If you mention Kerala to anyone who’s been there, chances are the first thing they will say is “houseboats.”

For many generations people in Kerala used wooden boats called kettuvallam to transport goods to larger port towns like Cochin. These days rice and spices travel much faster by truck and train, and the kettuvallam boats have been to converted into holiday excursion boats. In the backwater areas of coastal Kerala, particularly around the towns of Alleppey and Kumarakom, you can book a private boat with crew to take you on a leisurely one- or  two-night cruise along sleepy canals and lagoons.

The boats have between one and three bedrooms, bathrooms, and a deck area at the front. Some have both an open and a closed lounge/dining area, and some have an upstairs room or sundeck as well. There is a kitchen at the back of the boat where the cook will fix you some yummy Kerala food.

A typical houseboat, from the kitchen end

To book a boat you need go down to the docks at 9 am. That’s when the boats return, and you will have the pick of the fleet.  You ask to go aboard and look around. Some are quite basic, others well-appointed. We were advised to turn on the shower, lie down on the bed, and bargain for the best price. We looked at three or four before choosing a boat for our one-night excursion.

Going to look at some boats.

After you strike a deal with the owner, you go away for a couple of hours and come back at 11 to get settled in before noontime departure.

Andreas enjoys his welcome drink before we go.

Our cheerful captain

Some boats have TVs, but who needs TV when you can read a book and watch the people on the river.

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The cabin boy/cook (on our boat it was the same young man, assisted by the captain when we weren’t moving; on some boats it’s two different people) prepared and served us lunch, afternoon tea, and dinner on the first day.

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The boats have to moor before the sun goes down. We connected to a power source overnight (which provided us with welcome AC). We parked near our captain’s house – he said hi to his mom while Andreas and I went for a walk in the rice fields to watch the sunset.

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The next morning we watched the river people at their morning activities as we ate our breakfast and slowly motored our way back to town.

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When we docked in Alleppey, a young couple came aboard to inspect the boat. We advised them to take it, they wouldn’t regret it.


About lornaofarabia

I am a teacher from Medford, Oregon. I currently live and work in Bangkok, Thailand.
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