Is Kerala trip complete without houseboat experience?? Absolutely no.. It seems like an integral part of Kerala.
My kids’ excitement had no bounds when they got to know that we are going to stay overnight in a houseboat or a Kettuvallam.
In olden times, the houseboats or the Kettuvallam (In Malayalam, ‘Kettu’ means ‘tied with ropes’ and vallam means ‘boat’) were the only modes to carry spices and food items. But now they are preserved and promoted as a tourist attraction for pleasure rides.
Difference Between Houseboats in Kerala and Kashmir
In India, houseboats are famous in the states of Kerala and Kashmir, but there are some differences.
The Kettuvallam’s are made of all natural and easily available material like bamboo, coconut fiber, jackfruit tree. The hull is made up of wooden planks from jackfruit tree and tied with coconut coir. No nails are used in the construction of these floating houses.
While in Kashmir, the houseboats are made from wood with intricate carvings on them.
During the stay in the houseboats in Kerala, they cruise around in the backwaters during the day before setting in at the banks. Unlike their counterparts in Kerala, these fancy houseboats in Kashmir are permanently anchored at the banks of the lake.
I had heard this term associated with Kerala all the times. So, what exactly are backwaters?
Backwater is a labyrinthine network of canals, lagoons, lakes, and streams. Sometimes the sea current and tides lead to the formation of sand deposits at some places called barrier islands as they form a hindrance or barrier.
The rivers flowing into the sea are obstructed by these barrier islands and the water recedes back. Sometimes due to the high sea currents, the river water is receded, and the sea water gets mixed with the fresh river water making it a bit saline or brackish.
The backwaters in Kerala span 900 km from North to South of the state.
Major Backwater Areas in Kerala
Since the backwaters is a huge network, the next step is to zero down the area to stay in the houseboat.
The major areas are:
Since we were exploring the Southern Kerala during our vacation, so had to look from Kochi to Thiruvananthapuram.
Alleppey is the most famous backwater destination in Kerala often nicknamed as the ‘Venice of the East’ and hence a lot touristy.
We craved for a peaceful option, hence chose Kumarakom in the Kottayam district. Alleppey and Kumarakom lie on two ends of the Vembanad lake.
Types of Houseboats
There are many houseboats mushrooming along the backwaters of Kerala. There are a few types of houseboats – Deluxe, Premium and Luxury depending upon the no of rooms and facilities provided. It ranges from 1 bedroom to a massive 5 bedroom, from AC in the night to full day AC.
We chose Backwater Routes Houseboats for our sojourn in Kumarakom. Kumarakom, located on the banks of Vembanad lake.
Fun Fact: Vembanad lake is the longest lake in India.
The check-in timings are 12:30 pm and check-out is at 9 am
We were driving from Kochi and reached there by 12 pm and the houseboat was ready for us. We were given a warm welcome by the owner Mr. Jayaraj with flower garlands and fresh coconut water.
The kids were excited and started exploring their abode for the day.
Backwater Routes Houseboat in Kumarakom
It is amazing to see how the rice barge has been revamped into a modern house of luxury. We entered the houseboat into the living cum dining room.
It was closed with windows and doors to get a complete view of the surrounding greenery. The living room led into an alley with 2 bedrooms and a fully functional kitchen at the end.
We were fascinated to see the kitchen so well set up. The bedrooms are attached to modern western bathrooms.
There were stairs that lead to the upper deck. Oh! this was the best place to sit and watch the boat steer into the quintessential backwaters of Kerala.
Whatever I say of the food would not be enough. We requested for vegetarian food, and we had a scrumptious Kerala vegetarian dishes laid out for our lunch. The food was mouthwatering especially the cabbage thoran and sambhar which was so flavorful.
The cherry on the cake was the warm payasam (a pudding made with milk and either of the ingredients – rice, broken wheat, vermicelli, dal, tapioca, etc). What a feast to be relished in the middle of the water with spectacular views adding to the charm.
They say, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”
So as the locals eat, we tried to eat the food with our hands. Rice is a staple diet in Southern part of India. It was heartwarming to see the kids adapt to the culture and eat with hands. We were not experts though, but we tried our best.
In the evening we were served a traditional Kerala delicacy – Ela Ada. These are sweet steamed rice pancakes with coconut and jaggery filling in it. They were so delicate and would melt in the mouth.
The best part was that our chef Mr. Ranjith cooked the food non-spicy as per our tastes, hence our kids were licking their fingers. We always saw him smiling and ready to feed us with his yummy dishes.
After an early morning cruise through the meandering canals, it was time for a healthy breakfast of idli sambhar and fresh watermelon juice. The soft idlis dipped in hot sambhar along with handsome dollop of coconut chutney was perfect. My mouth has started watering while thinking and writing about them.
The moment we got settled, the boat took off through the River Kaipuzha and entered the creek of Cheepunkal and slowly reached out to the mighty Lake Vembanad.
Then we passed around the Coconut Lagoon Resort & exteriors of the Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary on left.
Slowly heading towards west, towards Pathiramal Island, which means “Sands of Night” where fishermen used to rest in night fishing times. This island was the halt for lunch.
We could see other houseboats anchored on the tree stumps, all enjoying their lunch break with breathtaking views. After an hour-long break, we steered towards North Alleppey region crossing Vechoor where a huge number of Chinese fishing nets are erected.
As the evening approached, the sky was getting painted in the hues of orange. With tea in one hand and coconut laden trees in the backdrop, we were happy. We passed through a beautiful church while heading back for berthing.
Exploring the Village in the Evening
In the evening, we head out to explore the village of Vechoor, where our houseboat was anchored.
Walking along the streets without any maps or destination to target, was a relaxing experience. There were houses lined along the street with big courtyards filled with trees of coconut, banana, drumstick, mango, and a variety of flowers.
We could hear devotional songs and made our way to those sounds into a huge temple complex. It was the Govindapuram Sri Krishna temple. The entrance had a very tall oil lamp and idols of all the 10 incarnations of Vishnu adorned on the pillars.
Note: Men are only allowed inside the temple with bare chest or Angavastram (stole worn by men over shoulders.)
With the sun setting behind those coconut trees, we could see the light filtering through the leaves and it was an indication for us to call it a day and head back to the houseboat.
Sunrise and Early Morning Cruising Through the Canals
With a peaceful night sleep, we set our alarms for 6 a.m. to explore the tranquil beauty of the backwaters and local life on a country boat.
It was so serene, birds chirping, water lilies blooming, people getting ready with their morning chores, sun welcoming us with a mesmerizing sunrise. What more can you ask for? We were thankful for such an experience.
Coming back to the houseboat after 2 hours, our breakfast was ready. With steaming hot idlis and sambhar, we were all set for our next destination, Thekkady.
By thanking our hosts for a memorable stay, we head out with some memories that we will cherish forever.
It is always better to book your stay well in advance to avoid last minute hassles that spoil the trip.
Backwater Routes Houseboats is based out of Kumarakom but they arrange houseboat stays in other areas and routes.
1. Do get the google coordinates of the houseboat to reach easily.
2. Carry some insect repellent as there are mosquitoes in the evening.
3. Get some books or games to keep the kids occupied. We got some coloring material and books to keep them engaged during the day. They watched cartoons on the TV in the evening.
4. Do let the houseboat owner know your meal preference (vegetarian or non-vegetarian, spicy/non-spicy) in advance.
5. If you are non-vegetarian, you can indulge in the fresh catch and get it cooked.
6. Backwaters form the backbone of the locals. So respect and don’t litter the waters.