Contrary to what the title of this article might suggest I’m the last one to encourage you to behave like a stereotypical tourist or backpacker but stay with me here. While traveling I actually like to see us more as visitors of a country, observers of a new culture or just passers-by. I believe in having respect for the culture that you are visiting and for the nature in which the country resides. Even if the locals don’t have that same respect.
Going off the beaten track excites me and we even traveled through India without a guidebook. Usually the Internet is my best friend as you can find the good alternative hotspots and tips in stead of the Lonely Planet approved spots where thousands of tourists pass by every year (even though it is still a good basic research book). But sometimes, the beaten track is frequently visited for a very good reason. It can be a beautiful waterfall, an amazing temple or in this case the backwaters of Kerala.
Alleppey is the place to be to see those backwaters, which are actually the canals running between the small villages and running across beautiful landscapes. When you open any guidebook or go on tripadvisor you come across this as a must-visit. Whenever I find these type of must-visits or when something is the nr. 1 thing to do, like houseboating in kerala, I always wonder whether it is still a must-visit or whether it has become just a tourist trap. This is another moment that I turn to the internet (blogs and tripadvisor can get you a long way). After a little research it became very clear that we should put the houseboats on our itinerary and I’m very happy we did.
Once we decided to go through with it, the challenge was to find a boathouse that wasn’t a tourist trap, as there are quite a few (cheaper but often dirtier). Finding one online don’t seem to be an option so we visited a couple of local tourist agents to get an idea of the price and later compared the proposed companies with Tripadvisor. When looking for a houseboat you will find most prices to be around 7.000 Rupees. Because a lot of these small tourist agencies will get you into the tourist traps I often try and find a nice, maybe even fancy, hotel and check out what they have to offer. Usually prices are a bit higher but they will also work with more trustworthy local suppliers. In the end we booked through Meena’s Travel Desk in Kochi who we found in a hotel and ended up with Ben’s Holidays Houseboats. We paid 8.500 rupees for 3 people on a houseboat with a pool on the rooftop (note: the pool is usually not included in the price but due to a miscommunication between Meena and Ben’s, we were able to use it anyway). In the end we were very happy with the price and the boat, how can you not be happy with a pool on the roof?
We set off around lunch and floated around the backwaters before stopping to choose our preferred seafood for dinner. This is the only thing that comes on top of the price, all other meals should be included. If you would like a beer with that, ask discretely whether it is possible since alcohol is usually not allowed in Kerala. But back to the trip, we were able to enjoy our dinner next to a big lake and woke up the next morning to watch the sunset. This still is one of my favorite moments in India. The boat comes back around 9am so you can easily catch ferries and such.