India can be a hectic country to travel. Amazing, but hectic. So when it came time for us to call curtain on our time there we knew there was only one place we wanted to bid our farewells – and that place was Kerala.
The backwaters of Kerala are not only a visual spectacle but they also act as a vital waterway for the transportation of goods, people and their produce, and are often the only link between isolated villages and the crowded towns of India. With a total expanse that stretches over 1500 kilometres, with a network of 44 rivers, lagoons and lakes from north to south, Alleppey; which forms the main part of the network; has the peculiar geographical feature of having the water level with the land, giving you the advantage of getting a closer look at village life on shore while on your backwater ride.
Eager to see this for ourselves we booked a two-night stay on a houseboat through lakes and lagoons. Which, if truth be told, was a slightly extravagant purchase for our backpacker’s budget. But having read up on the backwaters and cruised many sites we knew we would not be disappointed – and we weren’t.
Collected right from the banks of our hotel grounds on the morning of our first day, we where met by our very own 3-man crew who would wait on us during our stay. On board we were taken aback by the grandeur of the houseboat. The open plan living and dining area complete with parquet flooring and mahogany furniture led out to an open-air deck lined with plush lounge cushions. Through heavy ornate doors, adorned with bronzed intricate traditional Indian style bolt detailing, we found our double en-suite room. Luxurious and spotlessly clean, it followed the same striking décor as the rest of the impressive vessel. Within moments of dropping our bags and with our quick tour complete, we were sipping fresh mango juice stretched out on the deck as we prepared to set sail for the day.
A backdrop of lush greenery, paddy rice fields and exotic wildlife border the backwaters of Kerala. Calm and serene these winding waters are the perfect escape while in India. A glide in a ‘Kettuvallam’ or houseboat through the enchanting backwaters of Alleppey is sure to steal your heart with the vast expanse of the canals offering panoramic sights you’ll never forget. Boats criss-cross paths with people from all walks of Kerala’s rural life – spot the local fisherman with their daily catch, watch children play against the palm fringed canal, while mothers look on washing clothes and preparing food and wave hello to your fellow house-boaters all along the banks of this unique haven.
The houseboat experience is one of utter relaxation. You wont lift a finger during your stay and nothing is too much trouble for the attentive crew. Your personal chef will dish up local cuisine that packs a punch in the flavour department and is always extremely plentiful. During the day devour books, draw, write or simply soak up some sun on the deck while the sleepy village passes by. Stop at the local church and then visit the traditional wood carvers and marvel at the talent and craftsmanship of this time old family practice. Buy fresh seafood from the locals on your way back and dine on an indulgent dinner of crab, lobster and giant tiger prawns, all washed down with a glass of Sula red wine. Then as the sunset casts dappled shades of orange and pink against the still lake make your way to bed and let the gentle lull of the boat rock you into a dreamless slumber so deep you wake up anew.
The sparkling water and the caressing cool wind is a temptation too strong to resist. So a backwater experience – although slight costly in comparison to the rest of India – is unquestionably one not to be missed.
By Sophie Maguire