how to take a keralan houseboat trip

How to Take a Trip on a Kerala Backwaters Houseboat

The first thing that anyone will ask you about Kerala is if you took a trip to the backwaters.  To ensure we had the full picture, we took three.  And they were three very different trips.  There’s something special about seeing this part of the country from a Kerala Backwaters Houseboat.


  • First of all we took a two day, overnight engine free trip – and you’ll read about that here.
  • Then we took a public local ferry to the end of the line, waited around and then took it back to Alleppy << read about that HERE
  • Finally we took a tourist ferry from Alleppy down towards the tourist town of Varkala. << and that’s here 

We booked our engine free retreat in Fort Kochi at the Stanley Wilson offices in the center of town.  For the grand sum of INR 4,500 (around GBP 45.00) we would get our own boat, with a private bathroom, dining area,  bedroom and we’d be punted through the backwaters to the beach and back. We’d get three meals a day prepared on the boat for us, bottled water and tea or coffee too.

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We’ll have three meals all prepared on the boat and we’ll spend the night in glorious solitude.  We chose to pay the 600 INR taxi fee to get there in about 90 minutes, rather than spending most of the day on a bus and then picking up an auto-rickshaw.

And so, after a quick taxi journey and a long wait for the southbound train to pass the tracks.   The level crossing gates shut some 30 minutes before the train was due – we arrived in the tiny hamlet of Cherivally, Thazhuppu.


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We were right not to expect the photos to be the reality.  No photo of India ever shows you the amount of garbage and trash that is present.  No tourist site ever shows the level of wear and tear that accommodation has accumulated since they took the photos.

But it was still pretty peaceful.  Not a honking car or bike horn to be heard.

Kerala Backwaters Houseboat.

Our boat was about 45 feet long.   An open, but roofed area at the front allows us to sit in plastic garden chairs and enjoy the scenery.

Kerala Backwaters Houseboat.

Behind us, theres a small table with two chairs would be where we were served lunch, dinner and breakfast.

Kerala Backwaters Houseboat.

In the center of the boat is a small room.  Its big enough – just – for a small double mosquito-netted bed, carefully jammed against the fan that would keep us cool overnight.  At the rear of the room, what might once have been an en suite shower room was now a toilet.  I don’t want to know where it emptied to.  There’s now a leaking sink and what was once a shower.  It’s simply a museum like display of shower attachments.

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India, I’m finding requires the gritting of teeth.  It needs the shrug that asks “well what do you expect?”, without of course, expecting an answer.

Our boat is moored alongside two others.  There are bungalows next to the waterway  For another $40 you can spent the night in this peaceful idyll.  Or so says the marketing material, I’m still struggling with the amount of garbage alongside the word idyll.  We have two guys on our boat, they will punt us along.  They will tell us about the area in their broken English.  They will prepare our food over the next 24 hours – in this tiny little kitchen.

Kerala Backwaters Houseboat.

The boat is worn.  However, it seems more seaworthy than the ferries we were taking between Kochi and Ernakulam.  We can live with worn and no shower for this short space of time.  On this, our first trip into the backwater, we wanted the peace of no engine.  So we are man (or men) powered on this trip.

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It is peaceful.  There are no motors here.  We’re punted slowly down a canal, over hanging with foliage, over grown trees and creepers scrape the roof.  I shudder lots imagining snakes and creepy crawlies. (We’ll get to see plenty of snakes at the Madras Crocodile Bank later in this trip)  There are buildings too, small houses, kids asking for pens, or candies.  There’s also the local bar.  The toddy shop.  Most definitely a local bar for local people.

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The canal opens up and there’s a walkway alongside.  Our punters take to the walkway and now use long lines to pull us along.   It is really rather gloriously peaceful.  There are just a few local boats going about their business, all punted along, no engines.  There are a few folks wandering along the towpath.

Kerala Backwaters Houseboat.

There’s a temptation to sit and read, but it’s mesmerizing to just watch the world float slowly past us.  There’s  a fish farm on the right.

Birds fly past lazily.

Nothing, including us, is moving very fast at all, although as we enter an open lake area, the guys have to work a little harder, as we’re into a slight breeze.  However, it doesn’t take long before we moor up to a tree.  Then we’re led off through what feels like someone’s land, along a vague track in some scrub for about 15 minutes.  There’s a small road to cross and then we’re at the beach.

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Swim, he says ” you want to swim?” as we stand looking out at the Arabian Sea, where there’s a local guy having a crap in the sea.

“No, no,” we say, “we’ll just take some photos”.

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And despite the public defecation it really is rather lovely.  There’s no one around, although I get the feeling if I strip down to my swimsuit I’ll feel a lot of eyes on me.

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The colorful fishing boats are pulled high up on the sand and it’s incredibly peaceful.

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Back on the boat we drift out to the middle of the lake area – there’s another similar boat about 40 feet away now – anchored like we are,

Kerala Backwaters Houseboat.

It’s glorious just enjoying the breeze and a leisurely lunch before we drift back the way we’ve come, back down the canals.  We meet an irritatingly noisy group of domestic tourists shrieking their way along on a small motorboat.  They pass quite quickly.  We go past the toddy shop again and all too soon, we’re back where we started.  I have had a post lunch snooze, but now, its time to take the canoe out.

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Canoeing the Kerala Backwaters

This is no plastic piece of kit.  It’s a heavy wooden carved thing.

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We each have what looks like a wooden spade and we’ve waved off in a general “go on, give us some peace, whichever way you want” direction.  We choose the narrow canal that we haven’t been down. It takes us about 40 minutes to get to a wider channel that looks to have a current.  We spin around and head back again.

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My palms are sore from the wooden spade rowing I’ve been doing.  It’s time for a pre dinner G&T, which we brought with us as a protection from mosquitoes.

Kerala Backwaters Houseboat.

Like lunch there is more than enough dinner to feed both of us and probably two more, although it’s cleared away quickly.  That’s a good job, as we’re joined by a large rat on the front of the boat.  So we finish the G&T quickly and take refuge from the mosquitoes in bed.

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It’s a peaceful night and an 8am breakfast of rice noodles, or string hoppers that we came to love in Sri Lanka, with curry.

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And then we’re done, heading into another taxi to head down to our next backwater adventure in Alleppy. and we’re going from there to Varkala, which you can read about here.

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