#ComeToKerala: Cruising in the backwaters of Alappuzha

It was a sunny day in Kerala and we just finished a 5-hour drive from the capital city Trivandrum. We were in Alappuzha for a boat cruise to our next hotel, the Kumarakom Lake Resort.

Some of the many houseboats in the dock. Ours is the one in the far left.
Some of the many houseboats in the dock. Ours is the one in the far left.

My expectations were high. House boats were, after all, one of the top tourist destinations in the state according to the Kerala Tourism Board.

I stepped out of our mini bus and saw a line of docked houseboats. Our tour guide, Manoj Nair, pointed to a black houseboat. We bought a couple of Kingfisher beer bottles and immediately boarded while the staff took care of our luggages.

One of the rooms inside our houseboat. This one comes with its own bathroom and air conditioner.
One of the rooms inside our houseboat. This one comes with its own bathroom and air conditioner.

Even before we set sail, my expectations were already met. The houseboat had luxury rooms with air-conditioning. The dining area and couches were placed perfectly in front of the boat, offering a beautiful view of the backwaters.

The boat left the port and we were set for a 3-hour cruise. A few minutes after, we were served with local Indian lunch cooked by the boat staff.

The rest of the trip was just pure bliss. We drank our beer as we cruised along Alappuzha (Alleppey). Along the way, we saw locals going on with their daily lives and tourists on board other houseboats passing by. The waters were calm and the cool winds compliment the heat of the Indian sun.

The houseboats of Alappuzha is an example of responsible tourism promoted by the Kerala government. According to Manoj, the houseboats were originally used for transporting goods across Kerala. But since better modes of transportation were developed, the boatmen lost their sources of income.

My fellow bloggers and photographers enjoy the traditional Indian cuisine served inside the houseboat.
My fellow bloggers and photographers enjoy the traditional Indian cuisine served inside the houseboat.

The government converted the boats into a tourist attraction. They started with 3 houseboats some years back and now, there are more than 2,000 houseboats in Alappuzha operated by locals. While the houseboats give tourists a venue for relaxation it also provide sustainable livelihood for the local communities in the backwaters.

Bintang, an Indonesian blogger, enjoys the calm backwaters of Alappuzha.
Bintang, an Indonesian blogger, enjoys the calm backwaters of Alappuzha.

Three hours went fast and the next thing we knew, we had arrived in our next hotel. It’s sad that we had to spend so little time in the houseboat. Tourists can actually spend a night in a luxury houseboat with all meals included. This is perfect for families and couples who just want to unwind and enjoy the beauty of the backwaters. (You can check out this website for packages and prices.)

The best hotel of the trip

“Don’t compare this hotel to any of the other hotels we’ll be staying at. It’s not on the same level.”

This was the fair warning Manoj gave us as we arrived at the Kumarakom Lake Resort an hour before sunset. The resort, he said, was in a totally different level of luxury and comfort from all the ones we visited and will be visiting.

My room in Kumarakom Lake Resort had its own jacuzzi!
My room in Kumarakom Lake Resort had its own jacuzzi!

After checking into our rooms, we found out why. The rooms followed a traditional Kerala motif and some even had their own jacuzzis. The beds were comfortable and the verandas were perfect for late night or early morning tea.

Aside from the beautiful rooms, the resort also had an infinity pool, a traditional tea area and a bar, all facing toward the blissful Kumarakom Lake.

The resort, we later found out, was where most celebrities and national politicians spend their holidays. Prince Charles even celebrated his 65th birthday in the £500 per night room with its own pool in this resort.

The sunset cruise was so relaxing, I fell asleep while on board.
The sunset cruise was so relaxing, I fell asleep while on board.

Our arrival was timely as it was just a few minutes before dusk. The hotel provides a 30-minute sunset cruise for its guests for free every day. I jumped into the boat and cruised along Kumarakom as the sun slowly hid behind the horizon, while traditional Kerala music played in the background.

The Ottamthulal performer who entertained us during dinner.
The Ottamthulal performer who entertained us during dinner.

During dinner, the guests were entertained with Ottamthulal, an art form in Southern Kerala. This performance was introduced by Kunchan Nambiar, a prominent poet, in the 1700s and it uses acting and dancing to create parodies of social issues. In our case, the sole performer parodied some of the audience members.

The performance and dinner were a good way to end our long day. I retreated back to my room to enjoy the jacuzzi and tea. It was a much needed rest and relaxation after a tiring day of traveling.

Experiencing village life

The next morning, we left the hotel early for a boat trip to Kumarakom Village. We arrived at the station and boarded smaller boats for the tour. The village we were about to enter was the town named Aymanam, which was one of the settings for the book “The God of Small Things.”

I was thrilled. I read the book a couple of years back for one of my classes but I didn’t get to finish it. I’ll get to experience the life of Rahel and Estha at least, I thought to myself.

Our boatmen were already waiting for us when we arrived.
Our boatmen were already waiting for us when we arrived.

The entire tour’s point was to introduce foreigners to the local life. Along our stops we were showed local sources of livelihood in the community like (1) climbing a coconut tree, (2) harvesting fresh coconut wine, (3) making local handicrafts, (4) fishing, and (5) making ropes.

This old lady just showed us how to make mats out of banana leaves.
This lovely old lady just finished making a mat out of banana leaves.
This local shows us the traditional way of fishing in the backwaters.
This local shows us the traditional way of fishing in the backwaters.

The villagers live a simple life. They produce goods for local consumption and small scale selling. I asked Manoj why they didn’t try to expand the market for the local goods and he said the government wants it to stay this way. They didn’t want too much demand for the locals since it would ruin their way of life.

One of the many beautiful views of the backwaters of Kumarakom.
One of the many beautiful views of the backwaters of Kumarakom.

The backwaters, green rice fields, and coconut trees give a very calm feel to the entire trip. The locals were also very friendly and they’d gladly smile for a photo. You can also help the boatman paddle through the backwaters. Just ask for an extra oar!

We finished the tour after 2 hours and went back to Kumarakom Lake Resort to eat lunch and check out. I felt a mix of emotions leaving Kumarakom. On one hand, I wanted to stay another night in this beautiful resort and on the other, I was thrilled to see our next destination – the highlands of Kerala.

When visiting Kerala, make sure you visit Kumarakom and the backwaters of Alappuzha. It is a must-see, must-experience destination in “God’s Own Country!”

Our houseboat captain was nice enough to let me snap a photo beside him while he was driving.
Our houseboat captain was nice enough to let me snap a photo beside him while he was driving.

This is a part of my #ComeToKerala blog series. My trip to “God’s Own Country” was sponsored by the Kerala Tourism Board. I had the time of my life in Kerala and I’m sharing my experiences here:

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One thought on “#ComeToKerala: Cruising in the backwaters of Alappuzha

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