Destination: Alleppey, India
Number of days spent: 3 days (2 days on the boat)
Where we stayed: Venice Castle Homestay (1200RP/$26; 919947084414, www.venicecastle.com) Pricey but our sanity and marriage needed that blast of A/C. Besides that the owner, Matthew (yes, that’s his real name – he’s Christian) is a super friendly guy and took time to sit and chat with us about the area and his family. The breakfast is wonderful too! He also can organize a boathouse which gets good reviews, we just opted for a slightly cheaper boat.
Best Restaurant: Blufia in Alleppey had amazing schwarma (it was so good we ordered seconds) and the best milkshakes we have ever had (try the cashew one)! It was so delicious we planned to return for lunch after our cruise…sadly it was a Friday (holy day for Muslims) and the restaurant was closed. If we ever go back to southern India we will go out of our way to return for one of those shakes :-) Truly one of the most delicious things we have ever tasted!
Best of: The milk shake blew away the private boat cruise :-) Relaxing on the boat after 6 weeks in super intense India was quite nice too :-)
Worst of: The guy we organized the boat with ended up being a bit of a jerk, but nothing we haven’t dealt with before.
Most memorable: Watching kids play cricket (India’s national sport) in the middle of a burnt field, Getting the third degree on our boat…floating along and having someone yell at us asking us “Where are you from? What is your name? What is your profession? Do you like Indian food? Would you like to come over to my house?” Only in India!
Useful Tip: We arranged our cruise the day we arrived in Alleppey and one day before we sailed. It was the off season (though a holiday weekend for India) and we still had more boats to choose from than we could have even possibly looked at. Remember, all rates are negotiable. We paid 5000RP (about $110) for 2 days (1 night) with all meals & transfers from Alleppey.
Cruising the Backwaters is the quintessential experience in Kerala. Built centuries before Ford was even a glimmer in his mother’s eye, these canals were the highways of their time. Farmers carved them out of the brackish waters as a way to transport their goods from the fields to markets. While much of Southern India is moving ahead at light speed, the backwaters remain…well the backwaters. The main method of transport for locals are oar powered boats and local ferries. Their main diet consists of a local snails and fish.
Farming isn’t the only industry in this area these days. In fact, cruising the backwaters on board a traditional rice barge has become the biggest money maker for the area. Even with us visiting in the low season there were plenty of tourist boats plying the waters.
From as little as a captain and mate to a over a dozen well trained staff; one private cabin to a dozen well appointed rooms; lobster and tiger prawns to veggie thalis – the boats run the gambit in quality and service. After doing a little shopping around we ended up on our own private boat with just a captain and mate to cut down on costs. With a third guy your food comes faster, drinks are served more frequently , and supposedly English speaking as well – not worth the extra cost in our opinion. Our boat also had the covered balcony up top, perfect for lounging and enjoying the scenery.
To be honest, for all the hype, the backwaters are not the amazing scenery that we had hoped for. Perhaps that’s due to our over inflated expectations, but for a relaxing and pleasant river cruise type experience the backwaters serve that purpose quite well. Our cruise was billed as two days, but it’s more like an overnight – get on a little before noon and get off a little before noon the next day. While you supposedly have some control of the route, the captain will surely have his ‘preferred route’ and you have little idea as to where to go anyways so it’s best just to sit back and enjoy what you see and not worry about it.
Shortly before night falls, the boat finds a quiet place to park for the night. We got off and took a little hike through the rice fields. Fields are burnt off during the summer months to prepare the fields for planting at the end of summer/beginning of fall. During this time, water buffalo are also allowed to roam and graze freely. Returning back to the boat, the first mate had managed to find a couple of beers (alcohol, while drank often and freely is still a bit taboo) and we enjoyed a nice dinner of prawns and fresh salads aboard our private boat. All in all not a bad way to spend a couple of days.
The next morning our boat took the long road back home. Upon our arrival back on shore we hopped on the local bus (think a rattling tin can with standing room only in the heat & rain) and head further south to Trivandrum/Kovalum, just a short way from the southernmost tip of India and our last stop in India!