As the saying goes: even a poor-quality photo taken on a beaten digital camera can tell a thousand brilliant words. Or something like that. If the accompanying photograph doesn’t appeal to you then hopefully the remainder of this article will inspire you to take a trip.
The destination in question is Alleppey, in the heart of “God’s own country”, Kerala. I know what you’re thinking: isn’t India usually affiliated with dusty temples, sprawling metropoleis and aggressive tuk-tuk drivers? Usually, and that’s why I’d urge you to take a train (or plane, if you’re feeling fly) to the more serene south coast.
Kerala boasts the highest literacy rate in India, and the government places huge emphasis on education and clean streets, which probably contributes to its popularity as a global holiday destination. While I’ve covered some of the other attractions on offer, by far the greatest reason to take a trip to Kerala is to take a ride on a rice boat through its famed backwaters.
The best place to see the backwaters is by heading out from Alleppey, where there are probably more boat operators around than there are kilometres of canals (more than 900, or so I’m told). Inevitably, many of these operators will provide you with sub-par bang-for-your-rupee, which is why Felix Travel has already tested the waters to find a more reputable kettuvallam provider.
Gambit Cruises (GambitCruises.com) offer a variety of packages on their humble kettuvallams that can be tailored by time and destination according to your needs. Your houseboat package includes a captain, chef and handy-man, and can sleep up to four should you stay overnight. The company has a flawless safety record, and all boats come equipped with more accessories than Xzibit would ever consider including if the boats were to appear on Pimp My Ride.
While you could catch a glimpse of the backwaters in the course of an afternoon, most people I know who opted to do so left dissatisfied and hungry for more, which is why I opted for a one-night stay. It takes a few hours to get away from those trying to cram in a trip in a single afternoon, and by lunchtime you get to experience the true serenity of the canals. Gambit Cruises have the experience of navigation and knowledge of other tour operators’ plans to make your trip as isolated and spectacular as possible.
After floating through larger lakes and drifting down windy, narrow canals, you’re able to stroll through villages and rice paddies, en-route to a local fisherman’s market where you can pick out your dinner and grab a refreshing coconut to enjoy on your upper deck. Regardless of where you look, you’ll have so many beautiful sights on offer to keep you entertained as your chef prepares you a proper Keralan banquet.
In addition to the sheer time increase to enjoy the area’s gorgeous flora and fauna, opting for an overnight stay opens up other interesting opportunities, depending on your interests. It’s possible to continue strolling through welcoming rural villages as the sun sets, which could prove even more memorable should your trip coincide with a festival (though I recommend not leaving this to coincidence).
After a tiring day of enjoying the feast of sights on offer, you’ll no doubt be ready for darkness and tranquillity at this point. What’s cool about certain parts of the backwaters is the thousands of fireflies they house, which, if you’re lucky, will come out and greet you for some evening entertainment before you retire to your cabin.
It’s no surprise that this ranked in my recent India top five: when you’re kicking back with a coconut on your kettuvallam, there’s really very little to complain about. Whether you’re interested in unrivalled scenery or just want to live out I’m on a Boat, be sure to make a backwater cruise your top priority when visiting Kerala.
Planning a trip to Kerala or any other part of India? Contact Kerala Holidays, who offer tailor-made custom packages for groups of any size, that start and end at the airport and include everything in between. Awarded as the Best In-Bound Tour Operator by the Kerala Government, and with a friendly staff who know the ins and outs of the country, it’s no wonder they’re attracting holidaymakers and celebrities alike. Visit KeralaHolidays.com to find out more, where you can call them for free and check out some of the testimonials for yourself.