The nerve centre of Kerala backwaters, Ashtamudi Lake is part of the touristy Kollam town, the southern gateway to the backwaters of the state. Most of the tourists to Kollam come for the backwater cruises because they are assured of views of unique marine life and fauna found only in the area. Ashtamudi Lake is a mesmerizing network of lakes, canals and river. It is the second largest backwater in the state running 55 km long covering 30% of the town. In Malayalam (local language), Ashtamudi means eight arms after the eight channels that form the palm-shaped Lake.
It is not only the verdant vista of coconut groves and palm trees and sprawling sparkling waters that has many visitors swooning. They are common place in Kerala backwaters. But what sets Ashtamudi apart is that it is the second largest and deepest wetland ecosystem of the state figuring in the list of Ramsar wetlands of international importance. There are also few tracts of mangrove and over 57 species of avifauna (6 migratory and 51 resident) and 97 species of fishes have been recorded here. It is the sight of this thriving vegetative and marine life that has turned Ashtamudi into a leading backwater destination, along with glimpses of villages and the web-like Chinese fishing nets at the shore.
To explore the lake and the canals, the state-run DTPC and several agencies provide boat rides ranging from a day to several days. Few full day houseboat cruises also come with traditional Kathakali dance performance. Apart from that, there are special sunset cruises and 4-hour cruises with the Munroe Island, a cluster of eight tiny islands, in the itinerary. On top of the pile is the eight-hour ride along the backwater from Kollam to Alappuzha. It is the most popular and the longest. The houseboats are no ordinary boats. They are luxurious coming with all modern facilities such as furnished rooms and toilets, upper deck that offers best view of the surroundings, personal cook and dutiful guide.
There are also several tiny islands in the area, some inhabited while some are not. Few cruises cover the entire islands in the Ashtamudi backwater. The most famous one is the Thekkumbhagom Island, at the shore of the Lake. It became famous as it is the setting of the first epic poetry of the state, written in native language by the famous local poet Azhakath Padmanabha Kurup. The ancient 1000 year old temple and a 200 year old church are other attractions. Apart from houseboats, shorter village trips are arranged for small group of five or six who are ferried by a traditional canoe Kettuvallam. They are meant especially for seeing the fish farms and to see how toddy is made as well as coir.