Ashtamudi, Kerala

Bijoy Venugopal

For reasons not entirely clear, Ashtamudi isn’t right at the top of Kerala Tourism’s marketing agenda. While Kumarakom and Kovalam receive top-billing, Ashtamudi settles for the position of a poor cousin. Nothing could be further from reality.

Ashtamudi Lake, Kerala’s second-largest backwater ecosystem after the Vembanad Lake in Allappuzha (with which it is connected by a channel), is located in the southerly Kollam district. It is cleaner, less troubled by crowds, and the houseboats and resorts more reasonably priced than their celebrated alternatives.

You can either rent a houseboat or stay ashore at the many resorts in the area, the most popular being the Club Mahindra Backwater Retreat. Though some of the newer houseboats have televisions, it is a good idea to rent one that gets away from it all.

Chefs stir up hot, delicious meals on board as you loll about with the wind in your hair, lulled by the sound of waterbirds. The seafood on offer is varied and spectacular with prawns, mussels, crab and squid vying for the table. If you’re fond of fish, don’t pass up the Pearl Spot (Karimeen), a freshwater fish that acquires a distinctive and remarkable taste in these brackish waters.

Vegetarians need not be discouraged, for Kerala cuisine offers a delectable range of options in coconut-based dishes like avial, thiyyal and olan. Breakfast on rice-flour puttu and chickpeas, or appam and vegetables stewed in a spicy white coconut-based gravy, and watch the coconut palms sway to the gentle caress of the breeze. Put your iPod away and listen to the lapping of the water against the wooden hull of your houseboat. And, here’s a tip: Go in winter when the sun is milder and the sunrises and sunsets far more spectacular.

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