The people of Kerala, back in the day, used to depend heavily on boats to carry and transport everything, from food to even cargo going to war! With modernisation, these barges or Kettuvalloms, as they were called, began to lose their importance and utility. But locals soon realised that these boats, which are strong enough to last generations, can be re-modelled into houseboats for travellers to cruise down the tranquil backwaters.
An overnight stay on a houseboat, in the calm backwaters of Kerala is something that almost every tourist visiting the state tries to incorporate into their itinerary. The calm and tranquil atmosphere of the backwaters, with their towering coconut trees, lush green embankments and romantic sunsets, is exactly what comes to mind when one imagines spending a day on a houseboat.
Floating on the backwaters in a houseboat gives travellers the perfect opportunity to experience a slow-paced life in unfamiliar surroundings, so different from what one expects normally when staying in a hotel or resort on land.
However, for those of us accustomed to the big city buzz, an overnight stay on a houseboat can be a wee bit boring - from 6pm to the next morning, the houseboat stays anchored in one place. With nowhere to go and nobody in sight apart from the captain and the chef of the houseboat, one risks getting bored, lonely, or even a tad bit scared in some cases.
But there are things that you can do to make your experience of staying on a houseboat more enjoyable!
Guide to enjoying your houseboat experience
Houseboats usually leave the embarkment point and make their way to the backwaters after the guests check-in to the houseboats, which is usually around noon.
After the initial excitement of exploring the houseboat abets, and once you settled in comfortably with the coconut water that is offered as a welcome drink, here is what you can do to make your houseboat stay truly memorable.
1. Cruising and living on a houseboat is a wonderful opportunity for bird watchers, as the houseboats float silently over the water without making too much noise. So be sure to carry a pair of good binoculars that will help you sight and observe rare birds from the comfort of your floating home.
2. If you are a foodie and are looking to savour authentic Malayali cuisine, then this is the best time to do so, as the in-house chef on board can make sure that you end up trying a wide variety of the most amazing and sumptuous Kerala dishes and snacks!
3. Catch up on the book that you have been waiting to read but have never had the time to finish. Also carry board games like scrabble and chess or cards and Uno for some fun quality time with your partner, family or friends.
4. Ask the captain of the boat to teach you how to manoeuvre the boat and have a blast of a time steering it, as you try your hand at the captain’s wheel. Don’t forget to click selfies of yourself and your family in that ‘Titanic’ pose on the helm of the boat.
5. Try your hand at fishing! The captain of the boat would usually try his luck with catching a fish or two for your dinner. If you have always been interested and have wanted to know how to fish, then here’s your chance to give it a shot.
6. Make a stop at the local ‘toddy’ shops and convenience stores along the banks of the waterway. They are usually stocked with ice-boxes full of freshly caught seafood like prawns, crabs, snappers etc. You can buy them fresh and have the houseboat chef prepare them for dinner! If cruising on the backwaters of Alleppey, make a stop at the village of Karumady and visit the Buddha stupa - Karumadikkuttan. The striking part of this stupa is the Buddha statue here, made of black granite which dates back to the 9th century. What makes the statue unique is that its left side is completely missing as if cut in half. Also make it a point to visit the Basilica of St. Mary at the town of Champakulam, which is located further ahead in the waterway from Alleppey. The church is over 1500 years old and is one of the oldest churches in India.
7. Your houseboat will dock for the night at 6pm – a river regulation dictates that all houseboat engines must shut off from 6pm to 8:30 am. So make sure that you are well-equipped for the night. Pre-download the movie that you have been waiting to see, either on your laptop or your mobile and enjoy watching it over a hearty meal of freshly caught fish and other delectable Kerala delights. If permitted, make sure to carry your own beverages and snacks on board to take you through a fun evening with friends and family!
8. Carry your Speakers. Nothing too loud though. Just a small set for your own ears only. Headphones would be ideal. It wouldn’t be fair to disturb the tranquil environment and villages around with blasting music coming from your houseboat.
9. Toilet Bag- Unlike other hotel stays, you need to be well prepared with a well packed toilet bag for this stay. Carry all your daily toiletries that you need. Don’t forget to carry an ample amount of mosquito repellent for the evening - Sprays, coils and creams, arm yourself well. For the day, sunblock, sunglass and a sun hat will keep you protected from the sharp rays of the sun.
10. Make sure you check on your kids back home or your boss in office before you embark on this mini vacation. Cell phone signals are likely to be non-existent. A welcome respite from the constantly connected world we live in.
So go on, don’t hesitate to book that houseboat when in Kerala next. Do keep these tips in mind to ensure a memorable and enjoyable experience.