If you check any “Things to do in India before you die lists”, you can be sure that staying in Kerala’s Houseboats will find a place in every list ! These houseboats are the icons of Kerala Tourism, when you say Kerala, the houseboats are the first thing that come to your mind.
On board Indraprastham
A stay in the houseboat had been a long time wish for all of us in the family and even the senior citizens in our group were excited when we stepped into our houseboat – Indraprastham, the name itself impressed us ! Stepping inside the houseboat felt sacred, we were entering a space that was almost iconic and partly because we were asked to remove our footwear and not to use them while we were in the houseboat !
When we entered the houseboat we couldn’t stop ourselves from going “wow”, the houseboat was really a mini house on water. We had a living cum dining room from where we could see the vast Vembanad Lake.
Since we were a big group, we had chosen a triple bedroom houseboat, the long corridor lining the bedrooms gave us a luxury hotel feel !
You could simply relax in the bedroom and watch the scenes outside, if you are looking to sleep in bliss, this is where you need to head but we suggest not to waste your time sleeping and miss the views.
Not just the bedroom, even the bathrooms have windows that give you a beautiful view outside, just make sure you don’t use them when the boat is cruising near villages !
You are accompanied by the Master of the houseboat who also drives the boat and 2-3 attendants, there is a kitchen where food is freshly prepared by the attendants. They stay with you on the houseboat throughout the cruise. While they are polite and helpful, they don’t seem to get too friendly and follow the rules of the houseboat to the T.
Speaking of rules, the rules are rather strict and you need to abide by them for your own safety. Remember, you are in the middle of a lake for most part of your stay and you wouldn’t want to fool around too much with safety precautions.
When it rained beauty !
While we waited for the things to get going, it drizzled a bit. A drizzle creating ripples in a water canal, coconut trees on the banks, a group of houseboats parked in the background, these were images we always looked at in wonder and there we were, witnessing those sights for real !
A little beyond 12.15 PM, our houseboat began its cruise. The Vembanad Lake, one of the largest freshwater lakes in the country, is where the houseboats cruise happens at Kumarakom. As our boat started from the jetty and entered the lake, for a moment, we thought we were actually heading towards the sea, that should give you an idea about the vastness of the lake !
We were given a welcome drink while we put up our feet and watched Nature open her photo album. We passed by some beautiful Kerala houses or were they resorts? How would you like living in one of these?
Houses, coconut groves, resorts, houseboats went by, there was some kind of camaraderie in the middle of Vemabanad lake as people waved and cheered at us from other houseboats. The weather was lovely, with light rain, always a joy to watch rain drops fall into a water body, something like a homecoming for the rain drops, isn’t it?
There was freshness in the air and happiness all around.
Then, the soft rain turned into heavy showers. The rain covers and shelters had to be brought down, the rain got heavier and the winds stronger for a short while, the boat even wobbled slightly under the force of the wind and rain, it was scary ! The driver of the boat told us how they manoeuvre the houseboat according to the speed of the winds, they would even stop and anchor the boat near the banks if the rain got very heavy at times as a safety measure. Sitting inside the dark houseboat, hearing the howling winds and rain pouring outside, this experience alone was worth the entire trip !
Soon, it was lunch time and the houseboat was stopped near a patch of green on the bank, the rain had subsided into a drizzle again. Our table was set and one look at the dishes was enough to get us all excited, well, the entire family always gets high on food ! There was the famous Kerala Fish fry, Sambhar, Dal, vegetables, spicy curry and rice.
While we had our lunch, we also had this beauty of a sight for company, green trees, grey sky above and water below and rain drops connecting the two.
Nature takes to painting
Post lunch, the houseboat stood anchored at the same spot for about 3 hours, while the attendants had their lunch, cleaned up and rested for a while. We had this time to relax in the stillness, some slept through the whole 3 hours, some simply sat back and stared outside, losing themselves in the nature around, while the kids had a ball running around. Other houseboats anchored at the same spot, all stopping for lunch and afternoon siesta.
Around 4 PM, our houseboat stirred back into action and our cruise resumed. This time we seemed to be headed towards civilisation as we passed by buildings, resorts and some Chinese Fishing nets, these seemed to be popular means of fishing in the region.
Pretty houses kept popping up every now and then and tweaked our minds to try some “creative” (we think) photography. For example, if you wanted to know how the view was from the living room window, here we go !
How about a cup of tea sitting on those steps leading down to the lake?
Tea did arrive shortly accompanied by the tastiest and crunchiest Pakoras we ever had, 3 months on, memories of those pakoras still make this writer’s mouth water ! Steaming tea, hot pakoras, overcast weather, life doesn’t get better than this !
Our cruise continued till we reached the bridge connecting Kumarakom and Alleppey road, we could see the highway running close to the Vembanad Lake, it seems the lake stretches across several districts of Kerala !
The sight of traffic brought us out of the dream world inside the houseboat ! From here, we did a u-turn from where the lake began to narrow down into canals once again, several houseboats were parked along the banks.
As evening set in, the sky, the lake and the green trees seemed to merge into one and splash out blue and green everywhere !
Just after sun set, our houseboat had anchored for the night near a village. There was still some light and so we wanted to explore the village, the houseboat incharge hesitated telling us that we would dirty the houseboat with all the wet mud from the village, he let us go when we promised him we would be careful with cleanliness ! Parked near the bank, the houseboat looked like a giant crocodile !
A sense of deja vu hit us when we walked through the village. We felt we had seen the place before and then reality dawned on all of us, we were back at the same place from where the houseboat cruise started ! We must admit for some of us it was a “is that all?” moment !
Nevertheless, we went for a walk. The lake canal bordered the village on one side and green fields on the other, there were a few shops and a play area for kids. People from other boats were also having a relaxing time. It was getting dark and light fading, when we caught one particular scene. It was out worldly, almost like Nature had turned into an artist and painted a magical picture !
We hadn’t even played around with the camera settings because when Nature decides to paint, technology has little use !
Back in the houseboat, it was time to refresh and recharge. The houseboat covers had to be brought down because of mosquitoes and insects that would make themselves at home in the houseboat at night. With no more views outside, we huddled together and chatted, some switched on the TV, though was hardly anything to watch on the granular screen !
Around 8.30 PM, dinner was served, the dal, rasam and vegetables menu was as enjoyable as everything else that was served on the houseboat earlier that day. After dinner, we peeked outside the covers and were mesmerised by the pitch darkness outside and the starlit sky above, it was hauntingly beautiful !
At 10 PM sharp, the attendants asked us to get inside the bedrooms and sleep ! They were very strict with the rules, somebody joked that it was a “hostel boat” ! The notice board listing the rules said guests were expected to occupy the rooms by 10 PM and were not supposed to come to the deck area before 6 AM. The safety rules made sense because if you are careless in the dark, God alone can help you ! Also, the attendants sleep in the living room area, so you have to clear up the place for them.
We retired for the night, cosy in our thoughts that we were actually spending a night in a houseboat !
Wake up life !
The best part of a day is always the morning and when you are on a holiday, in the middle of nature, there is no better way to make the most of it than waking up at dawn because when your day begins with a view like this, you not just wake up from sleep, you wake up to life !
We sat outside near the driver’s seat, breathing in the crispy, fresh morning air and sipped our morning tea, watching people go about their daily life on the other side of the bank. There was this man who quietly rowed his boat, moving from one lily flower to another and picking them up slowly. Haven’t we all wondered how beautiful life would be if we all went back to our basics?
Life is best enjoyed when you slow down and see what a lovely world it is, moments like these really make you feel alive !
We quickly got ready for the day as our checkout time was close. Breakfast was served at 8 AM, few things can be as refreshing on a morning as hot Idly, sambhar and chutney. This pineapple shell was all that was left of our breakfast !
The houseboat took us for one more round, the approaching water canals surrounded by coconut trees, so typical of Kerala backwaters, told us we were nearing the jetty and it was time to take leave of the houseboat.
We were dropped at the jetty at 9 AM on dot. When you have a great time, you don’t want it to end but you also know that annoying truth of all good things ! We couldn’t stay there forever, so a picture to take home as a memory. At the jetty, houseboats were returning and others were beginning a new trip.
So were we, our houseboat trip wound up but we were heading to yet another journey, this time on a tour of places around Kottayam. We had booked cabs through our houseboat operator and were waiting for us.
If God made Kerala is own country, we think it was because He too took a ride on a houseboat. Who knows? One of those days you might find him taking a break in a houseboat !
– Kumarakom and Alappuzha (Alleppey) are the two popular places for houseboats in Kerala. Kumarakom is only 14 kms from Kottayam, Alappuzha is around 42 kms.
– Kottayam is the convenient place from where you can find buses or transport to Kumarakom. Advisable if you can book a cab. The houseboat operators arrange for a pick up and drop if you inform them in advance.
– Booking for houseboats can be done online, there are several tour agents running houseboat tours, we had booked our through http://www.keralatravels.com
– A triple bedroom houseboat cost us Rs.14,000/- for one night. We got a good deal since July is a off peak season. During the peak season, the rates could go upto Rs.20,000/-. There are single, double bedroom houseboats also. Peak season starts from August and goes on till February. Prices could also vary depending on the luxury levels of the houseboat.
– There are various packages if you wish to spend more than one night in a houseboat, however, we think one night should be a good idea, leaving a place wanting more is always better than getting down with an “enough” feeling !
– The usual houseboat timings seem to be 12 Noon to 9 AM the next day, make sure you reach on time so you can spend as much time as possible in the houseboat.
– Most boats have very strict rules and they are all meant for your safety, abide by the rules instead of questioning the staff.
– If you are travelling with kids, be very careful. Most of the boats have open windows and you need to be alert if kids go near the railings. Carry enough play things to keep them engaged because they will not have much to do inside the houseboat and confined space to run around.
– Food and beverages are served according to a particular schedule, we are not sure if other houseboats are accommodative of in-between requests/orders.
– Do not litter the lake or the backwaters, it is sad to find people throwing plastic and waste polluting the water bodies.
– Sit back, relax and savour the experience, do not complain over small inconveniences and spoil it for yourself.
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