Located in the Kottayam district of Kerala is Kumarakom, the heart of God’s own country. This small, sleepy town is actually a cluster of islands set around the Vembanad Lake. And here are six things to do in Kumarakom, a place you won’t want to leave.
1. The blessed Backwaters
No trip to Kumarakom is complete without a cruise on Lake Vembanad. Kettuvallams or houseboats can be seen languidly passing by on the lake and are easily available for hire. Some homestays have their own fleet of houseboats, which they rent out to guests. The benefit of renting a kettuvallam from a homestay is that you don’t have to worry about organising anything and that it usually comes with delicious home cooked meals. Depending on time-constraints, you can opt for an hour-long tour or overnight stays on the houseboats. Most homestays can organise day tours that will take you to a local village for a hearty, local lunch and to observe how coir products are made by the villagers. For cruising through the canals, one can try vallams or canoes. Practically every home has a personal vallam and one can easily borrow it for a few hours if living in a homestay. As you float along the canals, you can simply feel the concept of time float away as well.
2. Bird watching
On the banks of Lake Vembanad is the Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary. The 14-acre area is home to countless indigenous species of birds. And also houses many migratory birds from as far away as Siberia and the Himalayas. Commonly sighted visitors here are the Siberian stork, egret, darter, heron and teal. The Pathiramanal Island is another great place for bird-watching.
3. Snake boat race
The world-famous snake boat race last only a few minutes. But the memory, of the oarsmen rowing furiously and thousands of spectators cheering their hearts out, lasts an eternity. Though races are organised all through July and August, the most impressive is the Nehru Trophy, which is held in Alleppey, on the 2nd Saturday of August. Some homestay owners are closely associated with organizing the event and can get you the best seats in the house, a definite advantage considering that thousands of people attend this event.
4. Rare recitals
The Kathakali and Mohinattam are amongst Kerala’s most well known dance forms. Their recitals can be seen in many folk centres but homestay owners also organize personal recitals for their guests. Another ancient Indian art-form that’s recently gained popularity is the Kalaripayattu. This martial art is enormously hard to perfect and requires years of strenuous training, which usually begins for a child at the age of six or seven. Kalaripayattu performances for commercial purpose are infrequent. But with the aid of a local, you can experience its rare and humbling performance.
5. Feast and Toddy
To enjoy the regional cuisine in a local ambience, head to a village. The dishes served here are brilliantly flavourful and the seafood they prepare cannot be replicated anywhere else. The perfect accompaniment to the rich meal is a freshly made glass of Toddy. This is a locally made alcohol and in its purest form is very potent. Another advantage of staying in a homestay is that they make a great place to experience local delicacies. They’ll serve you unforgettable and divine dishes, which big, branded hotels don’t even seem to know exist. Most families will be happy to share their secret recipes with you.
6. Ayurvedic Treats
The best complement to a cruise on the backwaters, also affectionately known as the “laidback waters,” is a relaxing Ayurvedic massage. Massage centres promising stress-relief and more have mushroomed all over Kerala in the last few years. But if you are residing in a homestay, your hosts will be invaluable assets in directing you towards genuine and reputed centres with truly skilled therapists.