We had been on the houseboat cruise in Kerala’s famed backwaters before. That was in June 2007. We had set out from Kumarakom early one morning, docked for the night by a deserted strip of land, in the middle of almost nowhere, surrounded by water, reassured by the lapping of the waves and reached Alleppy just after breakfast the next day. Those 24 hours spent taking the narrow ‘lanes’ of the backwaters, peeping into the lives of the locals who lived by the side, squealing at the row boats tied to the anchors adjacent their homes, watching kingfishers dive for fishes in the backwaters, running off with the locals in search of the toddy, a local alcoholic drink, was a drama that stayed in our hearts for all these years. And so, when we planned another Kerala trip this October (Read: Kerala Roadtrip), we were sure we wanted to relive the houseboat experience.
Sadly, however, not even 50% of the drama was recreated. Was it because we already knew what to expect and perhaps, over expected? Or was it because we took a shorter, perhaps ‘touristic’, route? Maybe both!
This time round, we started off from Alleppy at around 1pm – the trip was actually from 12pm, but we reached late from Munnar (Read: Things to do in Munnar ) owing to bad traffic. The deal was, we would be brought back to the same place after breakfast the next day. Which meant, we were on the houseboat cruise for less than 20 hours. Also, coming back to the same place meant that we couldn’t go far…we would have to cruise within a specified distance, so that we could make our way back on time. That was restricting, and possibly the reason, why the cruise felt all touristy…and not, as we prefer, off the beaten track….
Our stay on the houseboat, though, was quite grand — we had booked it all for ourselves, two bedrooms, a large wooden deck that offered lovely views and with ample seating arrangement. With the result that we plonked around the deck all afternoon and evening, sometimes lying down and simply enjoying the breeze and the sky, while at other times, looking out into the countryside, the rice fields, people’s homes, and see life drift by. Sunset time is particularly beautiful, irrespective of which part you are in – the coconut trees, backwaters/rice fields and the sun work as a team to bring to you a sight most heavenly and soothing…
Food at the houseboat: With every houseboat having its own driver and a cook, you can pretty much let them know your preferences for food. We told them about our love for local food as well as fish, and they ensured we got the freshest of Karimeens caught from the very backwaters we were cruising in! Top it with dishes of veggies and chicken cooked the Kerala style, we were in food heaven for both lunch and dinner. Breakfast, the next day, was the simple, yet filling, idli-sambar!
Tips for a good houseboat cruise:
- Now that we have experience both types of cruises, we’d urge you to take the longer one for a deeper experience. Try to squeeze in enough time in your itinerary so that you can take the cruise from one town to another. That way, the experience is maximum!
- Call up the houseboat operators and lay down your exact conditions for the boat – be it for food, stay or exclusivity. We saw a family fight with them saying that they didn’t get what they were promised.
- If you are a fish lover, tell the driver you want to anchor by a local village for some fresh catch. They indulge you by cooking what you have bought!
- Do not take the completely closed, air-conditioned houseboats. The bedrooms have AC and that is enough. The open decks and the fresh air is most beautiful. Even during peak sun at noon, it doesn’t get unbearable. And most importantly, why come on a cruise if you have to look into the water through glass windows and not allow the breeze to touch your hair?
- Carry mosquito repellents with you. For, when the houseboat docks at nightfall, mosquitoes swarm in for a feast!
P.S: Need help to plan a roadtrip in Kerala? Read this post for itinerary, food and shopping tips — A Kerala Roadtrip to Discover God’s Own Country