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As characteristic of Kerala as the 600km long coastline of dazzling beaches is the dense, lush backwaters of the state. And while hill stations are all over the country and palm-fringed beaches too, the backwaters are unique to Kerala.

The 75 kilometre long sparkling network of rivers, canals, lakes, lagoons and tiny streamlets between Quilon and Cochin and beyond to Trivandrum, of which the Kuttanad (backwaters) consist are akin to a tropical land of canals.

How else can one describe mile after mile of coastal lagoons, shaded by thick groves ofpalms, that meander past two huts-and-a-coconut-palm hamlets, white churches, temples and mosques and iridescent green paddy fields, behind betelnut farms, around floating markets and below tiny picturesque bridges? Almost like a film zig-zagging from shot to shot, views alter rapidly here - one moment you are floating down a glittering rivulet through thickets of palms, watching a kingfisher pop in and out of the water fishing for hors d' oeuvres and the next moment you have glided right into the middle of sunny lake clearing.

Best times to visit: December through March. Try to visit around January15 to see the boat race at Alleppey on January 19 and the Great ElephantMarch Jan 17 to 20. Second Saturday of August is Nehru Trophy snakeboat raceand the spectacle of the backwaters.

Climate: Maximum 35 degrees Celsius. Minimum 22 degrees Celsius. Annual rainfall 250 mm

Language: Malayalam, some English.

Location: The backwaters is bound on four sides by the towns of Cochin, Quilon, Alleppey and Kottayam and any of them are a gateway into the lagoons.

Dress Sense: Cool clothes; shorts, t-shirts. Stay away from semi-nude outfits if you wish to enter temples or churches.

Getting there: Quilon is accessible by road or train from Trivandrum, the nearest airport; one and a half hours on the Kerala Mangala Express.

Alleppey and Kottayam are accessible by road, boat or train from Cochin the nearest airport. Alleppey is one and a half hours away by road and one hour and 20 minutes away by train. Kottayam is two hours away by road and one hour away by train.

Kumarakom is accessible by road from Kottayam which is just 15kilometres away.

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