It is not really an exaggeration to say that the backwaters are the pride of Kerala. Today, anyone planning a trip to Kerala invariably includes a backwater cruise in his/her itinerary. It is meant for everyone, right from a kid to an elderly; from a nature to culture lover. I have been to and enjoyed the backwaters of Kerala and completely recommend it to anyone who still hasn’t.
I had plenty of questions while planning a backwater trip. I researched a bit before going. Here in this article, I have tried to give a brief guide to the backwaters of Kerala and the houseboat cruise for those who are still in the planning stage and would like to have any information possible. The information here is a based on my research and experience put together.
What are Kerala Backwaters?
The picturesque backwaters of Kerala that allure visitors are essentially a network of interconnected lakes, canals and lagoons that lie parallel to the coast of Arabian Sea. Canals – both natural and man -made – link up five huge lakes, the largest amongst these being the Vembanad Lake. These lakes receive water from around 38 rivers and together they create a vast waterway with small towns and cities in between. These cities and town function as the base from where the backwater cruise commence and end. The backwaters is home to a number of floral and aquatic species. The shores are lined up with coconut palm trees and paddy fields that lend an idyllic look.
Famous Backwater Destinations
The most popular amongst all backwater destinations, Alleppey or Alappuzha, is also known as the ‘Venice of East’. It is known for the wonderful views it offers to travellers like palm fringed canals and locals engaged in their routine day to activities. It lets you enjoy Kuttunad – ‘the Rice Bowl of Kerala’ where cultivation is done below sea level. It is also where the famous annual snake boat race – Nehru Trophy Boat Race – is organised.
Kumarakom is for those who like peace and would like to explore the backwaters in far more luxurious manner. There are a number of famous resorts in Kumarakom that offer backwater cruise in truly luxurious boats. Kumarakom is also home to the famous bird sanctuary with the same name. An easy pick for bird lovers!
You can also do backwater cruise in Kochi and Kollam
Ways to Do a Backwater Cruise
It is not always possible for everyone to pick the same option. There are time and budget constraints. Plus people have their own preferences as to how they would like to explore. The Backwaters of Kerala cater to everyone – the budget traveller, one seeking luxury as well as those looking to get closer to nature and culture. There are big houseboats (deluxe and luxury), shikaras, local ferries, tourist ferries and canoes to choose from. Those looking for private space and willing to spend should go for a houseboat cruise (there are sharing options here as well) whereas those travelling on a tight budget can opt for the latter options. The last few options also allow you to get a feel of the local life. A combination of the two would mean the best of both worlds.
The houseboats, that today have become one of the most prominent visuals of Kerala tourism, were once primarily meant to transport goods (rice and spices) from the interiors to the port of Kochi. With modernisation, constructions of roads and advent of vehicles, the vessels lost their original purpose. Some ingenious thinking gave them a new direction and they reappeared as tourist houseboats – traditional yet all laced with modern facilities. It gave a perfect option for travellers looking to explore the beauty of the backwaters in the comfort and luxury of modern times.
There are different kinds of houseboats available – one bedroom, two or three bedroom, or even five to eight bedrooms with attached bathrooms. There are standard, deluxe and premium houseboat options. Generally, there is a dining area, a sit out and fully functional kitchen as well. You can choose to book a houseboat exclusively for yourself or save some of your money by sharing it with other travellers.
A number of houseboats also have an upper deck, so if you want to enjoy the views of backwaters from upper deck, you will need to check if your houseboat has it in first place. Houseboats also have air conditioner but usually they work only during night time in houseboats. If you want one all the time, you need to go for a premium or luxury option.
Each houseboat has three staff – captain, cook and a helper.
Usually travellers opt for an overnight cruise in the backwaters of Kerala. In this travellers check in at noon and enjoy the cruise during the daytime. In the evening the boat is anchored at a point for the night. It restarts its journey in the morning and comes back to its starting point by 9-10 AM. This is a good choice for those who would like the experience of spending a night in a houseboat and enjoy the morning sunrise amidst natural beauty.
However, for those who do not prefer an overnight stay for whatever reason, there is the option for day cruise. It is a cruise that begins a little early and brings you back to the starting point by 5 in the evening.
It the first option, the cruise package include welcome drinks, lunch, evening snacks, dinner and breakfast. The latter includes welcome drinks, lunch and evening snacks.
You can specify your food options – veg or non veg – and can even buy some fish during the cruise and ask your cook to prepare it for your lunch or dinner.
If you want to spend more time on houseboat, you can book for more days too.
Things to Keep in Mind
To summarise the above info
Select houseboat as per your requirement like number of people travelling and Ac requirement. You can go for advance booking (especially during peak season) or if you want to see your boat before booking, happily do so. Alleppey has a number of houseboats parked in the morning and you can go around inspecting them and finally choose the one you like.
Confirm the facilities available in the houseboat before you book it so as to avoid any confusion and altercation later on.
As mentioned above Acs do not work round the clock in all houseboat. Generally they are switched on between 9 PM to 6 AM. For ACs to work all the time, you need to book a houseboat accordingly.
Specify the kind of food you want – veg or non veg. You can also buy ingredients en route and ask your chef to prepare it for you.
Close the windows in the evening to avoid mosquitoes.
For overnight cruise – The houseboat will park at a spot in the evening. It doesn’t cruise during night time. This is done to allow the fishermen carry out their work.