Sunday, 10 October 2004

Try a cruise through God’s own country.

 Published on 10 October, 2004 in the Deccan Chronicle.

Kerala is a much recommended holiday spot, & a Houseboat (Kettuvallam) cruise seemed like an experience worth trying.

Never having spent 24 hours on a boat before, we anxiously asked ‘Experienced’ travelers for feedback. This ranged from “trip of our lives” to “Booooring, once aboard, you are stuck, you can’t even walk out if you want to”. After our holiday, I belong to the “trip of our lives” faction.

Kettuvallams are huge, slow moving, exotic barges designed for sheer leisure trips. Formerly, used to ship rice and spices, a standard boat, can be 100ft long, & hold upto 30 tons. Made of 100’s of fine heavy-duty planks of jack-wood & held together by coir knots (not a single nail is used) this framework is then coated with a caustic black resin extracted from boiled cashew kernels and lasts for generations.

Houseboats are re-worked Kettuvallams, having all modern amenities like western style bathrooms, well equipped kitchens, sun decks and even AC’s in some cases.

So informed, we arrived at Allepy (Venice of the East) where we were introduced to our hosts - 2 boatmen & a cook. Welcomed with fresh coconut water & fruits, we set sail on a blissful journey. We passed through amazing networks of canals, paddy fields, swaying coconut palms, river front houses, coir laden boats & unending shades of green.

We passed through Kuttanad, one of the few places in the World where Paddy is grown below sea level, Charava Bhavan – spiritual resort and Vembanad Lake – largest lake in Asia.

The Boat was anchored at noon, overlooking verdant fields. The cook served us a sumptuous lunch with 2 vegetables, sambhar and fish. For dinner, fish was substituted with chicken and for breakfast it was Idiappams with Egg Curry, all prepared onboard. We were told, guests often volunteered to prepare dinner themselves, but we preferred watching him deftly prepare Malyali delicacies.

Boats have to anchor from 7PM to 6AM so locals can cast their fishing nets. We settled down to watch the brilliant hues of sunset, relaxing to gentle lapping of water at the sides, chirping of birds, droning of insects and tantalizing smells wafting from the kitchen. We lit lanterns when darkness fell, rather than use electric lights (solar powered). It gave us the feeling of being the only inhabitants of the planet. The little girl with us, delighted in feeding grains of rice to the fish that swam so close we could have caught them with our bare hands.

In a novel holiday experience, we slept by 9:30 PM and woke at 6:00. Totally relaxed and refreshed, we watched the sun rise over the water. When it started raining on the Lake, the droplets hitting the water surface erupted into little diamonds and we had to agree that Kerala is indeed “God’s Own Country.”

Fact File :
Travel :
Allepy is 2 hours drive from Cochin.
Cruises also originate from Kottayam, Kumarakom, Quilon, Trivandrum, Mallapuram, & Kasargod. It really doesn’t matter where you start or end your cruise from, it’s the unending beauty of the backwaters.
You can spend anywhere from 6 hours to 15 days on a houseboat.
Season - October-March
Off Season - April - September

Must Not Miss :
Sunrise and Sunset on the Lake
Bay Island Driftwood museum if alighting at Kumarakom.
Definitely carry Mosquito Repellant for the evenings.

Costs :
Start from 5000 onwards for a single bedroom boat and 6000 onwards for a double bedroom boat per day (approx 22 hours) during off-season. Costs jump by about 2000 during season. Each bedroom has its individual attached bath. Costs include accommodation, welcome drink, 3 meals, tea/coffee. You can either carry your own soft drinks & water and chill it on board or purchase from the chef on board.

Whom to Contact :
For general information - There are more than a 100 houseboats at each location. You can negotiate a good deal at each location if its off-season (monsoons), but if you want to book ahead, you can contact any of the following operators.

Pulickattil Houseboats :
Deshadan Operators :
Soma House Boats :
Marvel Tours :

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