When I first heard we were going on a houseboat, I was a bit nervous. As a kid, I used to read the book, The Story About Ping. It’s about a duck named Ping who lives on a houseboat in China. One day, Ping doesn’t come home on time to join his duck-family, so he takes refuge in another houseboat (where he’s afraid he’ll be eaten for supper!). When he returns to his own boat, he gets spanked. Understandably, houseboats didn’t seem all that alluring. Actually, upon adult reflection, I’m wondering if maybe I missed something about this story. Care to weigh in, Mom?
As it turns out, in India, houseboats are vessels of pure delight. Varun’s parents took us on an amazing vacation to Kerala over Christmas break and the houseboat experience was by far my favourite part.
We drove to a small town called Alleppey, which, as far as I can tell, is where nearly every houseboat in Kerala docks. Kerala has some 900+ km of backwaters lined with coconut palms, rice paddies and tiny villages. We arrived around 11 am amid swarms of tourists and were ushered onto our houseboat.
So many houseboats dock at Alleppey that they dock 2-3 houseboats deep. We had to walk through 2 houseboats tied end to end just to get to ours!
From the get-go we were totally spoiled. The cook made sure we had fresh coconuts and a basket of fruit upon our arrival!
Hundreds of houseboats like these can be seen drifting lazily through the backwaters.
This is a grocery-store boat! It floats from village to village selling essentials.
We floated through the backwaters at a leisurely pace. We were lulled into relaxation by the warm breeze and the sight of swaying palms.
Brightly painted houses, lines of laundry and villagers bathing or washing in the river were common sights.
Sometime in the afternoon, I asked (in Hindi) “Can people swim in this river?”. Perhaps noticing my mischievous grin or misunderstanding my Hindi, our driver assumed I meant “Can we stop and swim right now?”. So, he pulled the boat over. Never wanting to miss an opportunity to swim in ambiguously clean water of unknown depths filled with questionable maritime habitation, I jumped in. Varun and his Papa and I enjoyed a delicious swim.
Oh look, I’m talking. Big shocker there. This is a terrible picture, but really, how good can your pictures be when the topics of conversation include, “Wait, is Papa able to swim?” and “Did the driver say “yes” or “no” about there being crocodiles in this water?”
Afterwards, as we lay soaking up the sun on the deck of the boat, the young man cooking for us brought out fried bananas and chai. This was probably the exact moment I fell in love with houseboats.
At dusk, we docked for the night. We disembarked with Varun’s parents and explored the village along the river. The views of the rice paddies were breathtaking.
Remember our carrom board? Imagine my delight to find these young men standing on the path of this tiny village playing carrom!
If I ever live in close proximity to a rice paddy, I fully intend to have a board games table set up.
I was going to write about breakfast on the houseboat, but it’s too epic to be the bottom of an already-too-long-post. Instead, I will tell you that I love houseboat-ing. The food was so spicy and fresh and plenitful. The bed was comfortable, rocked gently by the undulating backwaters. Even the mosquitos seemed bearable (and let me tell you, backwaters + dusk +white girl=mosquito bait), although I seemed to accumulate more bites than my companions. And luckily, unlike Ping, I lost neither my boat nor my duck-family.