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Published: August 12th 2017
A trip along the back waters of Alleppey in a beautiful houseboat has turned out to be a holiday highlight. The change in weather was immediately apparent as we stepped off the tour bus into glorious sunshine with a gentle breeze - vastly different from the cooler climate in the cardamom hills. We loaded our kit onto a small boat which chugged us upstream to board the houseboat that would be out accommodation for the next day or so. I couldn't get over how comfortable and spacious the boat was - there were three large double rooms with ensuite bathrooms, and Charlie was thrilled to have his own room for the first time this trip.
There was a dining table and chairs on the front deck, and six armchairs were arranged around the side of the deck. We were greeted with fresh pineapple, and we quickly made ourselves at home - it was absolute bliss! The houseboat chugged slowly down the lake and we sat back to admire the stunning scenery and watch life on the backwaters. We watched women doing their washing in the waters, and saw school children sitting in the sun doing their lessons and fishermen casting
their circular nets for tiger prawns.
While sitting at the helm, our captain talked fondly of life on the lakes. He had a very keen interest in nature, and pointed out various species of plants and wildlife that we saw along the way, including brightly coloured kingfishers, red kites hunting for fish, fruit bats hanging in the tree tops, and best of all, a python basking in the sunshine.
We stopped off at a fish stall selling the morning's catch to buy some enormous crayfish that were to be cooked up for the evening meal. We also stopped off at a village to visit St Mary's church - one of the oldest in India. We did a little shopping, which was completely hassle-free, and as we walked around the village, we saw school children taking their lessons in the sun and another group of children having swimming lessons in the river - it was simply idyllic.
We learned that an important boat race was scheduled to take place on August the 12th - the Nehru Trophy boat race, which involves hundreds of snake boats racing up and down the waters. A traditional war boat from Kerala, the
snake boats are 138 feet long and have over hundred oarsmen. We were lucky enough to see a snake boat crew in training, and we could hear the boat coming, as the oarsmen keep in time to the beat of a drum and shout as they row. The speed is incredible, and it was very exciting to watch.
We docked early evening as the sun was setting and the captain took us for a walk along the river bank and into the countryside along a paddy field. As we watched the sun set, we could hear some music from a nearby temple, which really added to the atmosphere - it was sublime. Back on board, a delicious dinner was served at the dining table. The crayfish hade been cooked in garlic and lemon, we had chicken cooked in a spicy crispy coating, delicious vegetables cooked in coconut and cardamom, and freshly made chapatis. Food always tastes better outside and this was divine. We spent the rest of the evening listening to the sounds of the river and playing cards in limited light to avoid mosquitos. We were visited on board by bats which caused quite a stir.
rooms were really comfortable and air conditioned and we all slept really well. I was woken by the sound of another snake boat training session and I hurried on deck to see it go past. It was lovely to sit on deck with an early morning coffee watching the sun come up and the river spring to life. It was so peaceful to drift up the backwaters and savour the luscious scenery - I really didn't want the journey to end. We have been told a number of times that monsoon season is not the best time to visit India, but the advantage is that it is not peak tourist season and so the backwaters were relatively quiet. Our captain told us that in peak season, hundreds of houseboats are on the water, sometimes in large groups. We saw only two or three other tourist houseboats and for most of the trip, we had the waters to ourselves. It was absolutely beautiful and I will treasure the memory.
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