One of the classic attractions in Kerala is to go houseboating on a converted rice barge in the Kerala Backwater. It is so popular that there are multiple cities from which you can leave, and more than 1800 boats to choose from. We arrived in the area from the south, so Alleppey was the logical place to go.
Contrary to what I had thought, you cannot embark in one city and disembark at another. I was thinking we could restfully cruise up the lake and save ourselves a bus ride at the same time. No. The boats all leave around 11:30, cruise nine tenths of the way around lake and stop for the night.
In high season, apparently most of the 1800+ boats are on the water and it can feel a little crowded. We went to the main docks expecting a swarm of touts to descend upon us. In monsoon season, you can walk onto the houseboat docks and pick a boat, any boat. Some of them you will have to go onto the forward deck and shake the captain awake to get a tour of the boat.
After a little comparison shopping, we settled on reasonably priced ( INR 8000, approx $160 CAD) two bedroom boat with a crew of three. The price includes lunch, tea and snacks, dinner, breakfast, and cruising from 11:30 AM until 9 AM the following day. There is a cook on board, and any special requests ( like vegetarian meals, extra fruit, beer in the evening) are easily accommodated.
Pro tip for parents
Check the railings (are there any, how high are they) on your prospective boat before you book. Check upstairs too, because if little Jonny is about to fall off the sundeck the whole cruise, nobody’s getting any peace.
The variety of styles and sizes of boats is staggering. I did not see two boats that looked exactly the same. There are many smaller boats with one or two bedrooms, but some have as many as eight! Apparently there are a few boats with onboard pools!
The houseboating experience starts with some open water, and the first thing you notice is how slow you’re going. This is not a race, and you wouldn’t want it to be. Slow and easy, go get your book.
The cruise alternates between open water and wide channels and is absolutely mellow and relaxing, even with two little kids on board.
The beauty of houseboating on the Kerala backwater is that there’s always something to look at. Even if you don’t have a book handy, which you should, there’s plenty to see. Other houseboats with people waving and dancing, or waving and relaxing, small canoes and delivery boats, or just the scenery.
When we stopped for lunch, after a while we heard a bell ringing getting closer and closer. Imagine our surprise and amusement when we saw this old fellow pass by in his ice cream boat!
Speaking of lunch, every meal is a feast! I think because we booked and paid for a two bedroom boat, they prepared meals for four adults. Hurray! Let’s eat ourselves into a coma!