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My Kerala Houseboat Experience.

A Kerala Houseboat journey is all about getting spoilt by delicious meals & warm hospitality while admiring the endless backwaters and rows after rows of coconut and palm trees. It gives a whole new perspective and appreciation for the life of the people living in villages around the backwaters, depending on it for food and livelihood.

Here’s presenting my complete guide to a Kerala Houseboat Experience to help you plan your own magical experience.

Table of Contents:
History of Houseboats in Kerala
What Facilities to Expect
Houseboats at a glance
  1. Duration of stay
  2. How to book
  3. Where to Board
  4. Cost

My Experience of a Allapuzha Houseboat
  1. Boarding the houseboat
  2. Interiors of the Houseboat
  3. Start of the journey
  4. The Backwaters
  5. Lunch Break
  6. Life on the Backwaters
  7. The Evening
  8. The Night
  9. The morning
  10. Final Thoughts

History of Houseboats in Kerala

Boats have always been the preferred means of transport in the backwaters. In the old days, boats made of wood and coir covered with black resin, were made to transport passengers, rice and spices across long distances. These boats also had a thatched roof cover and a space to serve as sleeping quarters for the crew. They were called Kettuvallams. People would stay aboard, catch fish, cook, eat and sleep in them for days while floating through the endless canals and lagoons of Kerala. The modern day, beautiful house boats are an avatar of the same.

What Facilities to expect on a modern day houseboat:

A modern houseboat has come far from the Kettuvallams. It’s a floating resort, don’t think of it as just a boat with a roof. Well furnished rooms, good food, cozy bed, Air conditioning and LCD TV are a common occurrences in any houseboat. Below are some facilities which one should expect:

  • Three meals per day.
  • Afternoon snack.
  • Tea, coffee and water
  • Welcome drinks
  • Fruit basket
  • Toiletries
  • Fan in each bedroom (AC if you are booking an AC houseboat)
  • TV
Duration of Stay:
One Night : The typical stay is for one night, where the Boarding Time is between 12 PM to 1 PM and Tour ends between 9 AM to 10 AM the following day. Meals are included in the package.
Day Tour : Day Tours lasts for 2 to 3 hours, where one can board a houseboat and enjoy a cruise on the backwaters. No Food or lodging services are offered in this case. Avoid this option unless you are very thin on the budget.
Multi Day Tour : Such tours are offered between multiple cities, where one can board the boat at one city and drop off at another. These lasts multiple days depending upon the cities one would like to visit. Meals are included in such tours as well.

How to book:
Online: All hotel aggregators like MakeMyTrip, Yatra, Booking.com and ktdckerala.com have options of booking hoseboats online
Offline:You will find a tour operator at almost all streets of Kochi who provide Houseboat booking. Bargain and get the best quote.

Where to Board:
Allepey (Allappuzah) is the houseboat district of Kerala, from where most of thehouseboats operate. Apart from Allepey, Kumarakom has lately comeup as a great alternative to Allepey. There are a few operating from other places in Kerala as well, but Alleppey and Kumarakom are two major spots for an houseboat experience.

Cost:
Day Trip: Rs. 600 Per Hour.
Night Stay:
Prices vary depending upon the facilities a houseboat offers, a typical 2 bedroom AC houseboat should cost around Rs. 7000 Per Night.

My experience of an Allappuzha houseboat:

I am not a big fan of slow travelling (yes that’s a thing), but an overnight houseboat stay was something I had always looked forward to. The idea of cruising through the endless backwaters of Kerala in a floating home has always been the defining image of the state for me. So we decided to spend a day in the quintessential houseboat of Kerala towards the fag end of our whirlwind tour of the state.

Boarding the Houseboat:

A long and narrow jetty ran parallel to a canal measuring around 60 meters in width. This canal is from where the houseboats of Allepey started and ended their tour, utilising this narrow jetty to pick and drop the passengers. From a distance all the houseboats looked similar. A black coloured boat with front and rear sides designed like a lotus petal, a house on top most of them coloured white to provide a contrast for the wood work. Wooden pillars running across the length of the boat, supporting a rounded roof, with walls covered with coir or thin bamboo strips.

Allepey Jetty
The jetty at Allepey

The differences were subtle, hidden in the design of the coir cover, or the roof pattern, something you can make out only if you are looking to differentiate between vessels. The size however varied, where some were large, stretching to well beyond 40 mtrs and some smaller ones around 20 mtrs. Some even were two storied, with an observation deck kind of structure on top. We were a family of 4, hence a 2 bedroom boat, the standard size was enough for us.

Houseboat
A glimpse of our houseboat

Our crew comprising of two welcomed us aboard with a smile and lemonade, the welcome drink. The manager of the boat, Punna introduced himself and the driver of the boat Mohanan. Punna was not only the manager, but our chef, waiter, guide and cleaner aboard the floating resort known as Ashadom Houseboat.

The trip about to start

The Interiors of the Boat:

The engine of the boat was fired up and with gentle thuds, the boat started to move. Our boat had an open area in the front, which had a sofa set with a small coffee table. A dining table with 6 chairs and a bench running along the periphery of the open area. The wall had the LCD TV, which played movies saved on a flash drive. Cable connection was not an option while flowing on the backwaters.

Mohanan, the driver had his seat right in the front of the boat, with the steering wheel. Life jackets, fire extinguisher, first aid kit and booyies were all available inside the houseboat for emergencies.

Dining Area of the Houseboat
The open area in the front of the boat.

A small corridor ran along one side of the boat, that lead to both the bedrooms. Each bedroom measured 10 ft x 10 ft with AC units, a suit hanger, cup board with locks, windows and an attached bathroom. The corridor also had a washbasin and a mirror, all neatly tucked between the doors of the bedroom. Beyond the bedrooms was the last part of the boat, that contained the kitchen, where Punna was busy preparing lunch for us.

The start of the journey:

It was peak tourist season for Kerala, and it seemed like all the houseboats of Alleppey had transcended in the small patch of water. Mohanan was having a real hard time driving and we were moving inches at a time. If driving a car in bumper to bumper traffic is stressful; trust me, driving a boat of this size with that kind of traffic on water, is simply seizure inducing level of stress. It took some time for Mohanan to menuvere the boat out of the jam as we formed a part of neat long line of houseboats leaving the jetty.

It took a few twists and turns around some canals for us to reach a clearing, a point where we could finally see a large waterbody. The houseboats which were floating in one straight line now fanned out and followed their own path on the water. We had finally reached the Vembanad lake, the longest lake in India.

The endless vembanad lake

The Backwaters:

The Kerala backwaters are a network of brackish lagoons, lakes, interconnected canals, rivers, and inlets. The network includes five large lakes linked by canals, both man made and natural, fed by 38 rivers, forming around 900 km of waterways. These backwaters host a unique eco system comprising of both sea and fresh water creatures.

We saw a hand full of birds on the lake, a usual sight in the winter, but the number of such sightings were miniscule. The water was murky, with some floating hyacinth at places. There is also some patches with layer of oil on the water, a result of seepage from all the boats cruising on it. I feel, the over commercialised tourism industry has taken its toll on the fragile eco system of the area. May be the authorities need to look at it and bring in some strict regulations for the boats. Better maintenance will definitely go a long way to stop the oil leaks and salvage the backwaters.

The lunch break:

Our boat reached a structure that looked like a small concrete bridge. The bridge was narrow, may be a couple of feet wide, but still had a few coconut trees on it. Punna jumped on to the bridge and tied the boat with one such tree. It was lunch time, for us and for the crew. The boat remains anchored for the duration of the lunch ensuring smooth dining experience.

He laid out a great spread for us comprising of Rice, Daal, Fried Pomfret, nendran chips, mango pickle, aviyal, salad and papad. They were all delicious, filled with flavours. Punna was definitely a great cook. The stop lasted for about one and half hours, after which Mohanan started the boat for another few hours of cruise.

Trying my luck at fishing. I failed miserably.

Life on the backwaters:

We were cruising for a couple of hours since lunch, on the lakes and then lagoons. During this time, we had seen paddy fields next to the lake, small hamlets nestled in the midst of water and endless number of boats, large and small. Boats were used for everything from supplying goods, selling food or just traveling. It was my first encounter with life in the backwaters where land transport is limited and boats are the lifeline.

The Evening:

The sun started to drift down, the bright sunlight of the day started giving way to the warm orangish hue of the impending twilight. The endless backwaters provided the perfect mirror, and this orange tint was now everywhere. It was as if someone had lit the water on fire.

The shimmering backwaters

Gradually darkness descended upon the backwaters, engulfing everything; the coconut trees, the endless shrubs, paddy fields and homes. The only source of light now being the houseboat’s bulbs and faint lights of homes at a distance, seeping through trees and reflecting off the water. The boat was chugging through a canal slowly inching towards land.

Twilight on the backwaters

At around 7 PM, our boat got anchored at a place which looked like a village, small houses with thached roofs lined up the banks of the canal. We saw some children playing outside the houses, women sitting and chatting in small groups. Punna pulled a cable from one of the houses and connected to the boat. We now had cable connection in the TV and my father could finally watch his evening news. Some moments later a power cable was also attached to the boat from the same house. Now we were powered by overland electricity and not the onboard inverter. This meant we could switch on the AC.

The Night:

It had been a couple of hours since our boat had anchored. Punna was busy making dinner arrangements, Mohanan had called it a day, I was watching tv and my father was trying to catch fish with a makeshift fishing rod. The water was now perfectly still with no boats moving around. We could see some more houseboats tethered to some houses ahead of us and some behind us. It is the usual night-time for houseboats where it is anchored at a village with power and cable connection pulled in from someone’s home. Ours was connected to the home of the owner of our boat. The night halt of the houseboats ensure calmer waters for fishermen, who go out at night to catch fish in the lake.

I caught one, I caught one!”, my father was shouting and celebrating a fish that he had caught. After waiting for an hour patiently, finally he had caught a fish. This achievement was followed a couple of more fishes, enough for our dinner. Punna was handed over the catch, and he made us a beautiful curry out of those.

Fishing in the backwaters

Apart from the fish curry, dinner menu had vegetable fried rice, a beet root stir fry and some curd. As usual, Punna being a great cook, rendered some amazing flavours to the meal.

After the meal, it was time to hit the bed, nothing else to do tonight. After a last few days, this was the fist time when I didn’t have to wake up early, I slept like a log that night.

The Morning:

It was 7 AM when my mother came in and woke us up. Punna had made tea for us and Mohanan was taking up his seat to start our trip back to the jetty. We congregated at the dining table and took our cups to sip on the tea. The tea had ginger and cardamom in it, exactly what a winter morning warrants.

The house outside of which our boat was anchored

Our boat started as we started making way for the jetty to de-board. The village life had already started and people were on their way to work. I saw a small kid and a woman, presumably his mother, rowing a small boat. The uniform of the kid suggests he was on his way to school. Again, the challenges of life on the backwaters was in front of me. Where kids in my town took to cycles and buses for school, here they had to take boats.

A child on his way to school

Soon our boat reached the narrow canal from where we had boarded the boat the day before. Our houseboat was again part of a queue that was now de-boarding the passengers. Punna had served breakfast for us, Idli, Vada and Sambhar, lip smacking as always.

Finally at 9:30 AM we de-boarded our boat and our day on the houseboat had come to an end. We bid adieu to Mohanan and Punna, thanking them for the amazing hospitality aboard the boat, for pampering us so well.

Final thoughts

Houseboats in Kerala are all about enjoying the slow pace of life, exploring and learning about Kerala’s villages. What makes experience onboard Kerala’s Houseboats magical is the fact that you are not rushing around trying to cram different things into a day. All you are doing is cruising the calm Kerala backwaters, waving hello to the locals, stopping by any place that piques your interest and enjoy the sumptuous meals onboard. Slow travelling at its best.


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