I got surprised out my reverie when i heard a voice mischievously addressing me from the Kerala Backwaters. ” Why so serious ?”. His smile in turn brought a smile to my face and set the tone for the day.It was then I realized that while contemplating the peaceful Kerala Backwaters scene passing by I had my restive bitch face on…which caught the curiosity of the boy. I waved back to him. He told me in a carefree singsong voice that he was practicing for the snake boat race.Snake boat racing is a big local sporting event and our houseboat was passing right through the practice area. This sport is unique to Kerala Backwaters. I flashed my million watts smile at the urchin and wished him luck.He passed by the houseboat grinning and effortlessly maintaining balance of his boat.I took a bus from Bangalore to the Country of gods-Kerala Backwaters for the weekend.
The transit to the houseboat was arranged in a tuk tuk by the houseboat host as I had booked in advance.I expected the tuk tuk to take a turn anytime and take me to a waterfront or beach to a proper docking space for all the pretty houseboats.Instead,it abruptly came to halt at the end of a heavily populated street. It took me full five minutes to realize that we had arrived at our destination.The cluster of thatched roof and windows ahead of me was not a permanent settlement of huts but it was the kick off parking point of all the beautiful Alleppey backwaters houseboat.Before I could take in the beautiful view I was greeted by our houseboat host with an heavy american accent and in reply I turned to shake hands with my host who was as Indian as any one could be. The houseboat tourism is a big deal in Kerala and all the local hosts have developed accents to interact comfortably with the international guests. I climbed over the boat along with my bag and deposited the same on the lower deck to explore the upper deck. The upper deck welcomed me with a comfortable setting of lounge chairs and a bath tub with a curtains for modesty right behind the lounge chairs.Well what can i say – renting a houseboat in Kerala Backwaters is one of the most popular honeymoon experience for Indians.I eased myself on the lounge chair and decided to stay there semi-permanently. I immediately put my feet up and sipped on hot lemon tea and blissfully settled into my holiday on the small but cosy deck amongst the gentle sounds of birds and water.It had rained the whole night and therefore everything around the backwaters was green and fresh.The Backwaters view was made absolutely fabulous because of other quaint houseboats passing by in the early morning. It is a complete change of pace from the city life and you can easily spend the whole day relaxing on the deck sipping tea and listening to music. It was a treat to observe all the villages and the view from the confines of a deck chair high up on the boat as the villagers around the backwaters came to life and went about their daily life.The Kerala backwaters play a crucial role in their daily life – its a waterway, sometimes its their front door, sometimes its their practice playground,its a food market but for most of the people in the area its a livelihood.All the Kerala Backwaters houseboats have a fixed schedule to adhere to and also have a fixed itinerary as mentioned below
Pick up from Alleppey jetty at 11.30 AM
Cruise on the Pallathuruthy River, Pukaitha River till Champakulam.
Sightseeing at Champakulam .(The Champakulam church, temple and the famous snake boat- The Champakulam Chundan)
Proceed to Munnattumugham for night stay.
Cruise starts after breakfast and passes through Chennamkary, Kainary, small villages.
Reach Alleppey finishing point at 09.30 AM
Disembark from the houseboat.
Transfer to nearest bus station/railway station
There are a lot of things to do once you are on the boat:
You can ask your boat captain to park for a while at the Keraleeyam Lake Side Ayurvedic Health Resort for a wonderful one hour massage from a trained Ayurveda masseuse . This is one thing that will get you in full relaxation mode .The Ayurvedic massage is cheap and nothing says “welcome to Kerala” like this massage and the hot water bath that follows the massage.
Next,you can stop by at a fish shop that is right on the water and buy prawns and fish for lunch.They had a lot of goodies like crabs and different varieties of freshly caught fish. The chef on the boat made a delicious lunch out of all the fresh sea food that I bought. The lunch was served on the open deck and i spent all the afternoon gazing at all the other houseboats and fishing villages.
Buy ice cream or coconuts from the boat vendors honking at you from the waters.
Basically just unwind with the beautiful view and gorge on all the local food dishes prepared by your personal chef When you hit a low traffic spot on the waters, you can take boat steering sessions from the boat captain and steer through other houseboats and kayaks.
If you are a person that needs some sort of activity during your holiday break this tour is not for you. If you are looking to just unwind and chill then this a perfect getaway for you.
But like with every other good experience there is always something bad that you need to contemplate on. And here at the backwaters it was the used plastic bottles floating in the backwaters. I am sure that it is a pretty normal sight everywhere in India for any tourist. These bottles somehow clashed with the whole vibe and gave me a tinge of dissatisfaction. And talking about dissatisfaction brings me to the topic of the houseboat booking process. Typically when I start searching for a place to stay or an activity to do i usually land up on booking.com. But for me it was a shocker to see the rates and available options for the houseboats.Most of them were fully booked for the weekend. I started searching for these boats on other sites and I was relieved to find slightly low priced options available and I decided to go for one of them which had better pictures on their websites. But in spite of all the research the service and the boat in general were very average. Overall the whole experience was bearable but the issue that i generally face while travelling in India is cleanliness and this houseboat was no exception to the rule. I had a cockroach fly over my sheets at night and in the bathroom i was in constant company of lizards and geckos. I did enjoy the food prepared and served but i had qualms about the hygiene after the previous night’s experiences.In terms of facilities provided the houseboat accommodation was pretty average as most of the fitments in the bathroom were not working.
Later in the day,I was talking to the Ayurveda center manager who was kind enough to tell me that it all depends on the kind of houseboat that you book.The question that was in my mind was how would a normal tourist researching a houseboat accommodation would decide which one would be cleaner and more comfortable . I personally think it would have been better to choose from the overpriced options available on sites like booking.com or Tripadvisor.com. I could have availed a cleaner boat or at least I would have been able to post a review about the houseboat to help other fellow tourists.As far as travelling in India is concerned general hygiene and cleanliness are the only factors that stop our country to be at par with destinations all over the world. Other south east asian countries like Thailand and Bali do not have this problem even with far cheaper accommodations . I would love to see our tourism industry increase their standards of cleanliness as a norm. Basic hygiene should be available to a tourist not as a luxury but as a standard. In India while travelling i usually end up paying far more money only because i am looking for a clean and hygienic place to stay.