Prices (all mid-season): 2 nights for two people: Rs 13,000 (after a little negotiation). This included unlimited food (VERY good food) and chai/coffee. To us, this was a steal.
I wake up in Allepey, just an hour south of Kochi and the launching point of hundreds of touring boats into the Kerala Backwaters. I had arrived late the previous night after a long-and-kind-of-grueling journey from Auroville, checked into a lovely little bed and breakfast called the Venice Castle (a fantastic stay for only $20), and then promptly crashed early like a log. Which is good because I’m awoken at sunrise to chants from the mosque across the street, belting out of a loudspeaker. Not a startling sound that jolts you out of bed mind you, but rather a soothing one that gently but convincingly gets you up. TII….so I’m up at 5, lay down my yoga mat on the ground and do my routine alongside the blaring chants.
Oh sorry before I begin about the houseboats, one more side-story: I had met a very cool Australian girl named Mary back in Auroville. It was just one of those things….we met at cafe at the town hall, clicked, and then kept in touch. Her India travels were taking her to Kerala and so I mentioned that I was planning on doing a backwater tour, and she was totally down! And so Mary shows up at the hotel that morning, and we instantly joke around like old friends. Backpacking in a far away land is the best. And so we set off to the shipyards to find a houseboat to rent, escorted by Shafi, a lovely rickshaw driver that was arranged by the hotel, who quickly becomes a friend and a negotiator.
We arrive to a quiet riverside boat point in the morning, and are overwhelmed by the amount of boats parked along the water. There’s as many as the eye can see, crammed one after the other, with crews of 2-4 on deck, cleaning up from the recent sun shower, and now sitting in the glistening in the sun. The boat owners greet us while also sizing us up. We inspect boat after boat, hopping from one to another to another, carefully jumping off wet rickety wooden planks and onto boat decks. Shafi helps us inquire about prices, routes, etc. Mary and I quickly narrow down what really matters to us in a boat, and really it came down to which one has a good upper / lower deck, sound system, and friendly crew. We also are mulling between one and two night options. Given that we came all the way here, it would be criminal to just do a rushed one-nighter. We finally decide on the boat: it has is an excellent “Upper Deck”, complete with speakers and a sun layout area. We’re talking surround sound and electricity, on a thatch-roofed boat…
Prices (all mid-season): 2 nights for two people: Rs 13,000 (after a little negotiation). This included unlimited food (VERY good food) and chai/coffee. To us this was completely worth the value and experience. It was a steal, actually. Oh, beer is extra. Also, they will take you to a local fisherman when you first set off, and get you to buy some extra fish if you want. So we picked up a couple more Tiger Shrimp (it tasted incredible) for an extra Rs 1,000.
Most boats leave at noon and come back the next morning, and so we’re given an hour to go shopping for supplies…and then finally set off! The rain starts to pour as we wait for cast off (it was quite welcome actually), and I just chill and catch up with Mary. There are many many other tourist boats at first on the river, since this is a touristy area of India. The sun starts to beat from the clouds again…it’s a VERY hot sun, but welcome. We cruise down a village river way flanked by palm trees, houses and schools. There is a little “local traffic” i.e. rowboats, tiny motor boats, and even a “school boat”…a boat pack with kids in school uniforms. We just chill on the upper deck with beach clothes on, reggae music beats in the background.
The longer we drive, the more remote it becomes, leaving the “urban” waterways for more secluded types. We have our first meal at dinner. Did I mention that the boat is equipped with a proper kitchen? And a proper cook, because the food is phenomenal. For a late lunch we have pomfrey fish, rice, and lots of supporting veggies and curries, all served on massive banana tree leaves. These tree leaves become our “dinner plates” for the next two days to make for an authentic experience. For supper, they cook up they marinate the tiger shrimps we bought, add in a different fish, with okra, beans, and red wine. All the food tastes great. We are thrilled after the first meal!!
In the evening our guide catches an eel, and shows it off like a trophy. It’s still slimy and struggling and squirming. At this point we’re a little buzzed from the wine and are just find the whole thing hilarious. He says that he’ll cook the thing for us tomorrow, and throws it into of of this boat compartments.
And the night ends with weighing anchor past sunset, and a little more relaxin on the upper deck. It’s quiet. We’re slowly wading in the water in the middle of nowhere, in pitch darkness and silence with just the light of candles and the starts above. It’s perfection, and just another reminder of how beautiful this country is.
Continued at Day 2