India Explored: Part 1

March 17, 2023

Simple Living: A Journey through the Backwaters of Kerala  

Last December I spent some quality family time exploring Kerala, the Southernmost state in India. We did a weeklong road trip visiting three main cities: Alleppey, Munnar, and Kovalam. This blog is the first in a three-part travel blog series to share my experiences. During all my travels, I always look for local handmade products and try to understand the history and story behind the artisans who make these products. This will be the common thread of this blog series.

The first city I want to share about is called Alleppey. It is very similar to Venice or Amsterdam where canals were primarily used over roads as the main mode of transportation in the previous era.

In fact, in the 15th century, spices were transported from Kerala to Amsterdam starting with these canals in Kerala to the seas and finally to the canals in Amsterdam as their final destination. All this is preserved and here you can still experience the stunning Kerala backwaters in a houseboat.

The houseboat is built on a traditional Kettuvallam design, using wood and bamboo, which gives it a unique and charming look.

The Kettuvallam or 'boat with knots' is so called because bamboo coir ropes tied in knots hold the entire structure of the boat together. During the entire assembling work of the boat, not a single nail is used. The process of making a Kettuvallam is a complex and labor-intensive one, requiring skilled craftsmanship and a deep understanding of the materials used. The art of making these boats is passed down through generations of artisans.

As you enter the boat, you will be amazed by the exquisite woodwork, elegant furnishings, and relaxing ambiance.

The upper level of our boathouse had a spacious deck area, where we relaxed and enjoyed the picture-perfect views of the backwaters. The lower level consisted of a spacious living room, a fully equipped kitchen, and three luxurious bedrooms, each with its own en-suite bathroom.

One of the best parts of the houseboat experience is the delicious meals cooked right on board by the boat's cook.

You can savor some of the most delicious and authentic Kerala dishes while enjoying the scenic beauty of the backwaters. From fresh seafood to traditional vegetarian dishes, the meals on the houseboat are a true delight for your taste buds. My favorite was the Karimeen Pollichathu (a signature Kerala dish made with Pearl Spot fish, marinated in a mix of spices, wrapped in banana leaves, and grilled until the fish is cooked to perfection).

Another unique experience is being able to buy fresh fish from the fishermen who sail by in their boats.

You can ask your boatman to take you to the nearest bank where you can buy fish directly from the fishermen. This fresh fish can then be cooked on board, adding to the already delicious meals.

The houseboat ride is not just about sightseeing but also about immersing yourself in the local culture and traditions of Kerala.

As you cruise along the backwaters, you will witness the simple yet vibrant life of the locals living on the banks of the backwaters. You will see children playing by the water, men and women engaged in their daily chores, and farmers tending to their fields. It's a beautiful sight to behold. We spent two days on the boat.

A houseboat ride in Kerala is a unique and beautiful way to admire the impressive boat-building craft and spend some quality family time while exploring the backwaters of Kerala. The experience of living on a boat, savoring delicious meals, and immersing yourself in the local culture is something that you will cherish for a lifetime.

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