So, on day four of our trip, we headed from Munnar back East to the coast. We went most of the way back to Kochi and turned South. There was a lot of traffic, so it took more than 5 hours to get from Munnar to Allepey (a.k.a. Alapuzha).
The area south of Kochi is known as the Kerala backwaters and is famous for its scenic landscapes. As you can see on the map below, there are a lot of lakes, lagoons, rivers and canals in the area and life revolves very much around the water.
A popular way to experience the beauty and lifestyle of the Kerala backwaters is to hire a houseboat. Houseboats are one of those iconic images about Kerala. Every time you mention Kerala – you see/hear about houseboats. We, however, had heard mixed reviews. The tourist websites are selling the houseboat tours as this incredible, idyllic experience that should not be missed if you visit Kerala. A couple of friends of ours, who had been on houseboats, said that it was nice but overrated. The only way to find out was to try it and decide for ourselves, so we did.
It was difficult to decide which houseboat company to hire because there are so many and their websites say pretty much the same thing. We went with a company called Lakes and Lagoons. It was mid-range, I guess – not the cheapest but not the most expensive either. It cost about $170 for the four of us including the boat trip, our room on the boat overnight, lunch, dinner and breakfast the next day.
The houseboats are former fishing boats, which have been retrofitted for tourist purposes and look like this:
The boat above is not ours but ours was very similar. Ours had two bedrooms but we only had paid for one and were not allowed to use the second one. Each bedroom had a shower and toilet. There was also an open living room space, hallway, a small kitchen and some space for storage in the back. There were three men on our boat – one cook, and two boat drivers, who were alternating.
There were hundreds of houseboats plying the Kerala backwaters. Some were fancier, with second store balconies and other features we didn’t have, some were even more rudimentary than ours.
Observing life from a houseboat was fascinating. It’s a bummer that we forgot our good camera because it was hard to capture the neat, interesting, and strange (sometimes) scenes we encountered. I apologize for the poor quality of the pictures but here are some scenes we found interesting in no particular order:
or washing the dishes,
Not pictured are many people we saw bathing and brushing their teeth in the water (as well as a guy peeing in the water but that’s a whole other story).
We saw very few cars from the boat, and only a few motorcycles and bikes but every house seemed to have a canoe.
A scene, that I really loved for some reason was of this woman, who came out of her home on the water, fished a coconut out of the water and took it back in the house to cook with. Fresh coconut milk or oil whenever you need it – how cool is that?! She didn’t even have to climb the coconut palm tree for it – it was bobbing in the water waiting for her.
As I mentioned in my prior post, Kerala has a lot of Christians and the backwaters is not an exception. We saw many churches along the water:
In the evening, we stopped in a small village and walked around. It was evening mass time and the village church was full of people, so much so that people had spilled out on the covered grounds around the church. Interestingly, the men were sitting on one side of the church, while the women on the other.
There was also a lot of Christian memorabilia for sale outside the church:
Our crew plugged us into electricity and turned the air conditioning on, which was a good thing because it was quite hot. Our room was quite small and there was barely enough space for all of us to sleep. There was a shower and a toilet but they were also quite cramped. The whole boat was OK but not exactly pristine and while it was terrific for watching our surroundings, it was not particularly comfortable as far as accommodations go. It was probably comparable to a one-star hotel. The food was OK but nothing special. In hindsight, we’d probably have been better off doing a 4 hour boat tour and then staying at a nice hotel. But we didn’t know that at the time…