I have now been on a houseboat, canoe and kayak in the Kerala’s backwaters. While all are fun ways to explore the backwaters, each has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. In this post I am going to compare all the three modes of exploring the backwaters in the God’s Own Country. Even though the experiences happened over two trips, I was exploring the Vembanad Lake on all the three excursions. So, the experiences are of the same region and comparable. So Kayak, Canoe or a Houseboat, that is the question!
What you will like most of course depends on your own preferences. If you wish for luxury, houseboat is what will suit your needs. After all you can get a houseboat which has air-conditioned bedrooms and dining areas. As there is a kitchen too, getting tea on the holiday is easy. However due to the size houseboats can go only in wide water channels.
A canoe is somewhere mid way between a houseboat and kayak. It gives you some comfort and it takes you into narrower water lanes. Some may say it is neither here nor there! But if you want to be more adventurous without going all the way, canoe is a good option. It certainly takes you closer to the villages in the backwaters.
If you want to go on an adventure kayaking is what you will enjoy. You are just this high from the water and you can touch it anytime you want. You can see our kayak was going close behind a local boat. Such intimate experiences are not possible in the bigger vessels. You also get plenty of exercise while kayaking.
So here is the table mapping my experiences of it all kayak, canoe and houseboat. Take your pick, or in fact do indulge in all.
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‘Whenever I am asked, “How was your vacation?” I have a fixed reply, “Holidays are always good.” But camping by the Ganges with Chhavi was better than good! We were staying at the MHE Beach Camp. As the kid is still small she was underage for rafting. So, the number one attraction on the Ganges was ruled out for us. And yet, we had so much fun.
10. Waking Up by the River
The last thing I would hear before closing my eyes was the sound of river. As soon as I would open my eyes, it would be there again, the beautiful sound! There is something very seductive about waking up next to a river! Chhavi would demand to open the tent flaps as soon as she would open her eyes, she anyway does that way too early in the morning. And there it would be, the big, magnificent Ganges, right next to out tents. We visited the camp from Sunday to Tuesday and it was particularly quiet during the weekdays. This was my kind of vacation, far away from the maddening crowd.
9. Swinging in a Hammock
The days in the northern plains are getting hotter. After breakfast we would straight run to the river and splash around it. After lunch we would laze around the camp. On our day 3 they had put a hammock near the dining area. Chhavi would initially roll out of it while trying to swing.
After getting a hang of it and swinging for a long time she finally vacated it. I saw my chance and I occupied it quickly. She didn’t like it one bit. She asked me to get off, which I refused. Then she came and tried to throw me out of it. When she could not she started jumping on me! After a while she got busy elsewhere. And I had a peaceful time in the hammock with my book! There is no better way to spend an afternoon by the river than swinging in a hammock.
8. Food or When Chhavi Would Eat it on her Own
MHE Beach Camp serves some lip smacking food. They use less oil which was much appreciated. They would vary the menu as well. However, for me the biggest blessing was that Chhavi would eat on her own. After playing in the sun, sand and water she would be really hungry. What a blessing it was to have the child eat on her own instead of me being after her life, which is our usual scene!
7. Starry Nights
I just loved the starry nights at Shivpuri. As usual there were a million more stars in the sky than the city. The good bit with Chhavi is that she goes to bed early on her own. I was free to pursue night photography.
But there was another aspect to the night that I would not have noticed on my own. As there was no electricity Chhavi would not like it at the night at all. She would go what I called ‘min min’ (would translate to cribbing) as soon as it became dark. She found it scary. She protested so much that by the third night we had to shift to the city.
6. Chai ke Glass
Chai makes me happy, it makes me immensely happy. I like places which realize this and give me my fill. The nice folks at the MHE Beach Camp would put a flask full of tea for me. It was such a source of happiness for me. Instead of the tea cups provided, I would drink it in the glass! That makes it taste even better.
5. In the Far Far Away Land
I like isolation, there I said it. I am not much for crowded places. MHE Beach Camp is on the other side of the river. Once we crossed to that side on a raft, there I was, away from it all. Even though I could see a bridge with traffic on it and other camps, the location was ideal to relax and unwind.
4. Playing by the River
The water of the Ganges in cold, surprisingly cold even at end of March. MHE Beach Camp is very strict about wearing life jackets if the guests wish to go anywhere near the river. I appreciated it a lot. There is a nice beach with a shallow portion of the river. It was our favorite spot in the entire camp! I would wade bit by bit in the river and take a dip after ages. The burning sun would feel so nice after the cold dip. Chhavi found the water not so nice, so she would sit by the river making tunnels in the sand.
3. Chhavi’s Friends
Mukesh and Titu, the rafting instructors pampered Chhavi a lot. they would pay with her, teach her volleyball, and when she would not enter the river take her there and drench her! She was particularly fond of Mukesh as he spent a lot of time with us. If a guest goes down to the river an instructor sort of materializes out of thin air on the beach. While we were there, looks like it was Mukesh’s turn to be that instructor. He had immense patience to play with a small child and keep her entertained too. I handed the camera to him while we were kayaking. He has a way with the camera too!
Titu and Mukesh gave us two kayaks to play around in the shallow pond that the river forms by the bank! And before you declare us complete nuts for letting such a small child go into the river in a kayak, both the kayaks were tied by ropes which Titu held on to firmly. Mukesh was around in his raft to keep us in the shallow as well.
Both Chhavi and I had a gala time trying our hands at kayaking. Later Chhavi was complaining to me that they kept her tightly on the rope while they left me comparatively free to roam around! How observant the kids are! I asked Titu about turning the kayak around and he said I would have to back paddle to do so. I got some hang of it after trying many times. I thoroughly enjoyed kayaking around in shallow water with some amount of control over the kayak!
1. Playing in the Sand
The kid was so happy to see the sand all around her. She went completely berserk. She would crawl in the sand on all fours. She would roll around in the sand getting it in her hair as well. She would dig into it with her hands till it got inside her nails!
On the first day I tried to stop her in the evening after I changed her clothes. She made such a protesting face that I melted. For three days she had a free run in sand, and she loved every minute of it. I knew this is what she enjoyed most on the trip but just to reconfirm, I told her, “Chhavi I am going to write about the trip now so tell me what did you like most?” True to her form she didn’t reply to me first. But after some time she shouted, “Sand” and got back to mucking around with colors lying on the floor.
PS. I went to the MHE Beach Camp as part of their Blogger-in-Residence Program. Do check it out.
It is difficult to believe that all I spent were measly 4 days in Kochi and the backwaters. I had so much fun in those four days, it feels like I was there at least for 10 days! So here are 10 things I thought were a lot of fun to do in Kochi and backwaters. My trip was on invitation from Travspire.
Kashi Cafe, Fort Kochi
10. Visit the Kashi Cafe: Locals like it, everyone recommends it. It is a nice cafe. They have art works installed at the front. I was however pressed for time and straight went for coffee and a pastry. The pastry was huge, way too many calories I say. It was yum too. When I asked if they had wifi they said no. It has a nice ambiance. People were sitting there with books and e-readers. So it is a place to hang out, no one is in a hurry to throw you out.
South Indian Thali
9. Eat at Krishna Restaurant: Guess what was the cost of the South Indian Thali I had at Krishna Restaurant? It was a royal sum of Rs. 35. And it was eat as you much. They also had a dish listed at Rs. 15. I can’t remember when I paid so less for a meal. My auto driver for the day, Sabu Babu took me there. It is a local place. That coffee bill at Kashi was many more times than the food bill.
Paradasi Synagogue and the Shops, Kochi, Kerala
8. Visit the Paradesi Synagogue: I only walked through the Jewish Street and saw the exteriors of this synagogue as I was there on a Friday. The synagogue is closed on Friday and Saturday. I had an interesting experience in the lane full of shops on the way to the synagogue. Everyone invited me to their shop. I told them I was not shopping. They said I could just walk in and have a look. I parried it by saying- on the way back. And on my way back they reminded me I had to visit their shops. It was all done nicely and in good humor. In the end I bought a t-shirt and dresses for my daughter and niece.
Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica, Fort Kochi
7. Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica and St. Francis Church: Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica is ancient and have gone through a lot of destruction and reconstruction (read more about it here). When I visited it, I was the only person inside the church. St Francis Church is also almost as old as the basilica. It is said that Vasco da Gama was buried here before they moved the body to Lisbon.
A Theyyam Artist, Fort Kochi
6. Watch a Cultural Performance: I am not much of a culture person. And yet I was completely mesmerized by the dance performances put by the artists from the Greenix Village (read the complete article on the Kathakali and other dances). It was right opposite my hotel, The Fort House. You can pay only to watch Kathakali or you can pay to watch the entire show. I strongly recommend that you watch the entire show.
Ancient Shiva Temple, Muzris Heritage Trail
5. Go on the Muzris Trail: Muzris used to an important port during the ancient times. It was part of the famous spice route. It can no longer be physically located. One theory is that it got submerged within the sea. But its approximate location is seeped in history. There are synagogues, temples and mosques nearby, all of them a few centuries old. If you are interested in heritage this is a must do (you can read a detailed account of my experience).
The Local Dhobi Ghat, Fort Kochi
4. Hire an Auto and Let Them be your Guide: That is how I explored Fort Kochi. The deal was for Rs 100 per hour and I can avail the auto services for as many hours I wish. It was a lot of fun. That is how I discovered Krishna Restaurant. At one point I asked Babu to take me someplace where I could buy chips. He took me to a local shop and I was really sad when all the chips got over finally. They were quite good. He also took me to off beat places like CTD Temple and the local Dhobi Ghat. Other off beat places were a ginger processing unit, a candle making factory and a local shop which sold nice soaps and tea. We of course did the regular attractions as well.
Chinese Fishing Nets, Fort Kochi
3. Watch Sunset Over the Chinese Fishing Nets: The Chinese Fishing Nets lend a unique charm to the sea shore at Kochi. Sunset is when the magic happens and it is a beautiful time to take stroll along the shore. The locals do it too. You can eat stuff from road side vendors. I do not eat fish but they can make it for you fresh out of the water! I wish the area was cleaner though (want to read more about them?)
The Hammocks and My Room at Breeze Backwater Homes, Alappuza
2. Stay at a Backwater Homestay: Forget hotels, I would say even forget houseboats. This time choose a homestay. I stayed at Breeze Backwater Home Stay in Alappuza. It is about 2 hour drive from Kochi. My room was literally 5 steps from the lake. They have only four rooms, so pre-booking is recommended. Their food is awesome. There are hammocks in the courtyard. They own a houseboat and a canoe, both of which are rowed with bamboo poles. They were quick to point out that it was much more eco-friendly. It is a great place to unwind. I would say just put up your feet and do nothing here.
Kayaking in Kerala Backwaters
1. Go Kayaking: If you are even mildly adventurous type, kayaking is one activity you cannot miss. A kayak can go to all those canals where a houseboat cannot. You sit this high from the water, almost touching it. There are bridges that you can cross only after ducking or lying flat on the kayak. It is just too much fun. Put it on your list. Go do it and read more about my experience.
OK here is bonus tip. The good folks at the Breeze Backwater can arrange for a cycling trip for you as well. I say do that too!