Not Just A Houseboat... A Love Boat!

Trip Start Feb 23, 2009
Trip End Mar 18, 2009

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Kerala Two Bedroom Houseboats

Flag of India  , Kerala,
Friday, March 13, 2009

In the morning we drove about an hour into the very rural canals, islands, and peninsulas of the Kerala backwaters. Officially we went to the town of Alleppy, although I never saw a town. There, numerous tour companies operate houseboats for the tourist trade during the high season, and a few private owners as well. In Kerala, the total expanse of backwater stretches over 1500 kms, with a network of 44 rivers, lagoons and lakes from north to south. Alleppey which forms the main part of this network has the peculiar geographical feature of having the water in level with the land. This gives the advantage of getting a closer look at the village life on shore while on a backwater ride.

Our tour company was the Lake & Lagoon Tour Co, with the official address of "east of K.S.T.C. Bus Stand" in Alleppy. We arrived at a small compound, and while I filled out paperwork, our bags were whisked onto a boat which would ferry us across the river to our houseboat; one of 22 that the company operated, of about 125 that are on the waters. Ours was a two bedroom houseboat (the other bedroom was empty), with a/c in the bedroom at night, en suite small bathroom with shower, electrical plugs everywhere (so I could work on my laptop), and a three man crew of Johhny (cook), Mohan (captain), and Sabu (engine operator/cabin boy). Johnny spoke English well. The Captain and the engine op basically spoke only Malayalam. You may notice that the word Malayalam is a palindrome (it's the same word forwards and backwards), which is appropriate, because everything they said in Malayalam sounded like it would be the same forwards and backwards.

From the tourboat website: Kettuvalloms or Houseboats (Riceboats) are country boats that were used in the early days for the transport of goods from the isolated interior villages to the towns. With the advent of roads, bridges and ferry services, gradually the kettuvalloms went off the scene. Now these kettuvalloms are back again as a major tourist attraction. A ride on a kettuvallom is a fabulous way to explore the fascinating beauty of the backwaters.

A house boat is about 67 feet in length and has a width of around 13 feet in the middle. The materials that go into the making are all local and Eco friendly bamboo poles, coconut fiber ropes, bamboo mats, coir carpets etc. The main wood used is "Anjili". (END OF QUOTE)

    We got underway with the quiet chugging of the engine, sweeping past other houseboats in a slightly surreal manner that reminded me of some Hayao Miyazaki animated movie where houses have decided to travel the waterways. Our cook Johnny gave us a rundown of the schedule and meals he'd be serving, taking into account Jae's dietary restrictions. First he promised a traditional Kerala lunch: fried local fish (Pearlspot - Karimeen), green beans with coconut pieces, rice, a vegetable curry, and popadoms (special for Jae, since they're made from lentil flour). Because of the humidity, you'd get one crisp bite of the popadom, and then each bite after would be progressively soggier. But everything he prepared on board was quite good, and we had a lot of variety.

After lunch, I went in the bedroom, and found a large spider on the wall. Not surprisingly, Jae wanted it removed pronto, and Johnny offered to do the deed if we gave him permission to go in the bedroom. There was a loud BAM that shook the boat, and the spider was on his way to that great web in the sky.

    A prawn fisherman came alongside the boat in his, gesturing that he would sell us fresh prawn if we wanted them. The crew would've cooked them for us, but we didn't want to change the meal plan. Nevertheless, Jae was astonished when we saw the size of the prawn, which were MUCH bigger than any she had ever seen in her life. (And she loves seafood.) I explained that there was probably a nearby mad scientist who was doing genetic mutation on edible decapod crustaceans, but it was probably nothing for her to worry her pretty little head about.

    In the afternoon we pulled ashore at a little village called Champakulam, which gave us the opportunity to buy from local crafts (we weren't interested because we're trying to travel light), and visit St. Mary's Forane Church, one of the oldest christian churches in India (believed to be established in AD 427). However, after we were ashore only 15 minutes, the winds kicked up and the sky grew threatening, and we were urged to get back on the boat before a storm came.

    The warm rainstorm was very dramatic, but Captain Mohan sat at the helm in the front of the boat with an umbrella as we continued on. Jae and I sat comfortably on the deck reading and being served tea while we watched the flocks of ducks swimming around the banks and tiny birds flying across the sky. Village kids continued diving into the river from the banks, and many women and men were washing clothes in the river. It cleared and when we pulled over for dinner, we had a spectacular sunset against the stormclouds, and the crew pointed out rainbows.

   Johnny asked us to shut the windows in our bedroom. "Why?" asked Jae, who wanted it to cool off as much as possible. Johnny explained that bats were coming out and looking for insects, and an open window
might attract one who would get stuck in some corner of our bedroom. You should've seen how fast Jae moved into the bedroom to shut the windows!

  When he served the dinner, Johnny asked if we wanted a bottle of wine with our dinner, which would cost a bit extra. We decided that it was so close to a perfect romantic setting that we'd go for the wine, which was served to us from a bottle that was clearly quite warm. The wine had clearly been spoiled by not keeping it refrigerated in this tropical clime, and it was quite undrinkable. We weren't going to make an issue of it, but Johnny kept asking if there was a problem when he noticed we weren't drinking, and I finally explained the problem. He was very apologetic, and the owner later made sure that we didn't pay for ANY of our beverages, as a goodwill gesture.

    When it was dark, we could see some torches across the rice fields, and I was tormented by drum and nagaswaram music that I heard from a distance. Johnny explained that it was music from a Hindu temple, and it wouldn't last long, but despite my interest they didn't want to take me over there. The mp3 I've posted here is Hindu temple music, very similar to what we were hearing.

    Because of the flat terrain around us, we could see the weather for long distances, and as the light finally faded, we had a spectacular light show of an electrical storm far in the distance. We sat and watched it for about an hour, which reminded us of a similar evening on the Florida Keys two years ago, where we had done the same. It was very peaceful to sit in the warm air with cricket noises around us, and watch the light show that was so far away that it was silent by the time it reached us.
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