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Alleppey - House Floating on Backwaters : South India VI

After experiencing the woods and forests in Thekkady, we had backwaters on our itinerary. For next 2 days, we were going to be either floating over or saying besides the great backwater lakes in Kerala. While we all had been to a number of lakes and stayed at beaches, floating over water for a day was going to be a different experience. With this excitement within, we set forth towards our first destination for this part of the trip – Alleppey. We started immediately after breakfast and were on roads by 10:30. Soon we were leaving the jungle roads behind us and racing ahead towards our destination. It took about 3.5 hours to reach the outskirts of the town.

As we entered Alleppey, the first thought to cross my mind was that the town was bigger than what I had expected. Mirror still lagoons, picture book lakesides, palm-fringed canals, shores bustling with glimpses from day to day life in this countryside town of Kerala. Though the destination changed its name to Alappuzha, it still is known by its old name across the country. This town is the center of backwater tourism in the state. The town was traditional a center for coir and coconut oil business, however, the markets diminished over time. Artisans and labors involved in these business lost jobs and shackles of poverty took its tool. One fine day, a group of unemployed peasants had an idea of developing a tourism industry based on the single asset they had – a beautiful lake surrounded by Kerala beauty.

We boarded the mighty house on the boat at about 2 and the vessel sailed away from shores to take us on its journey. It was a very different experience on the houseboat which is a self-sufficient house unit floating on the waters. We were really excited to be part of this journey over next 20 hours and hence the first logical step was to explore each and every corner of the boat. The end where we boarded had a small protruded platform with set-up for the driver to navigate the boat. Behind this was the generous living area which had a sofa set placed for the frontal view as the boat sailed. This area had a narrow alley running through the remaining length of the boat and ended in the kitchen located on the far end. The kitchen was a fully equipped unit with all necessary provisions to cater to the needs of the guests. Through its length, the alley opened up for two bedrooms – each a double bedded room with attached bathrooms. The rooms were spacious for the platform they were on and had a huge glass window to provide the view of the scenic landscapes. To our surprise, they had provided air conditioners in both the bedrooms which were operational during the night when the boat docks. The alley also had a wash basin and a counter running alongside. The counter was set with fruits and snacks.

Upper Deck Lounge of our Water Abode
Sideways View from Lounge
We were amazed at architecture and how efficiently each inch of the space was utilized. Equally impressive was the attention to detail to provide every comfort to the guests. However, this was not all. This was just the ground floor. A narrow flight of staircase had an opening at the start of the alley and climbed us to a spacious balcony. This was a decently big space with a fixed bench running along the periphery of the boat. There was a set of chairs and a center table to complete the look like a secondary living area. There was an arrangement to bring down curtains if one preferred privacy but we were certain that the breeze and views had an upper hand at the time to any privacy requirements. The long uninterrupted views and the cool winds made sure that this would be the place where most of our time on this boat. However, for the time we came down to the living area

They served us a welcome drink as the boat embarked on its day-long visit. The drink was similar to a lemon soda’s coconut version. We, then, went to the bedroom and dressed for relaxation. Then we came down to the lounge area and observed excitedly how the driver maneuvered the boat through the river. There was a television in the lounge which failed to gain any interest. The lounge was being cooled by large floor fans. Our interest in the skills of the driver caught his attention. He invited us to try a hand at the steering wheel. This was a very different experience as compared to controlling a car. The steering was hard and the playground is tight in some areas. There are narrow canals and wide spreads both equally likely. Moreover, there are houses on two sides of the waterways in many instances and hence a careful concentration is a baseline requirement.

It was already late for lunch and it was the first thing that crossed our mind as we let go of the wheel. As if the staff heard our hearts or had the common sense of the time, the usher asked us if we were ready for the meal. As we settled on the dining table, yes, there was one dining table set too, the staff served the food. It was a very decent meal considering the mobile platform. They had chapatis, dal, a paneer dish, and some rice. Papad, pickles, and curd accompanied as sides. And, then came a South Indian sweet to wrap the courses. While the food was good yet simple, the ambiance and the experience simply made it one of the most exotic meals we have had for some time. After the lunch, we decided to try out the upper deck lounge. So we picked a water bottle, escalated the stairs and set ourselves up on the benches. No, we did not forget to set the camera on the tripod too! The open view of the water, the slowly sailing vessel, the scenery around and a hotel experience on the water – it was all too much to grasp at a time. Leaning on the boat’s peripheral parapet was eclectic in its own sense.

As if this was not enough to please their guest, the cook scrambled yummiest of assorted pakoras I have ever tasted. And the bonus was them being served right on the top deck of the boat. While we munched on our snacks, it was difficult to take eyes off the view. There were narrow canals through with the boat steered its way. There were houses on either or both sides and farms beyond that. Almost every house had a boat tied in the waters in front. Apparently, that was the only effective means to reach the city for them. At the height, we almost brushed aside a couple of coconut trees. It was about 6 PM when we felt that the boat moved towards the shores and finally anchored in front of a house. A look around told that there were many boats anchored similarly. Actually, the houseboats are only allowed to ply during the daytime and need to be anchored from sunset to sunrise. The reason is to provide open playing grounds for the fishermen and reduce noise levels in the night. Logical enough so no complaints. But what does one do when the boat is not moving? The staff offered us some DVDs – English and Hindi movies. We chose otherwise and decided to take a walk. The usher was kind enough to accompany us and show us around. In fact, the house we had docked at was his own. He said that the electricity from his house is used to charge the batteries and power AC. Most operators either have homes or pay a fixed amount to residents for anchoring. We had about an hour’s walk into farms, village streets and through temples. The usher explained to us the significance of the temples and many rituals followed in the area. He also excitedly took pictures of us at places he felt were picturesque.

Our Boat in Deep Lakes - Courtesy an Unknown
Long Canal Waterways with Lush Green Views
Birds Flocking Away - Did We Disturb Them?
Once we were back, it was time for dinner and we had another hearty meal and then went to the upper deck for some good moments under the openness of the environment. However soon the mosquitos proved to be a menace and the staff advised us to hit indoors. They brought the curtains down and we moved to the bedroom. The boat kept swaying with waves and the effect was almost of a child’s cradle. We didn’t realize when we went to sleep and were woken up by all the noises of morning activities – the temple bells, the bikes, the motor boats and what not. We freshened up and opened the large window to let fresh air enter the air-conditioned room. As we looked outside, the view of children dressed in school uniforms being rowed to the shores by their parents was really beautiful. Fishermen were returning with their catch and looking ahead to sell them at local markets. On the land, ladies were returning after their morning worship and temples had a festive look. And with the view, we were served our morning tea – right in bed.

We readied up hurriedly and moved out to the living area just in time when the driver was firing up the engine. The boat left shores at about 10 AM and proceeded to the remaining part of the journey. Idlis, dosa, and sambhar waited for us at the table. Another wonderful meal cooked on board! The morning waters were bit rushy as most boats left their anchor at the same time. Especially since we were a bit late on the previous day, we had the waters to ourselves. The driver, however, was gracious enough to take a longer route which was away from the regular way the boats moved and hence we finally had our views. After about an hour of sailing, we could see the city of Alleppey and realized that this experience was about to come to an end. As the boat docked at the yard and the staff bid us goodbye, we had our hearts heavy to leave the boat. It was definitely one of the most exotic sites we had visited and hence departure was sad.

Boats Competing to Shores in Morning
Alleppey Beach
We went for a quick stop at the Alleppey beach. This beach is not famous with visitors and we could totally relate to it. Though the beach was clean and silent, it was difficult to give it its due appreciation after the experience on the houseboat. We dangled our feet in the waters and walked a bit on the sand – while enjoying tender coconut water. After about half an hour at the beach, we boarded our car and moved towards our next destination – Kumarakom.

I hope you enjoyed an amazing day onboard the water vessel with us and are tempted to plan a visit soon. It indeed is a wonderful experience and there are few holiday destinations, as exotic as this one. Do let us know what you think about the article. Feedback, appreciation, criticism - everything helps in some way or the other. If you would like some suggestions with planning a trip, reach out to me on kt@expressions-kt.in and I would try to help you out based on our experience. Till then, Happy Travelling !!

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