My birth certificate says , I was born in Alleppey. Growing up , all summer vacations were spent in this Venice of the East . The tiled house, jackfruit trees, white sand and a small gate facing the street. A huge canal served as the divider between the streets. The coconut trees, green African payal (aquatic plant/moss), flocks of ducks, beautiful water lilies. Gondola’s (Vallam as they are called in Malayalam) were a common sight. Life was quiet and peaceful. And the beauty surrounding them was a matter of routine…
Going back to Alleppey after a decade was quite nostalgic. Memories of climbing every mango tree in the yard, fighting for the swing…and all the mischief’s. As a compromise, uncle would make two swings, a special one for me and another one for all the little ones. Not everyone are born equal ,you know :-). Evenings spent discussing inequalities of life on the verandah (A portico- Traditionally has a slope tiled roof built to protect the house’s walls and to withstand the heavy monsoon with sides open) I was more interested in the Beach outings and occasional ice cream treats.
Life moves on and the world started noticing Alleppey , it became the hub for Kerala Tourism and a “Must visit destination by TLC” and every other Travel site. Dec seemed to be the perfect time to explore more of Alleppey, and do all of those touristy things. What better way to start other than a houseboat ride. Historically, these boats were used to transport rice and coir up and down the rivers; however, with a rise in tourism and people requesting to experience these boats, many of the boats were converted into a 2-3 bedroom floating cottage instead. There are around 2000 of them now.
Regardless of the budget, there are a few things that should come standard in this experience. There are day cruises and overnight options. We opted for a day cruise, One night is interesting option in case you are a first time traveler to “God’s Own Country”. Your boat should be a traditional Kettuvallam (‘boat with knots’ – because the entire boat was held together with coir knots) thatched roofs, and ideally with an upper deck and balcony with seating. Choose between a 3-4 hrs day trip with lunch or opt for an overnight stay with air conditioned bedrooms.
The cruise in these backwaters is indeed a dream come true! It is a refuge from hectic life for the romantic in you or for that matter for anyone who holds an aesthetic view of life. If photography is your passion, this cruise is going to be a heavenly experience with birds and a lush green canvas. It could make you into a painter or a poet. Honeymooners beware, it could either break the silence or make you bored of the silence, sigh ! I would highly recommend that you get all your family and friends along, the more people merrier it is.
We started by around 11.00 am and the boat slowly moves through the backwater canals. Set amidst coconut groves and panoramic view of the backwaters.. . You can experience the village life ….. women washing clothes, kids fishing etc. Most of the houses on the shore have access only through the canals, so they use small paddle boats to cross over to the mainland. An hour or two passed and we clicked a thousand pics, raced through the boat race tracks …and we had a visitor, Ice Cream vendor on a speed boat..Perfect for the weather.
There are some patches in the backwater where the trees form an arch and the boat moves through the narrow stretch of water under the arch. And near Kuttanad, it becomes almost a kilometer wide stretch overlooking the horizon. Lines of coconut trees on either side and just you on the boat. Nature pampers you like a royalty.
Along with soaking in the nature, food deserves special mention.Food is usually cooked and served inside the Houseboat.They provide 3 meals, a light meal- Appam or Kappa and Fish Curry, followed by a sumptuous lunch with “Karimeen” (Pearl Spot fish is a sought after delicacy in Kerala. The spot fish is marinated in a mixture of lemon juice, red chillies, pepper etc) paired with long bean fry, cabbage with coconut; fried mini shrimps; Kerala style fish curry in coconut milk, sambar and pappadam. In case you have appetite for more (quite unlikely) the boat will stop by at one of the local Toddy shops ( palm wine or toddy a sweet, non-alcoholic beverage derived from fresh sap) or kallu (a sour beverage made from fermented sap, but not as strong as wine). Kallu is usually drunk soon after fermentation by the end of day, as it becomes more sour and acidic day by day.) and some traditional kerala delicacies (Chicken or meat in case you are bored of fish). Vegetarians, don’t frown. Am sure Kerala Sadhya (Feast with tons of veg dishes) will be a delight for you.
At night you may come across a fisherman or two in his boat half asleep yet alert enough to net his catch. He won’t disturb you. Some find the monsoon with raindrops falling on the surface of the water causing unending ripples more thrilling. The cool breeze, gray skies and lightning add to the charm.December to January when the weather is coolest is the best time of the year to take a houseboat tour.During Monsoons, there are discounts and offers just in case you are wondering.
And as we alight the boat, it was a cherished memory for a life time. The best cruise ever !