By Kim Ward
Once the hippie mecca for travelers in the ’60s and ’70s, South India has undergone a transformation. Super chic luxury hotels with rejuvenating Ayurvedic treatment centers have joined the backpacker’s and budget conscious traveler’s options.
During these changes, the Kerala backwaters still provide a peaceful sigh and slow travel for any budget. You have a unique opportunity to glimpse a traditional Kerala lifestyle at a slow and leisurely pace.
Travel is in wooden and thatched houseboats and while onboard time seems to slow to a lazy pace. Your thatched houseboat winds down the palm-fringed river where brightly-colored homes and modest lean-tos line the river’s edge.
Locals wade and perform their daily ablutions on the water’s edge, with the ladies modestly bathing in their sarongs and saris. You hear the thwack of the washing as the clothing is smacked onto the rocks in a centuries-old tradition, while fish sellers and homeopathic boats glide past selling their wares. Pristine white uniforms are proudly worn by students making their way to school by boat and long-trod river paths, while haunting calls to prayer echo through the rice paddies.
Some rice paddies are below sea level and innovative dykes keep them flooded with water or dry as the rice-growing season requires. This is the food bowl for India.
Kerala houseboats can be hired from Kurkaramon to Allepy. Houseboats can be private for a couple or family or, on a larger houseboat, with other travelers with accompanying lower fares. We chose a houseboat from Kurkaramon resort and this could be combined with a stay at the resort or stand alone.
This houseboat was for a couple only, thatched with one large bedroom with shower and en suite. It has open areas in front with lounge chairs to watch the slow traffic passing by and the daily life of those living in harmony with the river. The boat has a captain and a cook and before we left we chose from a varied menu and wine list for the next few days. Added to this, treats such as fish caught along the way meant our food was plentiful, on call, and delicious. A separate dining room was glass encased to be able to watch the river while enjoying the South Indian flavors of Kerala. At night the houseboats moor, and we spent our time watching the stars at night and the amazing birdlife as Kerala came to life in the early mornings.
It’s unplugged, quiet, relaxing, and peaceful. Perfect.
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