Must See Places in Kerala - Kerala Backwaters
One of the massive advantages of travelling around India is, of course, the low cost of transport, food and accommodation. Your local western currency can go a long way in this part of the world. We found this to be truer while visiting one of the many must see places in Kerala. We had the opportunity to stay in an overnight Kerala houseboat while we explored the Kerala backwaters.
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Even at India’s rock bottom prices we still found ourselves sticking to our penny-pinching accommodation budget. Our target was £10-£15 per night. We could usually find somewhere pleasant enough to stay at that price. Sure every now and then we slept in rooms hotter than the sun or had to share with a cockroach or two. Once I woke with a giant roach in my hair but this is India and we’re talking just £10-£15 per night!
Yes, we’re budget travellers but on occasions, we do like to splurge a little. To treat ourselves to somewhere special to stay for that extra memorable experience. The Kerala backwaters is a place we knew we’d do just that. We’d heard about private Kerala houseboats that could be rented for a very reasonable price.
Alleppey – Gateway to the Kerala Backwaters
The gateway to the Kerala backwaters is a small town called Alleppey. With its coastal setting and sparkling tranquil backwaters, it’s no surprise to find out that it’s been nicknamed the “Venice of the East”. It’s a huge magnet for tourists and one of the must-see places in Kerala.
Alleppey, also known as Alappuzha, is an urban area but due to its relatively low population. It does not feel overcrowded or in your face like many other Indian towns. We could walk it’s streets without being bothered by anyone, which is quite a rarity in India. In fact, Kerala all over is generally very laid back when compared to other states in the country. The people seem to be happy to let you get on with your day without any hassle. It must be the exhausting Kerala backwaters hot tropical climate chilling them out. Whatever it is that makes them that way, we liked it! Maybe this is why it’s one of the must see places in Kerala we thought 🙂
It’s just a 40-minute drive from the state’s main city of Kochi
This makes it an easily accessible town if you’re arriving by air into Kochi’s airport. However, we arrived into Alleppey via bus from Varkala, one of Kerala’s many picture perfect beaches. We checked into our very charming Alleppey guest house and immediately went to the banks of the backwaters. The search was on for our own perfect Kerala houseboat.
Most accommodation in Alleppey will organise a Kerala houseboat for you. However, we wanted to choose ours after seeing it in person. We’re all too familiar with being shown pictures of something to then turn up to find out those pictures were not a true representation of what we had purchased!
Once we arrived at the water’s banks which are just a short stroll from the town centre, we were greeted by a huge number of exotic looking moored houseboats of all various shapes and sizes.
The Kerala Houseboat History
Today the Kerala houseboat is a slow moving pretty barge used for tourist trips. Though they were not always used for this purpose. They are in fact modernised kettuvallams. The original kettuvallams were used to carry tonnes of rice and spices up and down the backwaters to Kochi. They’re made from planks of jack-wood joined together with coir. This is then coated with a caustic black resin made from boiled cashew kernels. Not even a single nail is used during the construction of the boat. With careful maintenance, a kettuvallam can last for generations!
A portion of the kettuvallam is covered with bamboo and coir which served as a restroom and kitchen for the crew. Meals would be cooked onboard and supplemented with freshly cooked fish from the backwaters.
The day eventually came when modern trucks replaced this system of transport
Locals needed to find a new way that would keep these boats, almost all of which were more than 100 years old, in action. By constructing special rooms to accommodate travellers, these boats cruised forward from near-extinction to their present day success. Now they are a popular sight on the Kerala backwaters. In Alleppey alone, there are as many as 500 houseboats! Locals have really caught on to the fact that the area has become one of the must-see places in Kerala.
While converting kettuvallams into houseboats, care is taken to use only natural products. Bamboo mats, sticks and wood from the area’s nut trees are used for roofing, coir mats and wooden planks for the flooring. Plus solar panels are used for lighting.
The Kerala Houseboat Today
Today, the Kerala houseboat has all the creature comforts of a good hotel including furnished bedrooms, modern toilets, comfortable living and dining rooms, a kitchen and plenty of outside balcony space. Parts of the curved roof open out to provide shade and allow uninterrupted views.
We were allowed to stroll the waterside path and board as many of the boats as we liked while talking to the crew on each. We were shown each boat’s facilities and discussed the nightly rate. Considering there were just two of us, many of the boats were too extravagant for our needs as they had the capacity to sleep a large group. We still boarded a couple of these purely out of curiosity and some were like mini-hotels!
We finally decided on a little cosy two berth Kerala houseboat. It was in great condition and had one tidy double bedroom, a Western toilet, outside dining and a lounge/chill area right at the front. We could immediately see ourselves enjoying the soft lounge area while sipping a local beer and enjoying the views. And we also quickly warmed to the crew which is obviously important due to being the only people we’d be socialising with over the next couple of days.
We agreed on a price of just £50 per night for the both of us and booked two nights. This included two crew members (driver and cook), breakfasts, lunches, dinners, snacks and all drinks. We couldn’t wait to explore the Kerala backwaters and see why this place is considered one of the must see places in Kerala.
Click HERE to see the boat’s booking website!
The Kerala Backwaters Experience
Those two nights aboard our private houseboat was one of the most magical and memorable Indian experiences. For almost three days we gracefully floated through the breathtaking palm tree-lined canals, rivers and lagoons of the Kerala backwaters. An area untouched and otherwise inaccessible.
Even with the now large numbers of boats on the water it never felt overcrowded
We’d previously read some negative reviews of overcrowding, loud party boats and pollution. We can honestly say that we did not experience any of these issues. Maybe March is low season but we cannot confirm that. The only loud music we heard was while passing a waterside house in full cheesy karaoke mode. A pretty common family past time in this part of the world.
Passing and visiting local waterside village life, that’s in such contrast to ours at home, was a real highlight of this Kerala backwaters experience. From our Kerala houseboat, we waved to laughing children aboard canoes on their way to school, watched hard working women washing clothes waist deep in water and exchanged smiles with fishermen in search of their next catch.
In fact our own onboard cook dived into the waters each afternoon to catch fish for our delicious and expertly prepared meals. Such a joy to eat fresh fish caught right in front of your eyes only an hour or two earlier. Meals over the three days were excellent and consisted of mostly an array of vegetable curries, bread and the already mentioned freshly caught fish. The crew were trying hard to make this experience one of the must see places in Kerala!
The evenings were bliss, peacefully watching the sky changing colour as the sun sets each night. The only downer was the evening’s having to be cut short not long after sundown. This was because turn night time, the boat soon became a magnet for the area’s persistent mosquitoes. Thankfully the bedroom came equipped with a mosquito net!
Would we Consider the Kerala Backwaters to be one of the Must See Places in Kerala?
Staying in a Kerala houseboat in the Kerala backwaters is such a unique experience. It’s something we will fondly remember forever. We were made to feel like royalty by the willingness of the crew who constantly waited on us throughout the trip. We were more than happy to offer a generous tip considering the low cost of the booking. If you’re thinking of heading to the state of Kerala in India, then do make sure to look into booking a Kerala houseboat. Based on our experience, it IS one of the must see places in Kerala.
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