Lying back on a converted rice barge, drinking a cold beer while you’re served fresh prawns and a multitude of curries. If this sounds like your cup of Masala Chai, then you need to hit up Kerala and her famous backwaters.
The Keralan backwaters are a man-made and natural system of canals, lagoons and lakes that have acted as the main form of transport for centuries.
Nowadays, it’s easy to rock up, pick a boat that you like and cruise along for a day, spend the night on board and then return to normal life as if nothing has happened.
In reality, the experience is not as relaxing as it should really be. For one, there are so many boats clogging up the main canals, that you actually spend the first and last hour of your trip looking at the back of someone else’s boat. On the large lakes, you can see just how this lucrative industry has grown. At one point we thought we could see at least 50 boats all chugging away in different directions at different speeds.
The second thing that grated was the time we spent not moving. We got on the boat at midday, stopped for a 2 hour lunch (served on the boat – therefore no need to stop?!) at 2, and then allegedly had to finish our sailing for the day at 5.30 in order to allow the fishermen to be undisturbed. Then it’s a cheeky 30 minutes back home the next day. A total of 4 hours out of the 21 we were on the boat.
Our boat, although a nice 3 bedroom number with sizeable upper deck (a must for a good view) which we shared with our new bessies Kelly,Tanveer and Michael had one major issue for us. Cockroaches. Although only 2 were sighted, 2 were very dead within a matter of minutes. But 2 cockroaches is still 2 too many. Maybe even 3 too many.
The day before our Kottuvalam (rice barge) cruise, we spent the day canoeing through smaller lakes and canals with a couple of guides. This is a much better way to see the villages, and gives a completely different perspective of the backwaters. Again, we didn’t actually travel that far in 6 hours, but we did see some cool stuff.
Overall, the backwaters are a good trip, and for £20 a head (including all food) not a bad deal. But some tips for getting a good deal;
1. Make sure you see the boat, often the day before. Check out stuff like the lights (especially on the top deck where you will be spending most of your time), whether they have fans in all the rooms that work, the shower situation, and of course, the social area – are there enough comfortable seats, etc etc.
2. Find out the route that the boat will take, how far it will go. You may be able to influence the route at this time, so you can have a bit more peace and quiet.
3. Make sure the food is what you want. Most will be fish curry for lunch, chicken curry for dinner and then toast and maybe an omelet for breakfast. We specifically asked for Keralan breakfast, and had to fight to get it!
4. Pay at the end, sounds stupid, but the captain/manager will demand payment before you leave. Naturally this gives you more bargaining power should anything untoward happen while you’re cruising along.
5. Standardly, what should be included in your trip are the following; water, tea/coffee break (and a bit extra, but not necessarily on tap), breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as a fridge/ice box to store any beers or soft drinks you want to bring along. You should also get the opportunity to stop by a fish market and pick something up for dinner (you pay for the fish, and the crew will cook it however you like).