I wish to see a lot more of Kerala than what I have seen till date. But the deepest impression it made on me was in the monsoons. The rains would come pouring down, giving the impression of lasting forever. And yet they would clear as suddenly as they stared, leaving everything washed and fresh! Here is why I love a holiday in Kerala in the Monsoons.
I have said this many times on my blog but I will say it once again. I live in a crowded city in a crowded country. Most of my vacations are an attempt to reverse that balance for a few days. I have been to Kerala in different seasons and I love it in the monsoons, for many reasons. One of the top reasons is surely having to share the beauty with less people.
Enjoying the Rains
If you live in a big city and commute for work, rains mean traffic jams, usually of the worst kind. But leave all that behind. Get cozy with coffee/tea in a corner and enjoy the rains falling outside. Enjoy the sound, enjoy the smell, better still get out and get drenched! Then come back and enjoy another cup of coffee/tea!
Go Birding in the Paddy Fields
Ask your hotel to arrange for a guide and go birding in the paddy fields in monsoon. Be prepared for your footwear getting all muddy but it is awesome fun. You can watch storks, many type of egrets, kingfishers and much more. More so, stop at a local tea shop and enjoy tea. And you get an excuse to get muddy, like you did in the childhood!
Backwaters in Monsoons
Kerala is always lush but it is amazingly lush in the monsoons. There are so many shades of green to rest your eyes upon! It is fun to sit in a house boat and go through the backwaters. You can enjoy a lavish meal while gently gliding through the myriad water channels. A canoe ride puts you closer to the water but it also leaves you more exposed to the nature!
The cultural performances of Kerala are close to divine, be it Kathakali, Mohiniattam or Kalaraipayattu. The halls can be packed to capacity during the winter season. In the monsoons you have breathing space to enjoy the performances and interact with the artists later!
Ayurveda in the Monsoons
If you are looking for ayurvedic rejuvenation it is said that it works best in the monsoons, which is the season of rejuvenation. I love the environment of the Kerala spas, they are so earthy. If you get into one that has beautiful natural surroundings without artificial music then nothing like it. Listening to raindrops in a spa makes it doubly divine.
You can plan your own Kerala Holiday or pick up one of the Kerala tour packages too.
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.
|Gives you some amount of luxury||Gives you the least amount of luxury||Gives you the most luxury|
|Has no kitchen||Has no kitchen||Has a kitchen|
|Is motorized||Not motorized||Is motorized|
|Gives you no exercise||Gives you plenty of exercise||Pampers you and gives you good food|
|Can go in narrow water channels||Can go in narrowest water channels||Can go in wide water channels only|
I am not a morning person! And the canoe ride started at 7.30 am. That meant I had to get up at 6.45 at least. I don’t take much time to get ready anyway. When I turned up at the reception of the Kumarakom Lake Resort, they took pity on me and told me to go and have a cup of tea/coffee. I am a tea person but the coffee at the resort was divine, so for a very short while I switched loyalties. I left like a different person with a cup of coffee inside me. I concluded after the trip that a canoe ride in the Vembanad Lake is thing of beauty for observing the life in the backwaters up close.
True to the theme of the trip to Kumarakom, I had the whole canoe to myself. As we got out into the waterway I sat on the first chair. The canoe was covered and the chairs seated in the shade. As soon as we gained a little distance I asked if I could sit at the front of the boat. The permission was given to me and that is where I firmly remained for the rest of the journey, even though the spot had no shade.
By now I have been in the backwaters in a houseboat, canoe and a kayak (on a previous trip). Each has its own advantages but then that is the topic of a separate post. A canoe can get into narrower water channels than a houseboat but a houseboat offers luxury.
I wonder how the residents of the backwaters feel about the boats of tourists with their cameras? I mean they come to the canal to wash something and their goes a tourist, click! However this bunch of kids had fun and wanted me to click a picture of them splashing about.
A canoe can take you closer to the birds. When you take a trip through the backwaters, do expect to see birds up close. The trouble is that the canoe is always moving and it is difficult to get focus right. This was my first sighting of a Darter.
It is looking at the pictures I realized that the Vembanad Lake is a mirror, it doubles the beauty of the Kerala Backwaters! As it was the monsoons, the greenery was even more startling, if that is possible!
I had visited Alleppey in 2013 but I do not remember seeing so many lotus before. They were such a joy, and the joy was double because of the reflections!
It is more probable on a canoe to catch a duck shaking off water from its body. And if I manage to get a half way decent picture, it is an added bonus. I saw a Kingfisher with a small fish in its beak, but that delight is mine only. The picture is so blurred and bad and I do not dare to share it!
If not a yellow submarine, how about living in a yellow house by the backwaters? I would say it could be the next best thing to the yellow submarine!
By going around in the lake for a few times, I got the feeling that Kumarakom has many resorts. But even then, they are tucked away in various corners. At no point I got a feeling that the place was overrun with resorts!
The most common site on a canoe (or any other) trip are the houseboats. After all there are about 500 in and around Alleppey alone!
While I am was a short canoe trip, people actually live around the backwaters. They have to do many of their daily chores with tourists gliding around! I had a zoom which I was using for most of my photographs. But I was somehow reluctant to point it out at people. I would exchange a smile with them instead!
We took a circular path and I was deposited back in time to have my breakfast at the resort. The good folks had kept refreshments for me in the canoe but I truly didn’t budge from the front of the boat for the while trip! My eyes were glues to the camera and the scenery. The trip was soothing to the eyes. The fresh air did wonders for my appetite.
As I entered the one bedroom houseboat of Kumarakom Lake Resort, I knew the deck was going to be my favorite place. The bed room was air-conditioned, the dining area was air-conditioned but the deck was weather conditioned!
And as I said before, I had the whole houseboat to myself with a three member crew. Two of them would command the boat, taking turns. The third person was an equally important member, the chef! What I did is known as the houseboat lunch cruise at the Kumarakom Lake Resort.
I had been on a canoe tour in the morning and I had reviewed my photos. I was determined not to make the same mistakes as I did in the morning. I also sort of knew what to expect. A canoe can enter in narrower lanes than a houseboat but the latter is built for comfort! A kayak can enter into even smaller waterways!
I had a discussion with the head chef Deepak at the resort and we decided on a Kerala Lunch along with beer. A little after we pulled out of the resort the chef on the boat asked me if I would like to have my beer. I pleaded with him for tea and sure enough he had masala tea ready for me within no time! It was a good start to the tour.
As we glided by the huge Venbanad Lake, we had many other houseboats for company. The weather was beautiful, sun was hiding safely somewhere behind the clouds. The coconut trees loomed far away in the horizon looking like stick figures.
Traditionally the houseboats were known as Kettuvallam. They were huge and primarily used to transport rice from one part to another. It is said that they could carry the weight of three lorries! The traditional boats would have a room for the boatman and sometimes the family would also go on the journey. The ancient houseboats were wind powered and punted through the backwaters.
Now with roads connecting many parts, houseboats are more of a tourist attraction! They have also become a thing of luxury with air-conditioning and other comforts.
After cruising for a while I realized that a single woman on a houseboat was a bit of a rarity, but to the credit of the people there were only a few cat calls. I think 80% of my time went in clicking pictures, 10 percent in having lunch and the rest in seeing things with my eyes!
In a rare moment of self absorption I was about to miss out on a local church. It was immediately called to my attention by the person at the helm. And I want to kick myself not knowing the name of all the three crew members! And I had not even started drinking my pint of beer!
We would pass through lush green patches of coconut tress when we got closer to Alleppey. I was told that the houseboats need to be parked in the water by sundown as fishermen lay their nets at night. The houseboat movement would damage their nets! It is a local requirement.
I saw a houseboat full of middle aged South Indian men having a merry time. They were dancing to some music, and to dance like that you have to be quite sloshed! And yet they were not bothered about anything else, they were having a jolly good time dancing on the boat! The cat calls came from sober people!
Lunch was a lavish affair. It consisted of ullitheyal (a dry preparation of small onions) pineapple curry, avial, banana flower thoran, vendernna merunnupvrati (okra preparation) chilly sprouted beans, malabari veg curry, mushroom coconut fry (my favorite), Kerala rice, sambar, chips, poppadom, banana and adaprathaman! How do I remember all this? I asked the kind chef to write it down for me! He even prompted me to write out the English names of things that would no sense to me later like the small onions bit! They served it in the air-conditioned area with a pint of beer! I could not take a second helping of anything, the first serving itself was so huge!
After lunch I was back to the deck. We were now passing by the Alleppey town. Like we park our cars near our homes, it was common to see a boat parked in these parts. I asked how much a boat would cost? I was told that a simple boat would cost about 5 lakhs and a houseboat in which we were was priced at about 35 lakhs! I saw people waiting to take the local ferry to their destinations. Kids would be playing near their houses, which is the lake!
Once we crossed the town we were back in open waters, on our way back to the resort. As we pulled back to the resort, I got out with a huge grin on my face. We spent 4 hours on the lake, from 12 noon to 4.00 pm. I am sure it would be very difficult for anyone to match the luxury of my first houseboat lunch cruise offered by Kumarakom Lake Resort!
PS. I was invited by Kumarakom Lake Resort on this trip.