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Pictures: Philippe Stalder

If you are looking for a break and an opportunity to let your mind drift, the Kerala backwaters are pretty much the place to be. Embedded in the wild South Indian jungle flora, this network of interconnected canals, lakes, rivers and lagoons stretches hundreds of miles behind the coast of the Arabian sea. The entrancing energy of that magical water maze attracts countless tourists from both India and abroad; there are more than 2000 kettuvallams (houseboats) offering backwater boat cruises. However, they disperse quickly after take off into the sheer endlessness of the waterways.

Thatched roof covers

The kettuvallams were traditionally used by farmers to transport the rice harvested in the fertile paddy fields behind the shady coconut groves alongside the backwaters. Their distinct thatched roof covers provided 360°-protection from the elements. Before they were converted to accomodate tourists, the kettuvallams were at some point used as living quarters by the Indian royalty. Hiring a houseboat for a few days gives you the opportunity to explore the backwaters at a leisurely pace, watching daily life unfold on and around the water.

Unique aquatic species

The backwaters consist of freshwater from the rivers and seawater from the ocean, allowing many unique aquatic species such as otters, turtles, crabs, frogs, cormorants and kingfishers to inhabit this labyrinthine ecosystem. Formed naturally by the action of waves and shore currents that created low barrier islands and later expanded artificially with canals, the backwaters furthermore form an economical means of transport for the locals, who basically live at, in and on the water.