Phew! Feels like I have been away from my blog forever! So, let me pick up the threads right from where I had left. Kerala it is.
What is the one thing that comes to your mind when you think of Kerala?
For me, and without a doubt, for many of us, it is the quintessential houseboat cruise in the backwaters of Kerala. Your trip in this state is incomplete without experiencing one of these rides, or at least, so they say. Whether I thought if it was total bang for my buck or not, we will find out.
We set out the local way from Chertala, so rather than opting for a predictable taxi ride, we got a rick ride to nearest bus stop and then changed two buses to reach the house boat capital of Kerala – Alleppey. Oh, the sense of accomplishment I get when I try out these local rides! 😀
Near the bus stop, we spotted a market and hey, a girl’s gotta do what she’s gotta do! We spent some time buying variety of chips (tapioca, sweet potato and banana are the popular ones) and souvenirs for friends and families back home. After that we headed straight to Finishing Point. This is the place in Alleppey where all the house boats are anchored, and it’s not just “finishing”, but also the starting point of your boat ride.
The houseboat itself was pretty impressive with a couple of bedrooms and a sit out with a dining area. The host oriented us with the place, asked us our preferences for lunch, and with that we took off.
We were worried about not booking the air conditioned rooms, as it was a regular muggy day in Kerala, but once the boat started to move, the cool breeze put all our worries at bay. 🙂
The only thing that kept irking me was that the water was not what I had imagined it to be. The water rather turned out to be dense and murky with hyacinth clogged in several places. I just hoped for the water to get cleaner as we moved forward.
Luckily, our host took us a cleaner stretch eventually, and we got some pretty views and good photo ops.
He showed us rice fields along side the backwaters and told us that this is one of the few places in the world, where farming is done below the sea level. We were passing by the paddy fields of Kuttanad, often referred to as the “rice bowl of Kerala” or the “granary of Kerala”.
We passed through villages on the sides, and I could not ignore but see how these families washed and bathed in the same water and threw their household waste into it. It kind of explained why the water was murky.
I got back and researched a bit more about this and found out that the water there, is highly polluted with all kinds of waste of households being dumped into it, and people living around these areas face high water scarcity. Lot of them actually use the same water for drinking purposes too. Not to mention, the plethora of diseases that the polluted water brings along with it. Sad but true! I hope the state government wakes up to the needs of these local people, who live in the vicinity of water but still face scarcity of it.
It was noon, so our boat got anchored for lunch to be served. The meal served was simple but nice. We chose to have our meal in a traditional style on a banana leaf, so the host went and fetched our plates straight from a plant on the bank.
After the modest meal, we started off again, and since our tummies were full, the cool breeze helped us to doze off. After a while, I was woken up by my friend to see the gorgeous Vembanad Lake. This lake is the longest in India and one of largest freshwater lakes in Asia. Both of us just quietly picked two different corners of the boat and sat there staring out and taking in the tranquil surroundings.
On our way back, we saw a quaint little building and found out that it was a school on the side of the backwaters. That’s when we noticed the kids leaving on a school boat instead of a school bus. 😀
We reached the end of our journey, and when I look back, here are some tips to make your trip better than mine. I wish someone had told me !! 😉
- Simply put, houseboats are not really worth all the high pricing and are definitely touristy. You have better options like local ferries or shikara rides, which pretty much do the same thing but at a much lesser cost. Not only that, these smaller boats will take you through the narrow winding canals that the big houseboats cannot enter. The houseboats may offer you a more private and comfortable experience, but the other boat rides do the jobs just fine.
- If you still fancy the houseboat, like I did, skip booking it in advance (even in peak season, there are plenty of them available). You can always get one at Finishing Point and a bit of haggling will land you a better deal.
- In my opinion, going for the day cruise instead of making an overnight stay in one of these houseboats, makes much more sense, and again it saves you time and money. The boats are anchored once it is past 5pm until next morning. So, I don’t see the point in paying extra and sleeping at the side of still backwaters. To each one his own, but do remember the mosquitoes!
I would say the backwaters are an experience in itself, and definitely cannot be missed when you are in Kerala. More than anything, these are like windows to the lifestyle of Kerala. I could see both sides, villagers living in scarcity of drinking water near the dense waterways, as well as beautiful bungalows near the cleaner lake Vembanad stretch. I really hope that the government helps the villagers gain easy access to clean drinking water.
A special shout-out for the people of Kerala. Everyone we came across was extremely simple and willing to help us in every possible way. I always believe that a place is made of its people, and the locals of Kerala were amazing hosts to us. 🙂
Hope you have an amazing time sailing through the backwaters. Let me know how your experience was. 🙂