Tuesday, March 24, 2009

“Follow the river and you will find the sea.” -French Proverb

Post by: Beth

Shortly after our adventure in the wildlife preserve, we were headed for the second part of our vacation: part adventure/part relaxation. Houseboats are quite famous in the state of Kerala, or in the Alleppey area to be more specific. So much so that everytime a driver or wildlife guide asked us where we were off to next, each gave a knowing nod and toothy smile in response to our chirps of "Alleppey!" "Ahhh.. houseboating" they said automatically. When we got to Alleppey and saw literally hundreds of houseboats lined up for rent, we realized just how popular this adventure is for tourists in the area.

A houseboat trip is typically an overnight stay on a Kettuvallam, which is a boat made of thatched roof covers over wooden hulls. Each houseboat is constructed using the ancient principles and techniques of boat building by the local carpenters using ‘Anjali` wood. Coir ropes are used for tying the wooden boards together. Boats in a variety of shapes and sizes have traditionally been the main means of transport of men and materials in the Kerala Backwaters since olden days. In particular, the house boats were used to ship rice and spices and other goods. Today, Kettuvallams, or houseboats, are used mainly to promote the tourist industry; guests from all over the world clamber on board these ecofriendly boats made of bamboo poles, coconut fibre, ropes, bamboo mats, carpets, and of course the Anjali wood. There's quite the variety of amenities available: Guests can pick A/C or non A/C boats.. 1, 2, or 3 bedrooms.. balcony or single story.. Hopping from one boat to the next in search of the perfect boat is quite an adventure in itself. After viewing about 10 boats, Raja & I collaborated to pick our favorite: The Venice Tours II. With A/C (Kerala is REALLY hot by this time of the season), 2 bedrooms, and a balcony, we had everything we needed and we were ready for our first trip down the backwaters of Kerala.

The backwaters are a chain of lagoons and lakes lying parallel to the Arabian Sea coast, otherwise known as Malabar Coast. The lagoons and lakes are connected by canals and inlets, and salt water from the sea meets with fresh water from the rivers. The waterway takes you past various towns in Alleppey, and offers a glimpse into a very different lifestyle. Women wash their family's laundry by dipping it into the backwaters, then slapping it against the rocks that line the canals. The communist flag flies in front of many of the homes. Men perch on the rocks and fish with cane poles or sticks with a simple string tied to the end, catching fish for their family's meals. The scenery is beautiful, as the canals are often filled with water lilys, and a dense line of palm trees line the canals on either side. It's very peaceful out there, and guests can simply relax and take in their surroundings.

The houseboat trip isn't the same without pictures, so I put together a little "story by photos" that may help give images to the words... I had no idea what to expect from our trip to the backwaters, so took lots of photos in hopes of conveying our trip to you. :)

We've now picked our houseboat, and our luggage is being taken to the boat of choice. You can see how many houseboats are lined up here.. This trail of boats goes on for almost an entire mile!

Below, you can see the boat we selected. It was a carefully evaluated process, with a mental checklist and much debate over the interior colors. We got THAT particular when choosing our boat. Since it's technically the very end of the houseboating season, less tourists are in the area, so we were able to tour through lots of boats and find just the perfect one for us.

Here's another view of the houseboats... At this point, we're settled into the balcony and waiting to untie and drive away from the docks.

And we're off! Only in real life, it's not quite so sudden or exciting... It's more of a gliding away from the dock, and it even took us a minute to realize we were moving. Very relaxing, and the amazing scenery is there right from the beginning.

After about 3 hours of coasting down the backwaters, it was time to stop for lunch. The boat stops for meals and the overnight portion of the trip. For meals, freshly caught seafood is prepared by the boat crew, along with some traditional Keralan rice and staples. Here's where we docked for our first meal:

And here's the first meal!

After lunch, the sailing continues... more beautiful views to take in, and Raja & I mainly relaxed, read our books, and chatted about the views around us.

Below, you can see where we docked for dinner and the overnight portion of the trip. We were under a canopy of palm trees, and overlooking rice fields that go on as far as the eye can see. We got off the boat and toured some of the area, getting a close look at the rice plants. I forgot to take pictures during dinner, but we had massive prawns and more Keralan rice, along with a chicken curry dish.
After an early dinner, we sat on the balcony and watched sun go down. GORGEOUS sunsets happen over the backwaters, and the twilight hour comes alive with the sounds of birds, crickets, and other sounds from nature.

In the morning, the boat sailed off promptly at 7:00am, with a breakfast of omelettes and toast with jam served shortly afterwards.
We were up before breakfast, and luckily got to watch the sunrise.. It's amazing how quiet it is in the early mornings there, until the birds and roosters wake up with the sun.
It only took about 1 hour to get back to the boat docking area, as the crew takes a much shorter route back in than they do on the way out. All in all, the houseboat trip was definitely what we'd been going for: half adventure/half relaxation, and it was amazing to be surrounded only by nature for an entire 24 hour period. We know now why it's such a popular tourist activity in Kerala... Hope the story by pictures helped detail our take on this Keralan adventure. :)


French said...

These photos certainly bring back memories! I missed the houseboat trip when I was in Kerala but travelled through the backwaters in the local bus boat... Amazing place: so beautiful and full of life!

I'm glad you and Raja enjoyed it!

Rhonda Walker said...

Very pretty pics. Thanks for sharing this part of your experience with us.