Vembanad Lake, Kerala
Largest lake in Kerala where visitors can cruise through in houseboats.
Location of Vembanad Lake
More about Vembanad Lake
Vembanad Lake (also known as Vembanad Kayal) is the largest lake in Kerala State and longest in India. The wetland system created by the lake covers an area of over 2,000 square kilometers making it the largest wetland system in India. The lake lies adjacent to the Arabian Sea, separated by narrow lands in its length. It is the most popular backwater stretch in Kerala.
The lake spans through three districts of Kerala - Ernakulam, Alapuzha, and Kottayam, and it is known by different names in each districts. It is known as Punnamada Lake (Punnamada Kayal) in Alapuzha and Kottayam, Cochin Lake (Cochin Kayal) in Ernakulam. The lake surrounds many islands such as Pathiramanal, Perumbalam, Pallippuram in Alapuzha area and several groups of islands in Ernakulam- Vypin, Mulavukad, Vallarpadam, Willingdon etc. The Port of Cochin is built around Willingdon and Vallarpadam islands.
Vembanad Lake is approximately 14 kilometres in width in its widest point and it is fed by several rivers including water from six major rivers of central Kerala- Achankovil, Manimala, Meenachil, Muvattupuzha, Pamba and Periyar rivers. The lake drains an area of 15,700 square kilometres that accounts for 40 percent of the area of Kerala.
Kumarakom - the home of Kettuvallams in Vembanad Lake
The most popular tourist place on Vembanad Lake's shores is the Kumarakom Tourist Village in the East Coast of the lake. It is the heart of Kerala's Backwater Tourism with hundred of Kettuvallams plying through it daily. People from all over the world come here for house boat rides through the scenic beauty of the lake and to explore the surrounding small towns and villages.
Kettuvallams are house boats with a thatched roof on wooden hull. They are about 30 meters in length and 4 meters in width. The materials that go into the making of the boats are mostly local and eco-friendly: bamboo shafts, coconut fibre ropes, bamboo mats etc. The main wood used for the boat construction is from a tree called Anjili (Artocarpus hirsutus). Kettuvallams in the olden days were used to transfer men and materials. These days they are transitioned into luxury houseboats with fully furnished single, double, and triple rooms for visitors to stay and ride across the lake enjoying its beauty.
Exploring Vembanad Lake and Kumarakom in houseboats
The houseboat journey through the lake starts from Kumarakom, a small village consisting of clusters of islands huddled together on the banks of Vembanad Lake. The houseboats has multiple bedrooms, living rooms and kitchens, in short it is a moving luxury house.
The houseboat will take visitors through parts of the lake that lays in its endless expanse of blue, with tinge of green and browns. Water lilies and hyacinths float aimlessly and paddy fields on its banks cover vast expanse of land in green fabric fringed with coconut and banana plantations. The houses in the area are mostly facing the lake or connected to water channels with each having small landing spots for boats. The most common mode of local transportation here is using small boats. The houseboat ride is also a means to see the local life - kids going to school, vendors selling their vegetables on boats, fisherman with their nets etc.
The journey through the lake crosses several clusters of islands and farms separated by streams, lagoons, and lush greenery. The houseboat will stop in some of the islands and you will also be able to see the Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary which is home to several migratory birds such as Siberian cranes, teal, egrets, herons etc. The people managing the houseboats will also help to organise and view traditional Kerala art form Kathakali. Vembanad Lake yearly hosts the popular snake boat race which the visitors will be able to see if they are in town during the right time.
Nehru Trophy Boat Race at Vembanad Lake
Nehru Trophy Boat Race is a popular event in Kerala held annually in the second Saturday of August at Vembanad Lake. Locally known as ‘Vallam Kali’ or boat play, it involves snake boats (known as Chundan Vallam) racing with each other to the finishing point. Every year, thousands of people including foreigners and locals attend the race.
Thanneermukkom Bund separating fresh and saline water
A unique characteristic of the lake is the 1.2 km long Thanneermukkom salt water barrier constructed as a part of the Kuttanad Development Scheme to prevent tidal action and entry of salt water into the paddy fields of Kuttanad low- lands. Even though it is constructed at the narrower part of the lake, it is still the largest mud regulator in India. The barrier divides the lake into two parts - one with fresh water draining into the lake by rivers, and another one with salt water coming from the Arabian Sea.
The salt barrier has helped farmers in Kuttanad in keeping the saline water from entering in the fields and damaging the crops, and it allows them to grow an additional crop in the dry season.
Nature and eco-system damages in the lake area
Vembanad lake has been heavily reclaimed over the course of past century with the water spread area reduced to 37 percent of its original size at present. The port of Cochin is built on parts of the largest stretch of reclaimed land and contributes to the decades long polluting activities.
Although construction of Thanneermukkom Bund has helped the inhabitants of the area in many ways, it has caused great damages to the eco-system as well. The gates of Thanneermukkom Bund are fully opened only few times in an year. This prevents the migration of fishes and prawns upstream from the Arabian Sea. The weed growth, especially that of the invasive aquatic plant ‘freshwater hyacinth’ restricts the natural flushing of pollutants as well.
The uncontrolled mining of shells from the lake bed is also causing threats to the eco-system. The sewages and the heavy loads of organic materials released to the lake are causing decrease in the content of dissolved oxygen in the water which in-turn affects the fish population. There are currently 20,000 waterfowls inhabiting the area and when the fish availability lessens, it impacts the survival of these waterfowls as well as that of the migratory bird in the Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary.
Vembanad Lake as a transportation medium
Over 1.6 million people live in the banks of Vembanad Lake and are directly or indirectly dependent on it for their livelihoods. Major livelihood activities of people include agriculture, fishing, tourism, inland navigation, coir retting and lime shell collection. People as well as materials are transferred within the region through the intricate network of estuaries, lagoons, and canals formed by the wetland system of the lake which spans over 196 km in the north-south and 29 km in the east-west directions.
Almost all the villages in the areas near to the lake can be accessed by boats. The six major rivers that drains into the lake are all navigable up to distance of about 30 km upstream during tides. The Kottappuram- Kollam canal system passes through Vembanad Lake and spans a total of 209 km. It is a national waterway.
Getting to Vembanad Lake and Kumarakom
Major tourist activities of Vembanad Lake are situated in and around Kumarakom town which is located in Kottayam District of Kerala State in Southern India. Nearest city is Kottayam (16 km) from where there are direct buses to Kumarakom. Kottayam houses the nearest major railway station and it connects the city to most other parts of the country.