Review of Houseboat in Kerala Backwaters
Let us continue with our love affair with God’s own country and in this post revisit the magical famed backwaters of Kerala. Though you may find backwaters in many places in Kerala right from Trivandrum to Kollam but it is Alleppey that has earned the moniker of Venice of East. Indeed these famed canals are the lifeline of most of the coastal and the preferred mode of transport.
I have written about my cruises in the Alleppey backwaters when I visited the Champakulam Church one of the oldest Portuguese Church in India. But I kind of never wrote about how was my experience of staying in a house boat overnight in the backwaters of Kerala. Now this brings me to a bit of nostalgia, takes me back how Jugaad innovation is the backbone of Indian ethos. For a long time the backwaters were used for transporting all the produce specially rice to the ports and bigger cities in Kerala, because the roads were really bad, but then at some point of time road infrastructure in Kerala became better and it was economical and faster to carry rice on roads using various means of surface transport.
Now Kerala had good roads and a fleet of unused rice boats. Then somebody got an idea as the tourism in Kashmir was taking a hit somebody thought of why not convert the rice boats into houseboats like the Shikaras and houseboats of the famous Dal Lake. So one by one the rice boats got converted into Houseboats and were rented out to tourists, who lapped up the experience of staying in them and cruising in the backwaters at a leisurely pace slowly watching life in slow motion around them. No wonder Houseboats in Kerala are loved by Honeymooners as they have the boat to themselves. But if you are looking for solitude, do remember to check how many rooms the houseboat has as some of them have 2, some even 3 or 4 rooms on a single houseboat depending on the size.
As we were part of the Kerala Blog Express, we were divided into groups of 2 and threes depending on the number of bedrooms on each houseboat. While each bedroom is a fully furnished room with attached bath, AC, double bed and even a study table, it is the common area on the deck that offers the best view.
The skipper of our Houseboat Captain Mohan was a taciturn fellow, preferring to speak in monosyllables when spoken to, but our Chef cum, guide cum man Friday Johnny could hold a conversation on his own and enhanced our knowledge about the backwaters, Kerala cuisine, labor issues, history of various Churches that we saw etc.
Johnny our Chef, cum guide cum man Friday, could not only hold a conversation he could also dish out a mean meal in the brief moments he would vanish from our eyesight to do some abracadabra in his Kitchen at the back of the houseboat. For the lunch, he dished out some salad, rice, beans, papadams, and some mean meen curry ( Meen in Malayalam = Fish ) and a few other side dishes that in my ravenous attack on the food, I did not even bother to find the name of. ( Note to self. When clicking picture please ask name of the dishes in future )
Post lunch me and Nelson my fellow travel blogger on the boat just relaxed on the deck while Johnny enhanced our knowledge about Kerala. It was somewhere here that we got down the houseboat and followed Johnny like a pug to the Champakulam Church. This will be a good time to check my earlier post about life in Backwaters of Kerala and have you participated in my Kerala Travel Book giveaway, that has posts and pictures from 27 travel bloggers from around the world?
In the evening the houseboats anchor at their designated spots and you can find 10 or at some places, even more, boats parked together. There is no movement of houseboats in the night as there is some kind of unwritten understanding between the fishermen and houseboat owners.
And as the boat anchor fishermen start putting their nets in the backwaters that are removed with the catch just before the waterways become busy again. All this while various birds like Herons, Egrets, Darter, Ducks etc continue to look for food in the backwaters. And you see a mutual respect for tourists, fishermen, and nature all around you.
Once our boats were anchored we decided to take a walk along the canal and ventured into a village nearby, only to stop once again to listen to the hymns coming from the village church only an earshot away from a Shiva Temple. While returning I saw this family catching fish in a very interesting way. They will put some flour in a bowl and lower the bowl in water. As some small fish will come to eat the balls of flour they will take out the bowl out while the fish continued to nibble, unaware that soon they will be served in supper.
One of the girls, who were supervising the collective attempt of hunting and gathering fish through innovative exploitation of weakness identified by researching the foraging behavior demonstrated by Craniate chordate organisms moving in a school, invited us for dinner that was still being lured into the trap. But I was keener to get some of the mangoes on a tree nearby. The bananas were not yet ripe otherwise, I would have tried them too.
When we returned to the anchored boat, Johnny was ready with some hot tea and snacks which we gobbled after our refreshing walk along the canal.
The post dinner time was spent exchanging travel stories under the moonlit sky listening to the buzz of insects in the bushes on shore. Some of them dared to come to the boat in search of an easy meal trying to threaten with their proboscis but taking a clue from the wild pachyderms that we saw earlier, we have covered ourselves with impregnable layers of grease sold as the mosquito repellant.
Soon the perils of the modern world took over and we were busy uploading pictures of Kerala on Instagram and retired to our rooms cooled by the humming ACs.
Here I was in the middle of backwaters of Kerala with working ACs, and a 3 G connection that worked better than WiFi we got in some of the hotels we have stayed so far. Not bad I would say for a former rice boat, now boosting Kerala Tourism! Though I would have preferred no phones to disturb the bliss, but alas the modern traveler who travels to get away from everything yet frets if the phones don’t work.
There was no need for a morning alarm for the birds started singing at the crack of the dawn and some of them were found staking claim on the very chair that was mine in the evening.
As I looked around I found some of the most beautiful scenery around me drenched in morning mist reflecting the smiling sun reminding me once again that I am in Gods’ Own Country.
“In backwaters of Kerala you bow your head in respect for the harmony with which the local communities, tourism and nature coexist and complement each other. One of the mornings I got up to photograph birds and found two of them right on the next houseboat peacefully waiting for passing by fish, and at just a few meters away a fisherman was laying his net to catch some crabs. I was happy to click pictures, the fisherman was happy catching his crabs, and the birds were happy knowing that I am only there to click pictures and not to harm them in any way, except to stake claim on the chair on the deck that we both thought the other party is trying to monopolize.”
Soon it was time to go to the next destination and the houseboat moved towards the main boarding jetty in Alleppey and before we knew Johnny was ready to through the anchor in waters as Captain Mohan dexterously parked the houseboat within an arm’s length of the next one.
So long backwaters, I will be back!!
How to book a houseboat in Kerala: We stayed in the Houseboat owned by a company called Lakes and Lagoons and the service, food, rooms and the common areas all were impeccable. You can check tariff & book online, packages for Kerala Houseboats on Lakes and Lagoons (Phone no: 0477 2266842). The packages for the overnight stay with cruise start at around 7 to 8000 rupees per night for twin sharing, including meals, depending on the season and type of boat chosen.
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