The waters are placid, the scenery breathtaking; yet the kettuvallam (houseboat/riceboat) ride on Chettuva lake remains unknown to tourists. While Alappuzha has made its mark on the international tourism circuit with its backwaters cruise in the famed houseboats, Chettuva in Thrissur is a whimper in the tourist babel.
It’s surprising that the tourists, who make a beeline at Alappuzha for a ride down the backwaters through the Vembanad, have not heard of the equally famous riceboat rides in Chettuva. The splendid sight of the mangroves that grow lushly here is a feature not familiar to Alappuzha.
“What Pathiramanal is to Alappuzha is the mangrove to Chettuva,” says Suresh, who was the first person to introduce riceboats in Chettuva lake. Suresh was the first manager of Sumangali, Kerala’s first houseboat.
Where is Cheuttva?
Head to Guruvayur from Kodungallur and move along the long bridge after Vadanappally. The water spread that lies sprawling to its east and flowing close to the Arabian Sea is the Chettuva backwaters.
Chettuva and Enammavu are the two lakes flowing along Manaloor, Chettuva, Kandassankadavu, and Thriprayar. It’s into these lakes that the Kanoli canal flows.
It takes more than five hours for a boat spin along the waters formed by the two lakes and the water-spill from Kanoli. It’s a ride down life, tradition, rustic charm, and the hospitality of a people. Land strips lined with coconut palms, small toddy shops, migratory birds swooping down for their catch, dark and brooding mangroves, and fishermen in their small canoes are sights to savor.
Chettuva’s tiny islets
Incidentally, it is in the heart of Chettuva lake lies the biggest mangrove forest in Kerala. The mangroves owe their lush growth to the sediments thrown up by Kanoli canal and Enammavu lake. Take the boat from Engandiyoor and sail westward to get up close to the mangroves. A 21-km drive from Thrissur will get you to Engandiyoor. Turn right from the National Highway and drive down 2km more along a narrow road where it ends at the country boat jetty called Vettakkoru Makan.
One of the first places to touch down is the Coconut Island. Suresh bought this narrow strip of land about 14 years ago. It was a totally untapped piece of land. People used to gape in disbelief when Suresh got to build a small set up here. The beauty of the place was lost on the natives. Despite the place being inaccessible, he built a small cottage and a kitchen here. It took more than 10 years for tourists to pin the island on their travel map. It’s a different scene altogether now.
The islet now has a small air conditioned cottage with a dining hall and a kitchen. The natural vegetation of pristine coconut palms and thickly growing bamboo add to its charm. The boat ride begins from this point.
The morning ride has a refreshing feel. The whole lake is dotted by fishermen in their tiny boats busy with their daily catch. The boat stops wherever there are special sights to enjoy.
The first stop is at the place where you can see the expertise with which the fishermen bag their catch as the boat turns to Kodam Mukku. There used to be a time when people would get one single catch weighing at least 50 kg. The boat, next, stops in front of Unnikrishnan’s shop. He is the local chef, host, and man-about-town all rolled into one.
Tourists can buy fish of their choice from these men and give it to Unnikrishnan, who will cook it for them in time for lunch just after they return from the morning cruise. Almost all the men in Chettuva village are expert anglers. Apart from casting nets of all sizes and varieties, they are expert divers who go down to collect clams.
Chettuva was also once quite famous for its coir trade. When business fell on bad times the womenfolk gave up their coir work. Toddy tapping is another traditional work here.
The boat sails on, crossing Kanoli canal and Enammavu lake, to the center of Chettuva lake. Far beyond lie the mangroves under the Chettuva bridge.
The boats usually slow down as they approach the mangroves. The slush around could get the boat stuck in the mud. Chettuva’s mangroves are a majestic sight. They are a thick cluster of vegetation, half down in the water, with the other half sticking out. Once the morning ride is over, the boat heads back to Unnikrishnan’s shop for the lunch.
In every way, Chettuva is a cruise to remember.
A lowdown on Chettuva’s cruise
The first stop is at Engandiyur along the Thrissur-Guruvayur route; 21km from Thrissur.
Take the right turn from Engandiyur, drive down for 2km till you reach Vettakkorumakan jetty. The rice boat cruise begins from here.
Nearest railway station: Guruvayoor (about 8 km).
Nearest airport: Cochin International Airport (about 76 km).
Places to look out for: Enammavu, Kandassankadavu, Chettuva, mangroves.
First trip at 5.45am for three-and-a-half hours; 9am, 12pm and 3pm
Full day trip: 9 am to 3 pm
You can stay on Coconut Island. Bookings can be made four days prior to the trip. For more details call: 94469-39377.