Kerala—From Treetops to Backwaters

By Sandra Scott

“No one will ever believe this,” said John, standing on the veranda of his tree house room 90 feet above the wide tranquil valley. “Sleeping in a tree! It will be hard to ‘top’ this!”

Kerala, long noted for its beautiful beaches, is fast becoming popular for its tree houses. Truly, Kerala is “God’s Own Country.” There are the to-be-expected culturally diverse cities, historic forts, monuments, and temples, but it is nature that makes Kerala so special. Located in the southwestern part of India, the state of Kerala is a narrow strip of land between the Arabian Sea and the Western Ghats.
Tree House
Tree House

Nowhere in the world will visitors find themselves so at one with nature as they will in one of Kerala’s tree houses. The &erumadam”, the local name for the tree houses, were constructed in the tops of big trees to make it easier to watch for wild elephants that rampaged through the farms, destroying the crops. While the practice is no longer common, the tree houses are once again being built, this time to accommodate tourists. The construction is based on local tradition. The branches of the fig tree provide the framework and coir mats are used for the walls. To be true to indigenous techniques, builders called on the expertise of local tribal craftsmen. The tree houses in Kerala are found in the rain forests often surrounded by plantations of tea, coffee, cardamom and pepper.

Most of us had whimsical childhood daydreams of building our own tree house, but that vision faded as we grew older. Now, that dream can be realized in Kerala, and reality surpasses our dreams. These tree houses come with a toilet, a shower, and running water.
Rope Bridge to Tree House
Rope Bridge to Tree House

Access to the tree houses varies according to location. Some connect to a tree-enshrouded ledge by a hanging bridge that creaks and undulates under the weight of the human tree-dwellers. Other tree houses have a water-weighted cane cage “elevator” to take guests to the treetop accommodations.

All tree houses offer amazing views from their verandas. Some look out over the canopy of the rainforest; others offer an expansive view of hills, mountains, and cloud-choked valleys. Be prepared to have a bird fly though your bedroom or frolicking chipmunks came racing down the spiral stairs. After all, it is their home.

In these eco-friendly houses the singing birds and the rustle of the leaves supply the music. In the evening, the air freshens, and nature’s mixed chorus provides the lullaby. Morning arrives with a different symphony of birds, frogs and insects. The morning mist enhances the aroma of the tropical flowers. Attend to your early morning needs in the alfresco bathroom. Breakfast, on the veranda or in the ground-level dining room, is served Kerala-style on a banana leaf placemat. In keeping with the ecological theme, most of the food is organically grown vegetables prepared with the spices indigenous to Kerala. A typical breakfast may include delicious dollops of putte (steamed rice with coconut) with Bengal gram curry, iddali (steamed cake of rice and black gram) served with sambar (typical vegetable curry of South India), appam with vegetable stew, and dosa with spiced coconut paste.

Another aspect of the ecological theme is the energy source. It is a unique combination of solar energy and gober gas from cow dung, thus preventing air pollution and noise pollution associated with conventional electricity and diesel generators.
Poling the Houseboat
Poling the Houseboat

Tree houses are just one of the unique adventures available in Kerala. No less unique are the “kettuvallam” found in the backwaters of Kerala. Kettuvallam are houseboats that were at one time used to transport rice. They are covered with woven mats so that from a distance they look like they are still laden with rice. Many private and government operators provide houseboats in several backwater locations.
People along the canal
People along the canal

Kerala has hundreds of miles of backwaters where the building of levees and canals has reclaimed the land for rice cultivation. The best way to see the backwaters of Kerala is by houseboat, which move so quietly that there is time to chat with people along the way.

Houseboats come with one, two, or three bedrooms and can be motorized or propelled by polers, one in front and one in the rear. Life along the canals moves at an easy pace as does the houseboat. In the morning children walk along the levee paths on their way to school, women wash dishes in the canal, vendors in small wooden canoes ply their wares, and always there is the “slap-slap” sound of clothes being washed on a rock.

The most popular shore trip is to the ancestral home of Kuriakose Elias Chavara, now a Christian shrine where thousands gather to pray. Chat with the friendly people, learn how the sluices regulate the water in the fields, and buy fresh fish for dinner. For a few days be at one with the people of Kerala’s backwaters gliding along the palm-lined canals, mesmerized by the scenes of village life.
Tea Boat
Tea Boat

When evening approaches the houseboats head for the lake so as to be out of the canals during the night when the fishermen set their nets. Water hyacinths drift by on the glassy water. Flocks of birds gather in brush for the night, their songs competing with the music from the Hindu temples.

The fiery red balloon sun sets, going for its bath they say. When the brilliant yellow, “cleansed” morning sun is well above the horizon the kettuvallams head back into the canals and another amazing day begins in Kerala.

For more information, including tree house and houseboat accommodations go to: www.keralatourism.org or call India Tourism at (800) GO-INDIA.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *