When you think of Kerala, you think of lush paddy fields, the gorgeous Arabian sea and a quaint rural landscape. The imagination wanders further to the coconut tree fringed, soothing backwaters, beautiful traditional houseboats and a maze of narrow canals of Alleppey. You can’t but nod in quiet agreement to its much-deserved nickname – “Venice of the East”.
So, here I was in the wee hours of the morning, fantasizing about the cruise when I realised we had reached Alleppey from where I was to start my cruise. As I looked out the window, I could already spot the glorious backwaters dotted with houseboats, lined with rice paddies – a stunning watery world!
After a sweet welcome and a quick stop at the Akkarakalam Memoirs, which is the boarding point for the cruise, the efficient staff whisked me away for the much-awaited luxury backwater cruise on the Vembanad Lake. A short walk to the lake front and I was on board “Saffron”, my luxury houseboat from Spice Routes. I was to spend the next 24 hours cruising gently on the lake, soaking in the incredible vistas and being spoilt rotten with all the luxuries on-board!
Though I was still a little sleepy, the sheer opulence of the Saffron drove away any vestiges of sleep from my eyes! It’s not every day that you have the luxury of unwinding on a stunning houseboat with three gentlemen to pamper you – Tojo, John and Manish. Tojo and Manish were in-charge of the boat and the cruising experience, while John was the masterchef that every luxury cruise must have.
The cruise began around noon. I was so excited, that by then, I had checked out all possible corners of the boat. My grand four poster bed, the sunny deck and the jacuzzi with a view, were my instant favs! Soon I had identified my favourite little spot – buried in a comfortable sofa with my feet stretched, with aromatic tea as company!
I was a tad concerned while enveloped in the lap of luxury that I might miss out on the local flavour, which is really what drew me to Alleppey. But I was in for a little surprise as Spice Routes had thought of everything…
I was informed that post lunch, we would board a cute punted canoe, which would take me through the narrow canals that connect to the lake like arteries. Before I set out for my tryst with the canals, I tucked into some yummy Karimeen fry (pearl spot fish), melt in your mouth prawns and a huge assortment of local vegetarian delights prepared by John.
Tojo graciously accompanied me on this little ride, pointing out villages, toddy shops and churches throughout. As we got talking, he told me colourful stories about his life in Congo before he joined the cruise company. I was impressed by his openness in embracing and respecting the African culture. He spoke about it almost with the same fondness with which he spoke about the backwaters that had been his home growing up.
The Backwater Life
Most of the houses by the canals, were apparently accessible only by boat. There were women washing clothes on the rocks, children swimming carefree and boats ferrying people around. Here was a sneak peek into what village life along the backwaters was really like.
I was completely bowled over by the sights, sounds and smells of the lovely backwaters. There was just something so other-worldly about the little houses, the rhythmic waters and the gentle breeze. My post lunch lull couldn’t have been more mesmerising.
My canoe ride soon came to an end and I was escorted back to the houseboat.
What next… I wondered.
That’s when my eyes fell on the cruise wheel at the bow of the boat. That’s it, I had to get my hands on it. I requested Manish to let me man the cruise for a while. And he let me! It was really not as easy as he made it out to be. The sun was shining bright, the waters didn’t seem as calm all of a sudden but it was oh so much fun!
As the sun set and the night descended quickly, I decided to kick back and relax in the jacuzzi. The boat swaying gently in the water, the water temperature just right, my senses were lulled beautifully and I have rarely felt more relaxed.
As I thought about the day I realised there was no way I could have asked for a better way to experience the ethereal backwaters of Alleppey. Absolute comfort, delightful company and exceptional service.
After a great night’s sleep, I woke up the next morning to symphonic chants from the local temple and the gorgeous views of the sun rising over the calm waters of the lake. The sun had mellowed down considerably from the previous day, cotton candy clouds loomed overhead and the breeze was pleasant. My second canoe ride (yes there was to be another one), was going to be bathed in the gentle morning sunlight…
This one was a bigger boat and took me to an entirely new part of the backwaters which actually looked as vast as the open sea. I remember sitting perched up on the deck just soaking in the fresh air and feeling utter bliss
When I got back from the ride, John cooked me up the local favourite for breakfast – some hot Appams (a type of steamed local pancakes) and a vegetable stew. We got talking about his delightful life in the backwaters. It was so endearing to listen to him open up and talk excitedly about it. It is lovely how at home you feel, when conversations move away from mere pleasantries to the real deal – life experiences…
I bid a pretty heart broken goodbye to the three men, who had now become my friends! My time at the cruise had been so lovely partly because of the immense beauty around me but mostly because of the kindness and thoughtfulness of the staff. That really does make a world of a difference.
I am already nostalgic about my time on Saffron and the rejuvenating vibe of the houseboat…
So, there it is – my spectacular experience of the Alleppey backwaters. If ever you do get a chance to go, be sure to book yourself on the Saffron and truly witness the beauty that is Alleppey.
Spice Routes Luxury Cruises have 7 houseboats, all named after spices. The idea is to take you back to the golden age of the spice trade, when large boats laden with spices plied through the winding Alleppey canals. ‘Saffron’ is the Presidential suite, priced at INR 35,000 / USD 550 a night. To truly soak in the experience, I would advise a two-night stay on the houseboat.
The cruise begins at Chennamkary, a little town close to Alleppey. The cruise takes you through the backwaters and stops in the evening at the tiny hamlet of Moonnattumugham. The next morning the cruise continues through Monkombu and drops you back to Chennamkary
Included into the price are all meals and snacks, canoe rides through the vast backwaters and through narrow canals, great local food and a whiff of the village life along the way.
Spice Routes offers special discounts during the months of April – September.
This trip was sponsored by Spice Routes but the opinions expressed are of the author.