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The backwaters of Kerala are one of the state's biggest draws. And for good reason too. With its palm fringed, meandering waters covered with lotus leaves and lilies, spectacular sunsets, and fascinating houseboat tours, the Backwaters experience is one that shouldn't be missed at any cost! Kerala's houseboats are like floating B&B inns - pretty, cosy and endlessly charming. There is usually just one extra person on board - the man steering the boat; and he cooks, cleans and gives you a slice of backwater history all at once! Here is the complete lowdown on how you can go about getting yourself onto one of 'em houseboat tours in Kerala.
Where to start...
The main areas where you will find houseboats docking and leaving, and people selling house boat tours are:
1. Kumarakom Backwaters
2. Alleppey Backwaters
3. Kochi Backwaters
4. Kollam Backwaters
5. Kuttanad Backwaters
Booking the tour...
The best place for hiring a traditional thatched roof Kerala houseboat is Alleppey. You'll find hundreds of them there. You can hire a houseboat for as little as a day, or as long as a week! It's really up to you. Day trips run from around midday until 6 p.m. Most people go for overnight hire, which includes a serene sleep out in the middle of nowhere, in a lake or other similarly peaceful spot. The houseboats then return by 9 a.m. or 10 a.m. the next day. You don't have to book your houseboat in advance. There are plenty to go around, so you can head down to the jetty, inspect the boats there, pick one, and negotiate the best price. Travel agents and hotels also organize boat tour packages that are all inclusive and a lot cheaper.
What you can expect...
From your starting point, you'll be taken on an adventure through the various backwaters to places such as Alleppey, Kumarakom, Kottayam, and Alumkadavu depending on your plan. Houseboats travel pretty slowly - only around 40-50 kilometres (25-30 miles) each day.
You can expect a friendly captain who will tell you all sorts of stories in heavily accented English. You can expect freshly prepared food and fun tapioca fritters, which you can munch on as you take in the heavenly scenery around you. Kids will have great fun throwing little shreds of tapioca overboard and delighting the schools of fish that appear instantaneously to gobble them up!
Your bedroom will be a quaint, dimly lit affair, with a mosquito net to keep the bugs at bay, and a window through which you can watch and hear the lapping waters as you drift off to sleep. There will be a tiny, but neat toilet, just a little bigger than an airplane loo.
Your houseboat may dock at some remote houses along the coast, where you can sweet talk your captain into letting you buy toddy from the locals! You can expect breathtaking sunsets, a lovely sea breeze, and the divine experience of peace and quiet.
You can expect to spend...
The cost of renting a houseboat depends on the quality of the boat and the time of the year you are renting it at. Rentals for rides range from as low as $100 to around $450 depending on whether you want an air conditioned boat or a regular one, and whether you want it for a couple of hours or overnight.
Large family sized houseboats, with multiple bedrooms and a living room/separate sitting area, are also available for hire. Prices for these starts at $400. The cost includes the tour of the backwaters, your cute lamp-lit room for the night and freshly cooked food (often the fish is caught right there on the boat!) Until recently, alcohol was permitted on houseboats, but now one has to be a little sly while grabbing one's drink as a lot of agencies prohibit drinking on board, for the safety of their passengers.
The best time to hire a house boat is?
The best time to be in Kerala is from November to January. That's winter season in Kerala and you'll find the best weather then. Monsoons can get rough so we'd recommend you avoid the houseboat experience then. And if you're going to be in Kerala in summer, then we recommend you book yourself an air-conditioned houseboat for sure!