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It had been a while and I had been yearning for an summer trip. I decided to visit God’s own country (Created by Lord Parashurama by throwing his axe). After various itinerary combinations I zeroed in on Kumarkom for a day (due to summer) and then move to Munnar and spend 2 days in Munnar.
As I am not much into cars; I traveled from Bangalore to Ernakulam (Kochi) by Kanyakumari express (09:45 PM to 10:00 AM); this train ticket is a rare entity if you have not planned in much advance; but tatkal did the trick for me. I had booked the itinerary I wanted through travel agent and had an Indica waiting for me when I reached Ernakulam at 10:40 (Train was late by 40 minutes). I had asked the travel agent to have an english / hindi speaking driver as I am from Maharashtra and speak b r o ken Kannada.
On the way to Ernakulam itself I was getting impressed by the scenic beauty of the Kerala, houses with small farms having all kinds of trees (rubber, coconut, banana, mangoes …..). Houses are nested in the tall trees so you see long stretches of green far cry from concrete jungle of Bangalore. From Ernakulam we drove to Kumarkom which is about 60 km and reached there by 12 AM. You can also take Kanyakumari express till Kottayam and drive around 15-20 KM to reach Kumarkom. The water near Ernakulam and other towns was having an distinct smell and was not so clean but I had my fingers crossed for Backwaters near Kumarkom and the water here is far cleaner than what you will find near towns.
After being lost for a while houseboat manager arrived and told us that boat will come in 10 minutes…. after 20 minutes he told the engine in the boat is not working and my heart sank. It was getting hot and as it is coastal area it was sticky; at about 2 PM I lost my patience and called the travel agent to change the houseboats or cancel the houseboat scheme itself. After this the houseboat manager took us to yet another place which was resort and gave us a Luxury houseboat (Paradise Resorts); we had booked a deluxe one which was broke.
Looking at houseboat itself made us quite happy. The sparkling clean spacious 2 bedroom houseboat was about the size of 1300 sq feet house all with LCD TVs, DVD players 5.1 surround sound system; and to top that we had 3 people to serve us. These boats were traditionally built for transportation of rice from Kuttanad (rice bowl of Kerala) to port Kochi. After transportation of rice was taken over by modern means these rice boats were converted into houseboats. Hull is made by Jack Fruit planks held together by coir and coated by resin from boiled cashew kernels. Roof is made by palm leaves, bamboo ,coir and varnished by cashew oil. So these boats; Kettuvallam (Kettu – Tying, Vallam – Boats) are built without using single nail.
The houseboat got ready and started @ 3 PM; the boat traveled along the coast of lake for a while and we saw some very beautiful resorts on the lake bank, then we entered the huge Vembanad lake (largest backwaters area in Kerala stretching from Alappuzha to Kochi covering 200 sq kilometers ). I was thinking that its an sweet water lake but that is not the case. Backwaters are best enjoyed slowly and leisurely; as you go inside the lake tranquility sets in. We went through lake parts which are like huge canals having rice paddy fields on the either side. We passed by R Block which is village with lush green trees. I noticed that there is an wall built to stop the lake water from entering the villages and fields. It is an water world. These villages and fields are around 6 feet down from the water level of lake. So there will be lot of water and lush greenery in any season you visit.
I usually avoid eating non-veg but got tempted with the Kerala’s favorite fish; Karimeen found only in Vembanad lake and loved it. Looking at the houseboat itself we were happy; having delicious food and viewing the mesmerizing backwaters made us happy, happy and more happy.
We were going from one part of lake to another looking at beautiful houseboats, small boats carrying coconuts, fish, vegetables, lush green villages, paddy fields, coconut trees and it was having the calming effect on our senses and then…. it rained… atmosphere became very pleasant we both sat next to boat driver; we got hot coffee and finger chips (without asking for it) and felt like this boat ride shall go on for ever and ever….
Boat driver said we will dock on the coast of a village @ 5:30; I said that boat ride is for 5:30 hours and we started only some 3 hours back. What I knew was that houseboat time is from 12:00AM to 10:00 AM and it has 5:30 hours of boat ride; what I did not know is that ride is only from 12:00 AM to 5:30 PM… as fish nets are put after 5:30 PM and they are removed only by 8:00 AM next day. So if you are going to houseboat; make it a point to reach there and get started on journey before 12 itself. Another catch is about the AC which runs only in night time; so if you can not stand hot weather do not visit in summer time.
After the boat was docked on side of a village one person came with an small boat to take us through the small canals. He asked for Rs 200 for one hour ride and 400 for two hour ride. We took the plunge and settled ourselves in the small boat. It was quite different from sitting at @ 5 feet above the water level here you are at the water level and can touch the water. The boat took us through small canal with houses and fields on either side which are; again much lower than level of water. The canal is covered by trees from both sides and sound of the rowing was quite pleasant… I have a thing for listening the sounds (rowing, waterfalls, waves) water makes and for seeing the coconut trees trying to cover up the water.
Water is at the center stage for lifestyle of Kuttanad people. Canal is like a road for these villagers, they travel from one house to another in an boat. Some people were returning from there job in the small boats (I remembered the traffic from office to home but quickly brushed it away). They wash cloths, utensils and themselves in the canal, catch fish from it and there fields also get water from it… an lifestyle totally dependent on the backwaters.. They do have electricity and cable TV as well… irony being that they need to get the drinking water from tap in nearby village which they do with of course.. boat.. better than hauling the water on head though. We also saw an field with water pump… to remove the water from field and put it in canal… quite contrary to what I have seen in my native village with deep wells and pumps trying hard to put water into the fields.
Like all good things the canal trip was over before we knew it and open area of the boat was covered and lights switch off to avoid attracting insects and mosquitoes. After that we searched for DVDs and watched 13- B for a while just to experience the 30 inch LCD tv and 5.1 surround sound system… you can rock on these houseboats if you are in big group; carry your own media ( DVDs / music CDs) though as DVDs they have will be very less and scratched.
Again delicious food was served, wife was feeling happily guilty (one of the mysterious feelings from Venus alien to Mars) by having delicious food without having to do anything. Next day morning we got up early it was cloudy and had rained, we had long walk along one small canal and started journey back at 8:00 AM. On the way back we had delicious roasted eggs and appam. I drove the houseboat for a while; tried the titanic pose and had lot of pictures taken by the helpful people on board.
Around 9:00 AM we reached resort where driver had been waiting for us and started by 9:30 AM.
If one is traveling budget or not comfortable with idea of staying on water overnight then option is to stay at hotel in Kumarkom and take the 5 hour boat ride along with lunch.
One can enjoy banana boat ride across lake Vembanad, there is an speed boat ride from Allepy to Kochi through sea, even in lake you can hire all kinds of boats for an couple or an large group.
If you want to enjoy beach then; Allepy might be an better place to stay. This place is west of Kumarkom; across Vembanad lake.
Those who want to enjoy backwaters to the fullest possible, there are houseboat itineraries which take you to various parts of backwaters for 3-4 days.
Visiting during grand festival of Onam, to enjoy the boat racing and various other celebrations.
One can spend all the vacation time visiting various coastal cities in Kerala; do not plan such a thing in summer though.
One can travel to Ernakulam even by Volvo buses; these take less time compared to that of Trains.
Sharing some links below as it is difficult to get links that are not advertisements once you search with keyword Kerala. In most cases I think you have to call up to get exact details.
If you want to travel like the locals do then take a ferry (I think one is for long time ) from KSINC; these are much cheap compared to houseboats.
Kerala Shipping and Inland Navigation Corporation Ltd(KSINC)
Following are the links for cruise of 8 hours from Kollam to Alleppey (Alappuzha)
Alleppey Tourism Development Co-operative Society Ltd. (ATDC)
The District Tourism Promotion Council (DTPC) Kollam also has an cruise of 8 hours
Department of Tourism, Government of Kerala