Friday, July 22, 2005

Planning a trip to Kerala -V: 20 Hours in Kerala Backwaters

Backwaters is what everyone comes to experience in Kearala. Formed by innumerable canals, lakes, estuaries and lagoons, this is a intricate network of lush green waterways that presents you a sight you will savor forever. These backwater alleys are like our road networks. These are lifelines for the people living around them. Motor lunch and boats transport people from places to places along the backwaters. Add to this landscape of daily life, the numerous houseboats, traditionally called the Kettuvalloms, ferrying tourists presenting them 22 unforgettable hours of life in Kerala backwaters.

I had booked a houseboat from Allepey through the travel agent at Kochi. Along with Kumarakkom, Allepy is the hub of backwater cruises. On our arrival from Periyar, our boat was waiting for us at the Nehru Boat Trophy Finishing Point on the sprawling Vambanad Lake. This is where the famous Snake Boat race on the Vambanad Lake concludes. On entering the Allepey town you will finds boats in all shapes and size everywhere. They were virtually jamming the canals inside the town. There are boats and houseboats of all verities and shapes to suit your budget. You will get houseboats in one bedroom and two bedroom combinations with attached bath. Each has own unique style of construction and tastefully decorated. The owners certainly took pride in their houseboats. In addition to the bedrooms, there normally are an open dining hall and also an open balcony on top. There are ample no. of comfortable chairs on board. There is a small cabin cum kitchen on the back for the crew. Solar panels are fitted on top ensures uninterrupted electricity at night. Rooms are equipped with lights and fans. Mosquito nets, which are a must, are wrapped nicely on the ceiling. Most houseboats are powered with a single speedboat engine that produces just enough power to push the massive boat slowly. However there are houseboats available, which are run by manpower rather than horsepower. Some foreign tourists prefer them. But let me tell you that those will be painstakingly slow and boring. Besides there are boats with chairs only available for a tour of the Vambanand Lake and its adjoining backwaters. But book a houseboat. It is worth every rupees you spend for it. One day in houseboat means 12 pm on the day of boarding to 10 am next day. The package is inclusive of lunch, evening refreshments, dinner, and breakfast next morning.

Our houseboat was named the Lake Beauty. We bade goodbye to Kumar, the driver of the car we were traveling for the past 3 days. He was a good fellow. As we were to comeback to Allepey next morning, we arranged for a taxi for taking us to Kumarakkom. The boat set sail shortly after we came overboard. We were a bit late on reaching Allepey and so there were only few boats left in the area. The boat was taken to the middle of the Vambanand lake and was anchored there for lunch. Cooked in the traditional way to give you a taste of local flavours, the lunch was delicious. I liked the fish they served. Once the lunch was over, the boat set sail again, slowly taking us deeper and deeper into countryside through the interlinked backwater alleys.

I put my camera on the tripod and sat on the balcony to have a good view of the surroundings. The boat was traveling at leisurely pace providing us the magnificent view of the lush green backwaters surrounded by coconut grooves. It cannot be described in words. It has to be seen and felt. I tried to capture these moments as much as possible in my cameras. Some of these can be seen at

After 3 days traveling this was an ideal foil. On the houseboat you had nothing to do but to relax and enjoy the nature’s spectacle. By evening, the boat reached a point where it was anchored close to the bank with many other houseboats. Most of the houseboats had foreign tourists. May be local tourist found it a avoidable luxary to pay 5000 plus for a 24 hrs. houseboat ride. The sunset created another spectacle of colour around us. As the evening set in, the captain of the boat light up the lanterns in the dining area which added to the charm of the boat. But it also invited the insects and mosquitoes. Dinner was served early as we had ordered. You do not get a choice of food. They have their own menu and you have to take the traditional Kerala food they serve. Food though is delicious. We slipped into the bedrooms for spending a memorable night in backwaters. For your safety, they park the boats at nights away from the banks.

Almost everything was picture perfect except the water. Water is greenish in colour. This is pumped onto the boat for toilets. Once you see the algae and other floating objects in the buckets, forget about having a bath, you will not even like to wash your face with that water. You are served bottled water for drinking as much as you need. But they will not give you bottled water for toilets. So, my advice is to carry at least 2 bottles of 2 ltrs. bottled water for washing face etc. Further, after dark, it was a bit boring, as you have nothing to do in the boat other than waiting to have dinner and go to bed.

I got up early next morning to catch a glimpse of the rising sun in backwaters. The boat started its journey back at around 7:30 am. Soon we are caught in a virtual houseboat race as houseboats coming from different directions keep getting converged onto the main canal on their way back We enjoyed this spectacle from the breakfast table. Finally we got back to where we had started the day before at around 10 am bringing an end to this unforgettable trip. The jetty was crowded with houseboats. Our car was waiting at the jetty. We will not forget this 20 hours in houseboat in the backwaters for our life. We will definitely come back here one day.

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