There are boating, fishing and sightseeing facilities here. There are luxury hotels as well as budget hotels, to accommodate rich and poor.
Alappuzha district is also the center of coir industry. The fiber from coconut husks are separated and used to make coir ropes, yarns, mats, carpets, etc. While cruising on houseboats, scenes of workers engaged in the various processes in coir industry, can be observed.
Backwaters are natural habitats for several species of fishes. They can be categorized into fresh –water and salt-water fishes. The Vembanad Lake has been divided into two in the middle by the construction of a barrier usually called "Bund" at Thanneermukkom, where the width of the lake is minimum. This barrier can be shut to prevent entry of seawater from the Arabian Sea through the Cochin harbour. The southern part of the lake is kept free of salt-water which is harmful for rice cultivation. This area of the backwaters is fed by rivers and so water remains fresh except during dry season when water level go down so low as to permit entry of salt water through leakages in the many barriers.
The coastal plains of Kerala, with a length of 580 km is part of the narrow belt of land running along the entire coastline of India called the 'Coastal plain' which extends along the 6,000 km long coast of India. This coastal plain is narrow, uneven and slopping interrupted by hills and cliffs. There are beaches and lush green forests also in the plains. The coastal plain of Kerala lies between the Arabian Sea on the west and the Western Ghat mountains in the east.
The Kerala coastline is not very broken and so has only a few natural habours. But it is famous for its calm backwaters. The coastal plain is green all the year round, as the rainfall here is quit heavy.
The climate and weather conditions in Kerala is tropical but is modified by nearness to the sea and the Indian Ocean, as well as by the tall mountain range in the east, which block and cool the clouds causing heavy rainfall for four or five months and also summer rains. So, Kerala remains warm and gets a lot of rain from monsoon winds. A good deal of moisture from the Indian Ocean, Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal gets condensed over Kerala.
Agriculture below sea level is one of the attractions in the backwaters. Extensive areas of land have been reclaimed from the backwaters and are protected from surrounding water at a higher level by dikes (dykes) or long walls of earth, capable of keeping back water and preventing flooding of the rice fields and also habitations. Such regions in the Vembanad Lake area are wonderful creations of indigenous agricultural engineering know-how of Kerala, reminding the famous dikes of Netherlands (Holland). These below-sea-level regions in the coastal lands may be meaningfully called the Netherlands of Kerala. Here, cultivation and habitation are made possible 4-10 feet below sea level.
A leisurely cruise along the canals that surround these rice fields would be an interesting experience. While cruising through the Vembanad Lake, local people are reminded of the Herculean effort made for the reclamation of the lake areas to produce more rice during the famine resulting from the Second World War. Thousands of men participated in constructing the bunds and dikes around large areas, from which water was pumped out. And the fertile lake beds were made ready for cultivation of rice. The broad walls thus created were strengthened by planting coconut trees. The root system held the soil firmly, preventing collapse or breaks. Thus, agriculture below sea level was made possible in the "nether lands" of Kerala too.
Temple festivals at various places along the shores of the backwaters can be seen during voyages. There are several major temples in the backwaters regions.