Cruise, Dock, Look Around & Cherish Life!
For someone who lives in Delhi and has only the mountains as the nearest weekend retreat, the idea of staying in a luxury house boat and cruising along the backwaters of Alleppey (Alappuzha) sounded therapeutic. Especially because I had not done it before. I had just returned from my trip to Bali, ‘the Island of Deities’, I was tired but I couldn’t resist the temptation of returning to ‘Gods own country’. I am a greedy person when it comes to travels and I am glad I gave in to my travel pangs. This experience turned out to be great fun. I always knew that living in a houseboat cruise in Kerala was a uniquely different indulgence but what I did not know was that some exclusive and handcrafted itineraries could make it an indelible experience. My trip with Spice Routes was one of its kinds. I am still hung over the calming effect of the narrow canals, vibrant kaleidoscopic life and the glories of the cheerful backwaters.
Delhi -> Kochi ->Alleppey (Alappuzha)
Sitting majestically on the southwestern tip of Indian peninsula with Arabian Sea caressing its western coast, Kerala is arguably one of India’s much-loved and blessed state. It is known for offering its visitors innumerable memorable experiences and houseboat cruises along the network of tranquil canals and lagoons (backwaters) have been listed as a must-do for years now.
My visit to Alleppey was long due and finally it happened in the most impressive way. An early morning flight from Delhi to Kochi and then a road trip of 70 kilometers (2.5 hours) took me to Akkarakalam Memoirs property where my house boat ‘FENNEL’ from Spice Routes was all set to welcome me. My excitement knew no bounds when the idea finally settled in that I was going to spend 2 days and 2 nights in a cozy and trendy house boat that would take me through the same routes where a whole civilization thrived by the waters. A large local trade of this region is carried by inland navigation.
What is it like to live in a House Boat in Kerala?
The answer to this can only be found when you go for an experiential trip yourself. However, I will definitely take you on a virtual trip with me. My house boat ‘FENNEL’ was a cute, little house of 3 bedroom, living room and kitchen. It had all the amenities of a modern-day hotel. My room was spacious and comfortable. The bedside table offered goodies and knick knacks too. The attached WC, wash basin and the bathing area were absolutely clean. The kitchen was spic and span. There was a main entrance and a back door entrance to the boat. The living room as well as all other rooms had big, large windows which helped to keep a watch on every movement of the neighborhood. One could relish the views of coconut tress, toddy farms, colorful houses, ice-cream and fish shops, other house boats, ferries carrying locals, canoes and other facets of life.
After I was warmly welcomed on-board, my luggage was placed in my room and I was through with my cursory inspection of every nook and cranny of the boat, I couldn’t wait for the boat to move. Soon ‘FENNEL’ was unleashed and the captain maneuvered it into the labyrinthine of interconnected canals, rivers, lakes and inlets that made the famous backwaters of Alleppey. As the boat moved in the lake, I was thrilled to the core.
Handcrafted itinerary, delicious local spread, local interaction, laid back holiday, kerala backwaters along with the comforts of a luxury hotel made the trip extra special!
Day 1 on Houseboat
As soon as we began to drift, I settled on the bow and looked around with curious eyes. The birds and fishes came calling almost instantly. Though I knew that I would be spending two days in and around the lake, every little movement, colorful houses, lavish resorts, churches, small-big jetties, smiling people, vibrant shops made me happy like a kid. The vast expanse of water was overwhelming but at the same time, the amateur photographer in me was absolutely thrilled to find a photo opportunity at every few step.
After those first moments of my oneness with nature, tantalizing aromas caught my interest. As I walked towards the living room, the lunch was already laid out. The spread was amazing, service was impeccable and the menu was made keeping the local flavors in the forefront. We were served fish fry, chicken curry, sambhar, chappathis, rice, coconut-cabbage and enough options for both vegetarians and non-vegetarians. I ate to my utmost satisfaction.
After the lunch, I was back to the forefront of the boat. Soon group of birds came calling and we could see them everywhere, in flight, on the banks, perched on the sticks sticking out in the middle of the lake. This meant that Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary was nearby. Kumarakom, famous for its avian life is situated in Kottayam district, on the banks of Vembanad Lake. A variety of migratory birds flock in thousands to this part of the world. We were floating on the biggest lake, Vembanad Lake that makes the Kerala backwaters, the hub of backwater tourism and the largest wetland system in the country.
The boat gradually came to a halt as a beautiful church came in close distance. There was always an option to disembark and check out the church but it was closed so I savored the moment and clicked some pictures. The next stop was a toddy shop next to a fish shop. In Kerala, you can’t miss both of them. The housekeeping of our boat bought some fresh fish from there while I walked around along the muddy path on the side banks. I could see some straw huts and thatched roofs. On the way, I met some kids too which meant there was a village close by.
The most beautiful part of the day was cruising on the backwaters of Alleppey and chasing the sun for its change of colors. The birds were returning home in groups. The ambiance was submerged in peacefulness. The sky looked drop-dead gorgeous. The sunset was brilliant. And I felt happy and joyful. Trust me, these little joys are the real highs of life.
After 6 p.m., the movement of the houseboats is restricted. We anchored our boat at R block. Soon after, the captain informed us that there would be a cooking class after the evening tea. I learned to make tiger prawns and cauliflower in local style. The dinner was as lavish as the lunch. The fresh catch on the platter thrilled us to the core.
What a day it had been with no deadlines to meet, with no clamor of the roads, with no rush to tick off places on the bucket list. There was absolutely no pressure of any sorts. If you really want to do nothing and relax peacefully, go for this experience for sure.
Day 2 on the Houseboat
I slept like a log, only to be told by my friends that it had rained heavily in the night. Thus, the sky was still hazy and I thought it would be a gloomy day. However, by the time I got ready and returned to the living room for breakfast, it was a bright and sunny day already. As we sailed again, the constant reflections of the coconut trees and the colorful houses became prominent. The morning rituals had begun for the locals too and they could be seen on canoes selling vegetables and other items. Some people were already off to their work on small boats.
After sailing for almost an hour and breathing in the morning bliss, the boat reached a village. I walked to the famous goddess temple and as my luck would have it got a chance to see a local wedding too. Such experiences can captured in no pictures but can only with relished. After strolling around at my own pace, I returned to the boat after forty five minutes. Next, we had to sail to a church and explore a village called Champakulam.
The church was huge and one of the most beautiful ones that I have seen. I am proud of the fact that India has hidden gem of places even in is villages. Next the crew members of the boat took me for a walk around the area. The art and craft shops are always my first love. I did some quick shopping too. Far from the maddening crowd, I was loving every bit of this local indulgence. By the time I returned, it was already time for lunch. However, on the way we stopped to pick some toddy too. I had never tasted it before.
The great food made me lazy and I sat down in the living room to simply enjoy everything that was passing by. In fact, I must mention that the living room was my favorite part of the house boat. One can sit, relax, talk, play with family and friends and keep looking at the picturesque landscapes that keep passing by. At 3.30, we were back to the point where we had started our journey.
The next part of the trip was a canoe ride through the narrow canals and other intermingling streams of waters. This is where one gets to see the real life that thrives here, meet the people and absorb in the beauty of the villages of Alappuzha. The two hours ride took me through many lanes and the best part about it was meeting some really wonderful people of all ages who waved at me, smiled at me and also looked amused to see me. To people like me who live in cities, it is hard to fathom what it would be live a life like this. But then this is what backwaters are all about.
The evening was well spent in walking around the area around the jetties. It was quite fun to be on the boat for sometime, then again touch the land, go exploring some new village, return, eat some great food, then again go down to touch upon something else, come back, eat, talk, have fun and sleep to the lullaby of the placid backwaters.
Spice routes supports Responsible Tourism
Every little effort counts. I must applaud Spice Routes for using a bio gas plant at their base where they dispose off the waste and try to recycle it. They also try to make use of solar energy for some of the needs on the houseboat. Overall, it was a great ride with them. Great food, staff is very friendly, helpful and I loved their flexible itinerary. It was one of my most relaxed holiday.
A little information about Spice Routes!
They are a renowned and one of the most trusted brands when it comes to experiencing house boats in Kerala. They have seven luxury boats named as Saffron, Pepper, Cinnamon, Clove, Cardamom, Tamarind and the latest one being Fennel. These boats are available in different sizes. Some are exclusively for two couples, some three and even one. You may choose according to your preference and number of people. One can plan this trip with friends, family and more. I really love their personal touch about everything and of course, their food and the handcrafted itinerary.
P.S. – I was a guest by invite but my views above are totally unbiased.