Bobbing down the backwaters
Life takes on a different meaning on a houseboat
Photo: K. K. Mustafah
Scenic trip On a houseboat
As I walk along the edge of the backwaters in Alappuzha, I pass by a long row of comfy-looking floating drawing rooms on my right.
Each has a distinctive personality — some have old-fashioned couches, others have stylish recliners, and still others have rustic cane chairs; some even boast flat-screen TVs, satellite dishes and ornate mantelpieces against their far walls, many bearing fond titles such as ‘Lily Darling’ out front.
I’m talking about, of course, Kerala’s popular houseboats, those long, smoothly thatched structures with rounded roofs and curved windows that glide up and down the backwaters all through the day and moor by the banks for the evenings.
This is my first sighting of them, and I’m utterly charmed. We finally reach our houseboat for the day — we’ve signed up for a half-day cruise down the backwaters — and I’m mildly disappointed that it doesn’t have any name out front except for that of the cruise company’s (I had quite set my heart on boarding a ‘Lily Darling’ or such).
Still, we spend the next quarter of an hour or so ooh-ing and aah-ing over the perfectly outfitted little boat, complete with two small bedrooms and bathrooms (shower trays and all) and the small kitchen. Then, the boat begins to move and we forget about everything else but the view.
Sitting in our little open-air drawing room at the front of the boat, feet up on the centre table, the cool, clean breeze in our hair and a glass of cold lime juice in our hands (courtesy, the boat’s cook), there can’t be a better way to experience the beauty of the peaceful Kerala backwaters.
The water is a clean, glassy blue-green, and the banks on either side are awash with greenery and filled with clusters of playfully slanted coconut palms that look like something out of a picture postcard. The only sound is the muted thrum of the boat’s engine, and a wonderful feeling of peace and well-being floods us as we settle back in our armchairs with a “Ahh, this is life!”
For the next few hours, we float up the backwaters until we hit the massive Vembanad lake — it’s so large that all you can see around you is water — and then make our way back.
A slice of life
Along the way, we see villagers — whose livelihood depends on these waters — fishing, bathing or washing clothes on the banks, and athletic young men and women obviously practising for their sculling competitions in sleek rowboats.
At some point, we pull up to a bank for a hot lunch made on board by the cook — a regular curry-sambar-appalam lunch for us vegetarians, though non-vegetarians, we’re told, can enjoy a lunch of fresh catch from the backwaters.
And then, lulled by the smooth motion and gentle thrum of the boat into a state of wonderful somnolence, we retire for a siesta in the bedrooms.
By evening, with our naps and tea-and-bhajji snack behind us, however, we’re all starting to get a wee bit restless.
The novelty of the houseboat has begun to wear off, and there is, we realise, only so long that you can ooh and aah about the scenery.
Since our driver and guide doesn’t offer us anything in terms of stopping for sight-seeing along the way, we’re down to doing Sudoku and crosswords and such by the end of the trip. Still, when we get back to Alappuzha around 5 p.m., we step off the boat feeling pretty upbeat.
As holiday experiences go, this one had been wonderfully pleasant, even if a slight ennui had set in by the end. And then we walk away the way we came, with me casting once last wistful look at the delicately-lettered ‘Lily Darling’ bobbing in the water behind me.
Send this article to Friends by