First compared to the famous city of canals over a century ago, Kerala’s Venice of the East is still worth a visit today.
In the early 20th Century, the governor-general and viceroy of India George Nathaniel Curzon dubbed Alappuzha, at that point known as Alleppey, the “Venice of the East”, remarking that “Here nature has spent up on the land her richest bounties.” Generous praise, but does it still ring true? Let’s consider the similarities and differences of the two canal-strewn cities. And perhaps if Alppuzha isn’t really Kerala’s Venice of the East might it be… better?
Similarity #1: Canals (Obviously)
It won’t come as a surprise that Curzon’s comparison with Venice was prompted by Alappuzha having many canals, which connect the city to the wonderful Kerala backwaters. There’s no denying both cities are well served by narrow waterways, but they aren’t exactly similar in form. The canals of Venice weave through tightly-packed lanes of grand houses, are crossed by impressive stone bridges, and populated by bombastic gondaliers standing on their unique narrow canoe-like rowing boats. The canals of Kerala are considerably more relaxed, lined with trees and traversed by their famous houseboats. Though it doesn’t have Alappuzha’s natural charm, Suzhou in Eastern China is a far closer aesthetic match to Venice…
Similarity #2: Busy Busy Busy
Okay, canals aren’t the only the similarity which might prompt one to describe Alappuzha as Kerala’s Venice of the East. Both cities are very busy, especially in the center. Venice has long had a reputation for an its crush of tourists in popular sights like St Marks Square, so much so that the city may soon charge for access to prime locations. Alappuzha is not quite at that level, but its city centre does bustle with chaotic activity, like few places in the state of Kerala.
Similarity #3: Religious Sites
One final similarity between the real Venice and Kerala’s Venice of the East is an abundance of religious sites. Venice is, of course, famous for its stunning churches, from the grand Saint Mark’s Basilica to many smaller chapels dotted around the lagoon. Similarly, the temples of Alappuzha are highly recommended. Unlike much of Kerala, where non-Hindus are not permitted to enter the premises of temples, anyone is welcome of many of the most interesting of Alappuzha’s places of worship and even festivals.
Difference #1: Well, They are Very Different (Obviously)
Enough of the similarities. Despite the canals, Venice and Alappuzha are incredible different. While, like Venice, Kerala has been at the heart of global trading routes for centuries, the delicious spicy cuisine of the state may come as a pleasant surprise… unlike pizza and pasta. Another benefit of Kerala’s Venice of the East is the weather: while Northern Italy is quite chilly for much of the year, Alappuzha remains consistently warm all year; just avoid the seasonal monsoons! But that’s not the biggest difference…
Difference #2: In Alappuzha You Can Actually Relax
While the jewel of the Adriatic is one of the most visit sites in the world, Alapuzzha is far more of an undiscovered gem. The crush of tourists can make Venice almost impossible to enjoy, although the commotion on the canals can be fun for a while. However, just a short trip out of Alappuzha’s centre and you can reach a mesmerising paradise and floating towards Kerala’s backwaters is like descending into a dream of peaceful beauty. This is India at its best, and while it’s not Venice, it’s wonderful in its own right.
Don’t take our word for it though, you should see Kerala’s “Venice of the East” for yourself! The best way to visit Alappuzha is to join the Malabar Rampage 2017 rickshaw adventure. The minimal assistance rally travels from Trivandrum to Panaji, in a week of discovery, laughs, and over 1000km! You’ll explore the incredible food, scenery, and culture, that make South India so special.