Exploring India's 'Venice of the East'

 
 

“Here nature has spent up on the land her richest bounties. Alleppey, the Venice of the East.” So proclaimed George Nathaniel Curzon, the viceroy and governor-general of British India in the early 1900s. At the heart of Kerala’s economically vibrant and fertile rice bowl, Alappuzha, also known as Alleppey, is like no other place in India. Sitting on the Laccadive Sea with the Vembanad Lake to its northeast, Alleppey draws comparison to Venice by virtue of its massive network of freshwater rivers, canals, lakes, and lagoons. Like Kochi, which was and continues to be a pivotal maritime node for Indian Ocean trade, life in Alleppey is intertwined with maritime activity.

Ankit Panda is an associate editor at The Diplomat.

Exploring India's 'Venice of the East'
The economic livelihood of Alleppey's residents primarily centers around agriculture, fishing, and other maritime products. In the backwaters, rice farming is the predominant occupation and has been so for centuries.
Image Credit: Ankit Panda
Exploring India's 'Venice of the East'
To prevent inundation and flooding of the rice paddies, rice farmers create crude levees from sediment and mud. Much of the farmland in and around Alleppey was reclaimed from Vembanad Lake and other shallow bodies of water.
Image Credit: Ankit Panda
Exploring India's 'Venice of the East'
During the day, Hindu temples in the Alleppey backwaters broadcast prayers and chants that are audible in the city proper. The temple, like schools and other institutions along the backwaters, has a gate facing the waterway for easy access by boat.
Image Credit: Ankit Panda
Exploring India's 'Venice of the East'
Alleppey is a religiously diverse city. Roughly half of its residents are Hindu while a quarter are Christian and another quarter are Muslim. A rich history of trade and maritime activity combined with a Portuguese colonial presence led to a strong Christian presence in Kerala.
Image Credit: Ankit Panda
Exploring India's 'Venice of the East'
Near the banks of Alleppey's waterways, the water grows thick with foliage from nearby trees. The waterways general consist of briny water with a translucent brown appearance.
Image Credit: Ankit Panda
Exploring India's 'Venice of the East'
The Alleppey backwaters have massive appeal for tourists visiting Kerala. Houseboat tourism is a particularly popular tourist activity in the area and a source of economic vitality for the region.
Image Credit: Ankit Panda
Exploring India's 'Venice of the East'
Houseboats sit docked along the banks of the Alleppey waterways.
Image Credit: Ankit Panda
Exploring India's 'Venice of the East'
Curzon's Venice analogy appears especially apt given that normal economic life takes place along the waterways rather than over roads and bridges. The schoolchildren of the Alleppey backwaters are rowed to school and back.
Image Credit: Ankit Panda
Exploring India's 'Venice of the East'
High schoolers wait for their "school boat" to pick them up at the end of a day of classes.
Image Credit: Ankit Panda
Exploring India's 'Venice of the East'
The bow of a typical Alleppey houseboat in the backwaters.
Image Credit: Ankit Panda
Exploring India's 'Venice of the East'
Rice farmers, tourists, and others gather for lunch at a restaurant along the waterway.
Exploring India's 'Venice of the East'
The local government State Water Transport Department arranges "bus boat" service along the waterways of Kerala to provide affordable public transportation. Alleppey lies on India's National Waterway 3, a 200 kilometer navigational route with 24-hour navigational facilities.
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