A highlight for many travelers in Kerala is taking a leisurely cruise through the 900km network of waterways known as the backwaters. The waterways vary from narrow shady canals fringed with homes and rice paddies to large lakes filled with fishing boats. It’s a relaxing experience that allows you to observe a small bit of local village life.
Our first foray into the backwaters was with the locals. After a bus ride down from the Kumily and a very, very long wait, we caught the last ferry from Kottayam to Allepey, a hub for backwater travel. The 2 1/2 hour, 20 cent ferry ride set off just before sunset and travelled along many of the smaller waterways for most of the trip. Locals finishing work in the ride paddies boarded along the way, children splashed about in the water and women washed clothes along the banks of the canals. It was a pleasant introduction into the beautiful backwaters. And as a local woman said to me, “Special boat 1000 rupees. Small boat 10 rupees. Same view.”
It’s true there are a number of ways to enjoy the backwaters. One of the more indulgent ways is to rent a houseboat. These are old rice barges converted into luxury, private hotel rooms on the water. Since it’s the off season, there’s a chance that you can bargain the price down. Several Europeans we met recommended the houseboat experience. We were tentative since it was well outside of our budget, but after we saw one it just seemed a little too over the top or us.
Instead, we took the 8 hour budget tourist cruise from Alleppey to Kollam stopping off for a no silverware thali lunch, a quick view of the Amma’s (the Hugging Mother’s) ashram (we opted not to stay), and an afternoon chai break. The cruise was lovely. It offered many hours of relaxation, a bit of breeze and the endless entertainment of many, many children running along the banks yelling “Please Sir Gimme One Pen!” – which actually means give me a penny. If you come to India, definitely bring a roll of pennies to offer as souvenirs for the cute little ones who will greet you with a cheery “hello” and most likely the request for a penny.