Recommendation number one for travelling India in August and September, the tail end of monsoon season.
Kerela is definitely one of the most popular tourist states in India, with a number of beautiful destinations to tickle your fancy. Most famous are the Kerela houseboats that meander through the beautiful backwaters surrounding Alleppey. Like many things in India this is an activity that you can just organise when you arrive in the town where most of the Kerela houseboats begin.
This was our very first activity in India. We flew into Kochi (Cochin) and immediately headed down to Alleppey to find a houseboat. While there we obvious signs of the monsoon rain that had passed through with extra covers on boats and in cafes, when we visited in mid August the rain did not affect us at all. Read on for my tips on organising a great experience.
Kochi airport to Alleppey
To get to Alleppey we opted for a local bus, because we had plenty of time. We took one bus to Ernakulam bus station and then changed to a Superfast bus down to Alleppey. At all Indian bus stations there are many men shouting out the bus destination. You just have to keep asking and someone will point you in the right direction. As our first transport in India it was the craziest bus ride I’ve ever experienced, although writing this a few weeks later it seems commonplace. Our big bus was by far the fastest vehicle on the road, horning all others out of the way. However, the ticket only cost ₹55 to the Alleppey bus station.
The main bus station in Alleppey is close to the Finishing Point – literally where the Kerela houseboats start and finish from. This is where you should go to find your perfect houseboat.
Kerela Houseboats in Alleppy
Houseboating in the backwaters of Kerela is consistently listed as one of the highlights of India – once you’re past the hassle of organising your trip. Stick with it though because soon you’ll be drifting along the palm tree lined river, looking out over lush rice paddies while your onboard cooks prepare your food. For us the houseboat set the tone for the rest of our India trip – endure some tough times and then reward/comfort yourself with luxury.
I would suggest that if you have plans to splurge at all in India the houseboat should be one of those occasions. Experiences range from just jumping on a water taxi for the day – where you supply your own food and water – to top of the range double decker houseboats including a private driver, cooks and beautiful rooms. We paid ₹18,500 for two nights on a ‘deluxe’ two-floor boat with two bedrooms, two bathrooms and two lounge areas (top and bottom). All water, meals, snacks tea and coffee were provided as well as a welcome drink and really anything else we needed.
The two cooks on our boat didn’t speak any English, but were friendly enough and tried their best to provide any additional comforts.
Our two days on the houseboat didn’t involve much other than lazing about on the top deck admiring the scenery, sitting down to enjoy our freshly prepared meals and sipping on the gin & tonic that we had brought along for the ride. On the first afternoon we stopped and were shown a ‘market’ where we could buy our own fish that the staff would prepare. We elected not to do this as we thought the food already provided was ample and didn’t want the extra expense. Don’t be afraid to turn down the extras offered (kayaking etc), this is after all your own experience.
At night we relaxed even more and enjoyed the stars. We spent most of our time up on the top deck because it had the best views and gave us a bit of privacy. This is why I would suggest you spend the extra and go for a double story boat.
Tips for choosing a houseboat in Alleppey
When you arrive in Alleppey you will undoubtedly be bombarded by men trying to get you to look at their Kerela houseboats. Go and view some with purpose and have an idea of what you want in mind. Don’t be afraid to negotiate and get the price right down. You are far better paying less to the company and then tipping the staff on your boat – who invariably won’t be getting very much of your fee.
From the few that we viewed you can get a two bedroom basic boat (including all food etc) from ₹8000 per night and moving up towards ₹12,000 per night for a more luxurious boat. Single bedrooms will obviously be cheaper.
Quick tips for the Kerela houseboats:
- View a couple of boats to get an idea of what is available and what you’re not willing to compromise on.
- Set your price range and bargain with the sales guy until you get it. It’s better to pay a lower price and then leave a tip for the staff on your boat. They won’t be getting paid much, most of your money will go to the company so it is nice to have the power to give them some extra
- Seek out a boat with an upper deck. The view will be better and it is nice to have some privacy from the staff.
- Ensure that all your meals; access to tea and coffee; and a welcome drink on arrival are included. Explain beforehand if you have any intolerances. If you’re gluten free make sure you convey the message that ‘wheat flour’ and ‘maida flour’ are off limits to you.
- If you want alcohol take it yourself. Ice is almost impossible to find so be prepared for warm drinks.
Unfortunately I cannot remember the name of the company that we used for our houseboat, but we did have a good experience. The driver spoke good English and went above and beyond to try and cater to all our needs. He did his best to ensure there were plenty of gluten free options for me at each meal.
Our boat was a ‘deluxe’ 2 bedroom & 2 bathroom with an upper deck. We paid 18,500 for two nights as a guide.
In my next article I provide some tips on what to do in Alleppy and Kochi pre and post houseboat.