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Stretching 60 miles in length along the southern tip of India, scenic 373,622-acre Vembanad Lake is India's longest lake and the largest lake in the state of Kerala. Although the majority of the lake is shallow and marshy, the Vembanad wetland system is ecologically important due to its lush mangrove and coconut patches and beautiful habitat for resident and migrating waterfowl. Residents of the lake depend on the water for their livelihood which includes agriculture, fishing, and tourism. One of the most popular activities on the lake are houseboat cruises which take visitors to the many small tranquil lagoons which showcase the breathtaking tropical backwater flora and fauna.
A unique characteristic of Vembanad Lake is the location of the Thanneermukkom salt water barrier. The barrier was constructed as a part of the Kuttanad Development Scheme to prevent salt water from flowing into the Kuttanad low-land agricultural areas. This barrier essentially divides Vembanad Lake into two parts - one side with brackish water and the other side with fresh water fed by rivers draining into the lake. This barrier has helped the farmers in Kuttanad where fields sit below sea level, but it has also created ecological problems, primarily the rampant growth of the water hyacinth which thrives in fresh water. Steps are being taken to control the spread of this invading plant.
Although fishing and farming have sustained the area surrounding Vembanad Lake for many years, tourism has become the main source of income. The Lake is famous for its lush green surroundings and exciting luxury houseboat cruises. Most of the cruises start from the Vembanad Lake jetty and take visitors on an unforgettable journey around the lake. It is common for there to be hundreds of houseboats or kettuvallams crisscrossing the lake. There are also numerous resorts and villages nestled on the banks which welcome tourists. The village of Kumarakom, made up of a group of tiny islands, is one of the hot spots on cruise routes. Stops for picnics, fishing, and bird watching are the main themes of the cruises. A typical houseboat ranges from 67 to 95 feet in length and has a width of around 13 feet in the middle. A houseboat can be rented for a day or a week and can accommodate up to ten people. Houseboats come with a three member crew - a chef, a driver and a cabin assistant. Meals are traditional Kerala specialties, usually fish. Most houseboats have fully furnished bedrooms, sundecks, and restroom facilities.
Anglers wishing to try their luck in Vembanad Lake can book a fishing cruise. All necessary fishing equipment is provided. The waters of the lake are home to a large variety of fish to include several species of catfish and perch. Guides make sure anglers of all ages catch some fish which can then be prepared for lunch or dinner. For those who'd like to explore the lake on their own, canoe and kayak rentals are available.
There is no shortage of vacation rentals or real estate on Vembanad Lake. If a houseboat doesn't sound like your idea of fun, resorts and lodges can be found in the cities, ports and villages around the lake. The port of Kochi is located at the lake's outlet to the Arabian Sea and is a popular tourist town. The town of Alappuzha (also known as Allepey), is called the "Venice of the East" for its large network of canals that meander through the town. Kumarakom is the most popular resort village on the lake. The area is dense in mangrove forests, emerald green paddy fields and coconut groves. The Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary is located on the eastern shore of the lake. This 14-acre sanctuary is a major tourist attraction and home to hundreds of birds including Siberian storks. There are also several wildlife sanctuaries within a few hours drive of the lake which offer everything from elephant rides to up close visits with tigers and other indigenous wildlife. Village markets are also popular with tourists and offer great souvenirs to remember your vacation by.
A vacation on Vembanad Lake would not be complete without a visit to Pathiramanal Island, located in the center of the lake. Accessible only by boat, this 10-acre, palm-covered island is a haven for hundreds of rare birds migrating from different parts of the world. A resort on the island can accommodate a small number of guests. The name Pathiramanal means "sands of night". Starting from Kumarakom, the enchanting island is a 40 minute boat ride away.
The landscape surrounding Vembanad Lake has much to offer hikers and sightseers. The Aruvikkuzhi Waterfalls are just over a mile from Kumarakom and provide a beautiful picnic spot near sparkling streams and a 100 foot drop waterfall. Kottayam is an ancient town famous for its 700 years-old churches. The city of Vagamon sits 360 feet above sea level and offers hikers a spectacular view of beautiful valleys, sprawling meadows and the greenery of tea gardens.
For a truly one-of-a-kind vacation, consider a houseboat cruise along the palm-fringed waterways of Vembanad Lake. Glide past flowering water lilies, lush paddy fields, scenic villages, and ancient temples, all from the privacy of your own boat. Hike along tropical nature trials, have a picnic near a waterfall, and enjoy the colors and sounds of some of the most exotic birds in the world. At the end of the day, sit back and relax on the deck or your houseboat or lakefront cottage and enjoy an incredible Indian sunset.
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