India is well known for its bustling cities, busy roads and hectic markets. Many tourists who land in India for the first time find the intense sights and sounds overpowering to the senses. After a few days in the city it can be a good idea to have a change of scenery and experience the culture from a more laid-back perspective. Kerala is a fantastic place to rent a houseboat. The ‘backwaters’ are the rivers, lakes, lagoons and canals that run inland from the Kerala coast. They were used as a transport route by locals and for fishing and agriculture. Now they’ve become a place for tourists to get a flavour of the calmer side of India.
From your Kerala house boat (kettuvallam) you will drift past lush palm-fringed landscape, paddy fields and rural villages. As you travel you can sip a cold beer and sample authentic Keralan cuisine that is prepared for you on board, then go to sleep under a blanket of stars far away from the bright lights and noise.
Although it is possible to take a half or full day trip on a houseboat, if you can afford the time and money it is well worth renting a boat for a longer period to get the full experience. It offers a unique opportunity to wind down and see India from a completely different perspective. Two nights is an ideal amount of time to see the sights, recharge your batteries and get out before things get a little too slow. Tips for hiring a houseboat in India:
- The best place to hire a traditional thatched roof houseboat is Alleppey, where you will have to choose between hundreds of boats. It’s a good idea not to book in advance (unless you’re travelling in peak season and are limited to certain dates) as that way you can inspect the boats and agree the price directly at the jetty.
- Check what is included in the cost. Does your room have air conditioning? Does it include food and drink (home cooked food usually comes as standard)? How far will you travel?
- The best time to hire a houseboat is from December until the end of January when the weather is cool and dry, but don’t let that stop you if you are visiting at a different time of year as it is possible to hire one all year round. Just be aware that during the stuffy time of March to May you might find air conditioning essential.
- Ask where the houseboat will be berthed at nights. Many boats line up together as close to town as possible, which inevitably means lots of noise in the mornings.
- Decide whether you would rather cover more ground (or water, as it were) by picking a boat with an engine (not so environmentally friendly) or a boat propelled by punting two long bamboo poles, which obviously is a slower (but more environmentally friendly) process. Pollution of the waterways is a big deal, so ask questions about their green credentials.
- Pin down the itinerary of the trip so you know how far you’re expecting to get.
- Aim to get a houseboat that doesn’t offer TV or WiFi – the whole point of the experience is to get away from it all.
- Air conditioning can be noisy and polluting to the environment. If you can get a boat where your room has windows on either side you may not need it.
- Look out for government star ratings which can help you pick a boat with high safety and environmental standards.
- Remember to pack insect repellant, footwear suitable that you don’t mind getting wet and ear plugs.
India may be chaotic, but it can also be the perfect destination for quiet contemplation. Book a houseboat during your stay for a few days and see a different side to the country.