This is the second post to wrap up our beautiful backwaters trip in Kerala, with a few more details about our trip and what we learned from the entire experience.
The Morning After
The next morning, we got up fresh and early. I had set an alarm for 6:30 am, as I didn’t want to miss an iota of the rising sun. Kerala is beautiful too in the morning, a morning haze covering the fields and hanging over the canals before the sun burnt it off. We enjoyed the quiet, watching fishermen who were wrapping up their night labors, paddle home with fish in their baskets. By a morning cup of tea, I made a few more watercolors, including one that I’m very proud of, featuring the sunrise. I had so much fun doing this landscape art and looking at them closely. They’re far from perfect, but I have a sense of accomplishment in that when I look at them again, I feel as though I am out there on the water again.
We enjoyed breakfast as the crew set off, and joined the other houseboats returning to Alleppey at 9 am. Upon arriving, we gave our crew a healthy tip (1200 rupees divided between the three of them), took a parting picture, and left for the bus station. Our tuk-tuk driver had returned to try to persuade us to take a day-trip to Munnar or his taxi all the way back to Kochi for 800 rupees. Which was pretty insulting, and when he figured out we weren’t going to say yes, he declined our offer to take his tuk-tuk to the bus station for less than 100 rupees. Oh, well.
At the bus station, we stood with some other travelers, querying the ticket seller of every bus that came by if they were going to Kochi. That was how we met another couple who had just enjoyed their own houseboat tour. Tracy, from the States, and Mikko, from Sweden, shared some of their own travel stories in South Africa and the Seychelles with us before we boarded the bus. In the evening, we ran into them again at our favorite restaurant in Fort Kochi, called Fusion Bay.
We talked a little more, and I suggested we move to a bar where we got bottles of Kingfisher Blue and Kingfisher Gold. We hadn’t really exchanged stories and talked for any length of time to travelers since we left Bangkok, so it was great to hear from another couple who were doing long-term travel (seven months for them). We compared our houseboat experiences and the views we both saw on the waters. They had stories about Indian buses from Mysore to Alleppey (which sounded horrendous); we commiserated about how disgusting and dirty we found Delhi (or rather, Paharganj, the backpacker district), and all other manners of travel experiences, from the Full Moon Party of Koh Phangan to which countries you’ll be grilled over visiting when you return to the US (just don’t try Iran). We talked and talked until the bar closed down at the very early hour of 11 pm. It was ironic because we had all agreed we couldn’t backpack around and party like we were 21, nor did we have any desire to anymore. Yet even in a tourist enclave like Fort Kochi, the city was closed down and sleepy by 11 pm and we were the last ones out. We exchanged contact information and said goodbye on the road. It was a very neat wrap-up to our two hectic days in Alleppey.
Overall, the houseboat experience was very positive, but it was also a lot of hard work. Taking a houseboat and seeing the backwaters of Kerala was an experience that had been suggested to us by countless friends and family who had been to India, so it was on our to-do list for sure. First, I had to persuade Steve to leave our relatively comfortable nest in Kochi where we were getting a lot of work done and feeling very relaxed, but after finding we could basically do the whole trip in 24 hours, he relented a bit more. I also did a lot of research, reading, and strategizing, and in the end, it did pay off with minimal fuss. I paid a lot of attention to several especially useful guides, one from Globetrotter Girls on how they prepared to do their houseboat trip, and the other from Kerala India Travel which offers a multi-part guide on houseboats.
Here’s what we did to prepare:
- We did not book a houseboat ahead of time. We wanted to definitely see the boats and bargain in person to make sure it had what we wanted at a decent price.
- I did my homework, and made sure to ask a lot of questions about the meals that were included and how long the cruising time was. This was informative for us but also let them know that we knew what we should get for our money, and won’t pay a skyhigh amount.
- We knew that in high season, you pay 7000-12000 rupees, and in low-season, the range was more like 4500-6000 rupees. It all depended on the quality of the houseboat, number of bedrooms, A/C or fan, and other amenities like an upper deck.
- We didn’t take the bargaining personally. This is something that I have been struggling with pretty much all my life, and as a result, I’ve never enjoyed bargaining. However, practice and more practice has really helped, and as a result, the process of bargaining for this went off relatively well. We brought them down from 7000 to 6000 relatively painlessly by simply stating our case, walking away, and then coming back. Being such a buyer’s market, we knew there were other options.
- Furthermore, the owners of these houseboats usually take a large percentage of the commission, and we chose to bargain hard knowing we could give the crew who actually did the hard work bigger tips.
If we could do it over again, I would have gotten a tuk-tuk from the bus stop to the houseboats so we could have some extra time to bargain. Getting an earlier start to the day would also have been ideal, but we woke up at 6 am, which was pretty daunting already. Some people spend the night before in Alleppey so they can take a look at the selection that evening and early the next morning, and we did see a large Ramada Hotel (which was really a surprise) in addition to many homestays. We had a polite crew of three who did their job quite competently, and the downstairs deck and upper deck both had comfortable and nice seating areas, and the food was really tasty. I realized later some parts of the boat were pretty dirty and the coir covering of the outside walls was falling apart a little, which was not exciting, but it didn’t really ruin our experience, which is the important part. It could have been avoided if we had arrived earlier, seen more boats, and done more comparisons, but we felt this was the best of the four or five houseboats we had seen, and we could get it at a price that was satisfactory. Some people suggested a multi-night cruise — to that, I say that it’s a beautiful area, and we thoroughly enjoyed the experience, but we would have been more comfortable and happier to have friends along and really make an outing of it. Maybe someday in the future, we’ll be back.