One of the highlights of Kerala is the opportunity to spend some time in the Keralan backwaters on a houseboat. It was for this reason that our next port of call was Alleppey, a small city a couple hours south of the capital. With fervent hopes for cooperative weather, we set off, armed with plans to spend several lazy afternoons drifting along on the backwaters. Although getting to Fort Kochin was very easy, we quickly discovered leaving it was less than straightforward. After a wasted quarter hour at the bus station, a rickshaw, a ferry, and a rickshaw later, we found ourselves aboard a bus to Alleppey with a homicidal bus driver. (En route, we encountered a lovely Turkish guy who was toting a bag I could easily fit into, plus two other backpacks that rivaled the size of our bags. Most ridiculous pack I've seen this trip by a landslide. I would not have been surprised if a unicorn was tucked down in there somewhere.)
Bus disembarked, and bones suitably jarred, we headed off to our hotel to refresh ourselves before finding a suitable houseboat rental company and dinner. After checking some prices with bigger tour operators, we were stopped by a guy whose owned a few houseboats with his uncle. Both Jon and I liked the idea of renting from an independent proprietor, and the fact he clearly took pride in his boats. With that in mind, we arranged to meet him the following morning for a look at his boats with the intention of leaving that afternoon. We were definitely excited about relaxing on the boat after a long walk on noisy, crowded, pedestrian-unfriendly streets (there were some not-so-pleasant Ooty flashbacks).
The following morning was a textbook exercise in typical Jonique indecisiveness. The first boat was very nice but a bit too big. The second boat was a better fit for us, but the furniture did not invite lounging. The third boat had a fantastic upper deck, but was a bit too tall and unsteady. All the boats had a front deck area, an enclosed bedroom and bathroom and a kitchen for the staff to prepare meals. After much confusion, we finally decided to spring for the nice—yet oversized—boat for a single night only. (Our decision-making process consisted of us requesting time to discuss, then sitting on the upper deck of the last boat, staring into space, hoping the decision would simply make itself. I'm sure the rental people—who could see us from the shore—were wondering what the hell was going on.) If we were suitably enamored, we would then rent it for subsequent nights, or we could opt for a non-motorized tour.
Decision finally made, we headed back to our hotel to pack up before heading out to the boat for a 11:30 departure. After a little bit of a faff, we got on the boat and headed off to much to our excitement! It seemed we were determined to occupy every spot available on the spacious front deck, bounding from one side to another, then to the middle, and then back again. It was breezy and beautiful. Finally, we settled down enough to fully enjoy the lounging potential that made our boat a winner, and happily drifted along listening to relaxing music and watching the world go by.
After a good amount of cruising and sight-seeing (which included several kingfishers), we stopped for a delicious—and pretty massive—lunch courtesy of our personal chef. (I was particularly excited because this meal included a coconut version of one of my favorite Indian dishes...green beans with caramelized garlic and mustard seeds.)
After a bit more cruising, we docked for the evening. While it was still light, Jon and I went for a stroll through the nearby village. It was fairly obvious the villagers were relatively used to foreigners, and it seemed possible their experiences may not have been the best. Compared to the other places we have been to thus far, we received a slightly chillier reception; however, this thawed considerably after we chatted with some kids and handed out some pens for school.
After dinner, we had planned to sit out on the front deck and read; however, the insects had other plans. For an hour or so, there was a tense battle of wills that involved much hand-waving and the occasional swat, but when a cricket leaped down my shirt, I knew our efforts were futile and the war had been lost. Jon and I slunk back to our room to read for a bit before bedding down for the night.
The next morning, we headed back to the dock with plans to take a non-motorized boat tour. While our foray into luxury travel was definitely enjoyable, we felt it best to leave our indulgence at the single night. The combination of the bugs and our discomfort with being waited on suggested this was the best course of action. On the whole, the trip had been a really enjoyable affair, and we were really satisfied with our choice.
After disembarking, we had some R&R at our hotel before we departed for a 4 hour non-motorized backwater tour. The non-motorized boat is essentially a long canoe with side-by-side bench seating and a canopy overhead, which is steered by oar from a boatsman sitting in the stern. By sitting lower in the water and traveling at a slower pace, and with access to some of the more narrow stretches of water, we had a totally different perspective of the backwaters. On the whole, we heartily enjoyed the tour, which featured a stop at a restaurant with the best thali to date, and a walk along flooded rice fields, where we saw jackfruit, bee hives, some crazy looking birds' nests, and a water snake. We saw two other snakes on the way back as well! After our return, we grabbed dinner before making plans for our exit to Wayanad.