Kerala Backwaters Houseboat trip – day 1 relax, sunset and paddy fields
When I first heard of Kerala state when we started planning our trip to India, everyone kept talking about the Kerala Backwaters. Honestly, I had no idea what it was all about until I checked it very briefly on Kerala Tourism website. Ok, so you mean like a river or a canal, right? I thought.
But Kerala Backwaters turned out to be beyond my expectations.
According to the main leaflet, ”this fascinating geographical feature was formed by the action of waves and shore currents creating low barrier islands across the mouths of rivers flowing down from the Western Ghats mountains.”
Backwaters are one of the top attractions in Kerala attracting many foreigners so of course we just had to explore them, too.
The bus picked us up at the Raviz Ashtamudi hotel in Kollam and after a short visit to Kollam port with the very easy-going Minister of Tourism, we headed off North to Alleppey to board a Backwaters Houseboat.
As it was more than 30 of us, plus the photographers and organizers, we were divided into groups of 2 and 3 to board more kettuvallams, the houseboats. At our Lake & Lagoons Houseboat company, we were greeted like superstars. A group of local women were playing drums and other musical instruments and dancing to the music. My boat partner in crime, Preeti from Delhi joined them as she was the only one who kind of could figure out the dance steps 😀
Then each of us received a fresh young coconut (I kindly asked for 3 of them and then also got the meat from one, yay, happy girl!) I knew the best experience was ahead of us and we were ready to rock on with jasmine flowers around our necks 🙂
There was a little shop to buy some chocolate, chips, local cashew nuts Kollam area is famous for, and some drinks and we did not miss our chance to do so.
“Welcome, we are going to take care of you for the next few hours” 3 Indian men greeted us with hand shakes carrying our things into the rooms.
As soon as we entered the houseboat, I was impressed. It look way bigger and way nicer than I ever imagined!
“OMG, OMG, I love it!” we both kept screaming with Preeti when running around and taking photos.
Boats used to transport rice back in time, now they transport tourists. The whole idea of Backwaters houseboat changed once there were only 3 houseboats riding along the backwaters in 1991. Now there are around 1,000 houseboats involved in tourism.
There was no internet on the boat so we could just relax, chat or take uncountable photos of the National Waterway scenery around us. And I definitely did all of these 🙂
It was incredibly peaceful to explore the Kerala Backwaters slowly wish a bunch of other houseboats with our friends and also strangers randomly passing around us.
At first, I jumped on the bed doing some stretches, unpacked all the gear and started recharging the batteries. Then our vegetarian lunch was ready which was prepared directly on the boat in the kitchen behind.
Wow, we had sambar, Kerala rice and some other traditional meals. All almost non-spicy and mostly even vegan, so I could eat them, too. Finger-licking, no kidding! Preeti had a piece of fish on the side, too.
It’s very difficult to describe the peace and quiet I felt on the houseboat, I could spend weeks on it, seriously! Light breeze, birds around, local families along the river … kids on the bicycles, ladies doing the laundry or men fishing along the shore really connected me to the local life.
Once I took hundreds of photos, we pulled over at Champakulam village for a short visit to one of the oldest Christian churches in India and little street market. A bunch of local kids in uniforms from the St. Mary’s L.P. School were the cutest ever and wanted to take photos with us!
After walking along the street observing local men and some sellers, we listened to the miss by the St. Mary’s Forane (Champakulam Vallia Palli) church door. Seemed incredibly cheerful to me.
Back on boat we could regain our energy with fried bananas (prepared for us) and dark chocolate (we both brought it.)
Then we spent another hour or so on the houseboat which I used for some yoga photos and bikini time enjoying the last sun beams laying down on the comfortable white pillows just behind our boat driver.
Around 6 pm we pulled over in a lagoon at the sunset time next to the boats with our friends and found ourselves at the rice fields. We were greeted by the owner himself who with folded trousers took us for a short walking tour through the fields. Right at the beginning there was a little straw building which is used as a storage.
After jumping over a little source of water coming from the Backwaters lagoon right into the field, we could walk along one side of the water canal. We were all wearing only flip flops which were not the most comfortable shoes for that kind of slippery mud but it was not that bad. The huge Sun, coloured clouds and the super green paddy field were so making up for it. The beauty of the moment left me speechless. I just regretted not taking my big camera lense with me for awesome close-up shots of the orange, pink and then red Sun.
”The whole land is 600 acres but the rice fields cover only 50 acres of it here.” the smiling owner probably in his 60’s showed us with his hand.
”We harvest around 30 tons of rice per year here. The rice grows from October till March and then we usually let the fields stay under water once we open the canals in from the Backwaters. Then again the same process when the rice changes its colour between brown, yellow and green for 4 months while growing.”
”How many people work in here now?” I asked staring at the waste field with just a few buildings on the horizon.
”It used to be many, mostly women working here but now it is all mechanical and done by machines.” he explained while I remembered a big machine we saw on the way here just half an hour ago strolling along an already empty field.
”Careful with the otter shit, and give me your camera” says the owner. ”Let’s do a Titanic freedom pose” and I showed him how to take a photo of me with the stunning fields behind.
I was surprised how many empty shells we could see on the ground. I had no idea we would find any at all.
It was such an incredible moment we could share in the Kerala Backwaters! One of the nicest sunsets of mi life behind the rice fields.
We walked back just when the huge pink round Sun set down behind the coconut palm trees. Right in time to chat for a few minutes with the others on the boat and then back to our own houseboats during the last minutes of light. Then when dark it gets too difficult to walk around as there are holes in the muddy soil and you walk basically next to the river where you could accidentally fall into and did not want to risk that, no way.
I had no idea there was such a difference between the boats as our looked pretty luxurious to us once we boarded it. But then I saw one of the boats with 3 rooms where our Spanish and Mexican girl friends where staying and that was hell of a luxury, let me tell you! It was brand new, the front porch had glass windows around and a TV so you could comfortably stay there in the evening. Also each room has a TV and a new luxury bathroom and a romantic double bamboo bed.
Well, our houseboat had the most pleasant crew who were taking the best care of us and the whole design was pretty cool, too. So no complaints whatsoever! I was actually happy we were staying on that boat as it was more of a unique cultural experience than a super luxury boat like somewhere in a very expensive place.
I came back to our boat and decided not to have dinner. I’ve been eating so much since I came to India and I didn’t like it I mean I didn’t enjoy the fact I put on weight and was losing my flexibility so fast, but I was so enjoying so many vegetarian/vegan options i could not resit. Back at home I was just juicing and eating fresh fruit for breakfast and lunch and then mostly a salad for dinner but here we even had super big breakfast and lunch, full of rice and traditional Indian meals which for me are more like dinner meals. So I decided to drink just water for the rest of the evening so my stomach could relax a little bit.
I took a very cool shower as sweating is not one of my favorite things, as you could tell. Then I started writing down this article when Preeti, my next door neighbor for the night, knocked on my door.
”Alex, are you awake? Come here!”
When I saw my favorite Indian meal on the table, I could not say no. Non-spicy lentil Daal and Indian bread? Yeah! In the end we shared dinner together but I managed not to overeat. We had such a cool conversation with Preeti and Sudhiish, our caretaker over dinner.
When Sudhiish brought us pineapple for dessert, I was curious about all the fruits that are grown in Kerala.
”Mostly pineapple, mango, grapes and different kinds of bananas. Sometimes we even serve meals on the banana leaves.” he smiled when Preeti added that the banana leaves have medicinal properties and just make you feel great after eating from them.
”We have small, big green and yellow bananas, small red bananas … you know, you had big fried bananas as your afternoon snack.” explained us Sudhiish followed by one of his hundreds head shakes and smiles.
Then we learned more about the Kerala Backwaters Houseboat trips.
”The minimum experience recommended is 2 or 3 days. We can do trips up to 6 or 7 days when we stop for more times discovering the temples, small villages or doing kayaking. Today we passed around 40 km North from Alleppey and you can go on a houseboat for another 100 km more up North up to the mountains. The trips for more days go through many small canals, too.”
There’s around 900 km of Kerala Backwaters which are formed by 44 rivers!
Sudhiish has been working for the Lake & Lagoons company for 7 years already, the other worker for 5 years and the Captain has just joined recently. Sudhiish’s home is just 5 km from the Coconut Lagoon hotel, not so far from the place where some people from our group stayed the following night.
When we were finishing the last bites of dinner, Sudhiish also pointed out the original material our boat was made from – bamboo and other kinds of wood surrounding a metal layer so even when it rains, it’s not a problem.
”There are also more luxurious boats, but they are new and not made of original material.” With Preeti, we both agreed that our traditional houseboat added to a more authentic experience.
Around 9 pm we both left to our rooms and I was writing this article, copying photos and leaflets. Then I jumped into my bed being grateful for the mosquito net around so I could sleep peacefully. I was extremely tired. Wow, what a day, thank you!
Taking a Kerala Backwaters Houseboat trip was part of my Adventure and Spa project organised by the Kerala Tourism. For more information, please visit Lake & Lagoons website. Kerala Backwaters houseboat trip was one of my best experiences in Kerala, thank you! And the food was delicious.