An enchanted houseboat. Kerala, India

Away from the chaos and noise of India is Kerala. Nestled in the south-west corner of India, Kerala is the home of spices, coconut groves and tea plantations. The Western Ghats have protected the area from the rest of India and it has developed its own customs and cuisine. Its long coast has been used as the landing points for Europeans and Chinese traders over the centuries and everywhere you can see influences of the Dutch, Portuguese and English; in both architecture and religion.

One "must do" in Kerala is to take to the water. Kerala has 900 kilometres of waterways and canals along the coast and inland. There are large lakes and canals surrounding the rice fields.

The rice fields are below the level of the canals and get flooded during the planting season by opening irrigation channels that are connected to the canals. Along the banks are many towns, villages, churches, schools and shops. The waterways are the roads of the area. Travelling on the water gives you a voyeuristic view of life. There are many ways for the tourist to travel, they range from organised tourist cruises to water taxis.

The most popular way is by house boat. The house boats are converted or newly built kettuvallams. They were originally used as ferries and to transport rice. Now they have been converted into luxury accommodation. There are some shonky owners so it is best to either view the boat before you sign on or get a reputable hotel to organise a boat as they will then be responsible if any thing goes wrong.


The route that is usually used is from Kollam to Alleppy or Alleppy to Kochin. We arranged our boat through the Taj Garden Retreat in Kochin. We got on the boat at the Taj Kumaraon and were amazed. The boat was spacious with an open lounge and dining area, an enclosed air-conditioned bedroom and at the back a small kitchen and staff area. We were introduced to our staff for the next 24 hours. There was a boat master, a cook and a helper. We set off across the Vambanad Lake, one of the largest lakes in India. It was so peaceful with water birds and never ending cups of tea and coffee.


It seemed that every hour or so we were offered banana fritters, plates of fresh fruit and biscuits. Cars and trucks can only access the periphery of the area so everything ends up going by water. The major workhorse seems to be very long, narrow boats that are piled high with sacks and  building materials. Usually with only one or two workers struggling to pole them along.


The locals seemed so used to the tourists that they ignore the houseboats although the children all laugh and wave on their way to and from school. Small boats pull up along side the houseboat selling freshly caught fish and fresh vegetables and fruit. We were already regretting that we had only booked for one night.


The locals bath in the canals, wash their clothes and pots and pans in the canals and take their drinking water from it. The canals are kept remarkably clean.


Most of the houses along the canals have their own jetties and private boats.


Our houseboat was for a couple but there are much larger ones for families and groups. It is a very expensive activity for India with boats ranging from $US200 to $US700 and up a night. So it falls very much into having a treat. And it really is a treat. No mobile coverage, no email and best of all no computers.


The array of boats and their uses are wonderfully diverse. We saw school boats dropping off students at individual jetties and livestock being taken to different pastures. We saw people at boat taxi depots with their shopping waiting to go home. And we saw many other houseboats.


At night we pulled into a mooring that was close to the boat masters village so he could go home for the night. As evening fell there is a bit of a traffic jam as all the boats have to moor. They are not allowed to travel during the night as it is considered too dangerous. During the day the boats have to travel very slowly so that they don't interfere with the normal daily travel and tip over smaller craft.


With a picture perfect sunset we popped the cork on a bottle of champagne and settled in watching the lights in the villages come on and the night traffic on the canal. Kerala calls itself "God's Own Country" and on a night like this I think they are right. After a wonderful meal we sat on the deck and just relaxed. We slept well with absolute quiet and the gentle rocking of the boat.


The next morning we set off as the waterways came alive.




All too soon we were caught up in another boat jam as all the houseboats headed to Alleppy.




At Alleppy we sadly said good bye to the staff and the boat. We vowed to come back and spend at least two night on a houseboat. But that's another story.


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