While I did a short kayaking trip through the Thattekad Bird Sanctuary, boating had been a smaller component throughout the trip traveling without bus tours through India. That was all changing today, with a houseboat trip and kayaking excursion through the Backwaters.
The Backwaters, a long body of water composed of two giant lakes in southern Kerala — a state in southern India — where the people are dependent on the water. On a an overnight houseboat excursion with Cruisers — arranged by my tour outfitter, Kalypso Adventures — I was able to do a homestay on the water, staying in the home of three men, Chef Sabu, Engine Operator Baiju and Captain Sasi.
Historically, these boats were used to transport rice up and down the river; however, with a rise in tourism and people requesting to experience these boats, many of them started offering tours instead. Made of steel and bamboo with coconut coir roofs, these ambient vessels offer a mix of culture and luxury with simple yet comfortable air conditioned rooms with ensuite toilet, shower and sink and a common deck with cushioned benches and chairs and a bowl of fresh fruit.
The tour began and ended in the coastal town of Alleppey. After being welcomed with fresh coconut milk — still in the coconut — and a garland of jasmine, I immediately pulled out my telephoto lens to snap some photos. Colorful houses flanked by palms and mango trees lined the shores, with women washing pots and clothing in the water, beating the fabrics against against stone steps. At some points, fruit plantations came into view, as did areas full of chickens, cows and goats. It was particularly interesting watching the fishermen go out in their wooden canoes to reel in the day’s fresh catch, before biking along the banks to sell it door-to-door.
This as well as floating supermarkets provide people with nourishment. There are also boats that transport gas for cooking. If people need other supplies, a ferry costs 5 Rupees (about $0.08 USD) per ride and can bring them to shop-filled towns.
The birds were another highlight of the boat trip, with colorful King Fishers, graceful black crows, egrets and herons performing aerial acrobatics. My favorite was the cormorant, who would balance on broken tree trunks before diving into the water for some fishing. You’d often see them swimming, their heads bobbling above the surface like the eye of a covert submarine operation.
Along with seeing the sites, food is a must-mention of a houseboat excursion. Chef Sabu loves cooking, and excitedly served three traditional Keralan meals large enough to feed a family. Rice and bread were always accompaniments, paired with spice-rich dishes like cabbage with coconut; fried mini shrimps; fried local fish ; coconut curry with coconut, cumin and garlic paste; sambal; stewed tomatoes; and a couscous and long bean salad.
After a comfortable sleep, I awake to a bright-orange sunrise, looking like a basket ball set on fire above banana trees.
Kalypso Adventures also arranged for me to take a kayaking trip through Alleppey, the oldest planned town in the Backwaters. Because I wasn’t sure the views would really be that different from what I’d seen on the boat, I left my camera behind.
The views from that close to the water were extremely different, from being eye level with the birds and locals to being on top of the water’s mirror reflections of the surrounding tropical plants. I highly recommend pairing the kayaking with the houseboat for this unique perspective (and bringing a camera or GoPro to capture it with).
To give you an idea of my experience, here are some of my favorite photos from the journey:
Stay tuned for more Bus-Free Through India, with new articles in this 8-part series coming out every Tuesday!
This post is based on a semi-hosted press trip I took with Kalypso Adventures, experiencing their Multi Activity Holiday tour. It’s part of a series called Bus-Free Through India, as the tour focuses on showcasing the real India through cultural, sustainable and adventurous offerings, as well as traveling from place to place by cycling, trekking and kayaking. Stay tuned for this next chapter in my series, Bus-Free Through India.