Houseboat Cruise on the Kerala Backwaters

17th March 2014

A houseboat cruise on the Kerala Backwaters sounded like a great way to unwind from long hours in a tour bus. Kerala is a low-lying state in the South of India, on the West coast.  A long skinny strip, Kerala seems to be more water than land, including rivers, lakes, and the Arabian Sea.  All of these bodies of water are collectively known as the backwaters, a term that apparently has a connotation of beauty and serenity here, unlike in the US.  We are never far from water, and have so far gone on an afternoon boat ride on the Kerala backwaters and spent the night on houseboats.

For a long time, the quickest way to get around Kerala was by water.  However, roads and cars eventually came to God’s Own Country.  With the boats no longer being used, that way of life (and all those jobs) were going to go by the wayside.  The story is that houseboat cruises on the Kerala backwaters were conceived as a way to maintain jobs and keep those (repurposed) boats in the water.

Personally I’m curious how much this has actually benefits individual workers, since it seems like there are just a few companies that now own all the boats and hire a couple of guys to drive the boat, cook the food, and cater to guests.  Of course, they do have access to tips, but I would love to learn more about the level of truth to the claim that Kerala backwaters cruises are “like a form of social welfare.”

Dina shooting the sunset

For our houseboat adventure on the Kerala backwaters, we were spread across 11 different boats, and spent the day lazily cruising through the backwater.  It was common to see other, smaller boats ferrying cargo or  people.  Along the banks of the river were women doing laundry and people riding bikes.  Bicycles are the land-based transportation method of choice in areas that border the water since the paths are so narrow.  Auto rickshaws (also known as tuk-tuks) are also around, and seem to be about the widest thing that could possibly scoot around the area.

Inma diving in

Our houseboats were quite lovely, with a private bedroom for each guest, a functional galley kitchen that was used to prepare our meals, and a shared bathroom. The main feature, of course, is the large deck, which has both covered and uncovered portions so you can bake in the sun or enjoy the shade. We brought our own beverages, hooked up some music, and spent a lazy day enjoying the sights or taking naps. At night, the boats anchored and tied on to a skinny strip of land where we all photographed the sunset, ate dinner, and then packed onto one boat for some after-hours fun. We had a slight hiccup with a medical emergency that turned out to be a false alarm, but other than that it was all drinking toddy, evading mosquitos, and getting to know our fellow bloggers.

Rutavi enjoying our afternoon boat ride

The service on the houseboats was so good as to be overwhelming, something I find to be a common thread in this area.  No one who works in tourism has allowed me to do anything myself, whether it be to pour milk in my tea, carry my own luggage, or open my own beer.  This is nice, of course, but I feel awkward about how attentive everyone is when I could easily do these things myself and they have so much else to do.  If you’re looking to relax on the water, this is certainly a great way to do it.  The boats all dock overnight, which allowed us to snap the sunset and hang out together all on one boat.

If you want to hear about a cheaper, alternative method to see the Kerala backwaters, check out a post from Emanuele, one of the other KBXers, from his first trip to Kerala.

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