Cruising the Backwaters

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by MichaelJM on December 27, 2005

Everyone raves about the experience of renting a houseboat and it really seems quite expensive (in terms of expenditure in India). Our holiday rep quoted £90 a person, which for a 24 hour excursion did sound a bit steep, but we decided the experience must be tried. A few discreet enquiries and we found that locals could arrange the trip for half the price – now that was a better deal! Having read about unscrupulous operators we negotiated to pay 50% before the trip and the balance on our return – this gave us a sense of security and the local middleman did not seem too disconcerted with the arrangement. Indeed he went on to say that if we didn’t like the boat then he didn’t expect us to pay the outstanding sum. That was reassuring. However, it didn’t stop us feeling a little uncertain as we were driven down a dirt track to the river.

Backwater cruises are big tourist business in Kerala and although competition is tough there are allegedly countless fiddles that take place. Apparently some don’t include food or mooring costs so you’re constantly being “tapped up” for extra cash. Ours was all-inclusive and I’m delighted to report that none of the 5-strong crew attempted to levy extra charges. Indeed they made no sycophantic gestures to “work for” tips. We in turn felt comfortable and relaxed.

The first view of the boat was positive and it looked in good condition and “river worthy. We boarded our wicker-clad houseboat by timidly balancing on a narrow plank of wood. It was held at the bottom by the foot of one of the “boat boys” whilst another two grabbed for our arms to steady our approach. It actually felt an achievement to have got on board without incident and we were delighted to find that our accommodation afforded us plenty of space. This was a two-bedroom boat with a lounge cum dining area and an upper covered viewing deck. Access to the upper deck was by way of a basic ladder and the roof of raffia and coconut rope ensured protection from the mid-day sun. Initially I thought it was incredibly cramped on the upper deck but when the crew saw we were interested in sitting upstairs the roof was raised, with bamboo canes. It was still not possible to stand fully upright but there were some great of life on the river views from our bamboo chairs on this upper terrace.

Our en-suite bedroom was just big enough for the comfortable double bed and was kitted out with a fan (air-con was an added extra that the guy arranging the trip had suggested was an unnecessary additional cost) and perfectly adequate lighting. The lounge area with its comfortable chairs and coffee table afforded great views of the countryside and a large dining table completed our on-board facilities. All-in-all the facilities were extremely comfortable and we had a great 24-hour cruise down the canals of Kerala.

The Kerala Backwaters
Malabar Coast
Kerala, India

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