Our India highlight: A three-day cruise through paradise

Posted on 05. Aug, 2012 by in Destination Tips, Destinations, India, Travel Reflections, Travel Tips

It was Jaime who broke the silence.

The four of us were reading or staring out at the water. Val hadn’t spoken in hours, not that Dani or I would have heard. Taking in the view consumed all our attention.

“Oh my god…” Jaime said, stretching his legs like a cat. “I’m soooo relaxed.”

kerala backwaters palm treesWe all agreed, nodding dreamily. Having spent two full days on board our houseboat, we had entered into a prolonged state of calm usually reserved for the end of an intense hour-long massage.

The houseboat cruise in Kerala was easily the highlight of our time in India, and we didn’t want it to end. In fact, although we originally scheduled two nights, we extended to a third night to keep this relaxed feeling alive. We were very aware that this might be a major highlight or could be an utter failure, so choosing wisely was our main goal. After searching for the right boat and crew for a couple of days prior, we couldn’t have been more satisfied with our choice.

kerala backwaters houseboat and local boat1When I first heard ‘backwaters’ I imagined dark, brackish water muddled with mangroves. Instead, this area is made up of miles and miles of dark blue water, as far as the eye can see. The backwaters cover almost all of the state of Kerala. The water is laid out almost as if it were fields, like a patchwork quilt, sewn together into squares by single rows of palm trees growing out of land not more than a meter across, where the next ‘field’ of water begins.
backwaters kerala palm treesAt other times, the water becomes more like a river or narrows into a brook, surrounded on either side by dry land dotted with two or three houses, a few schools, shops, even bright pink catholic churches are sprinkled into the view, and occasionally we pass an actual village.

Our boat is somewhere comfortably between the surprisingly luxurious options and the rust bucket rip-offs we were shown for the exact same price as ours. For $35 per person per night, our houseboat has two double rooms, both en-suite bathrooms are no smaller than what Dani and I had on our Mediterranean cruise. The downstairs has a nice table where we eat our meals, but most our time is spent upstairs under the thatch roof, where we have a chaise lounge of sorts, a couch, two chairs and the rounded front is also fully cushioned.

backwater houseboat sundeckOur crew is made up of a captain and a chef, neither of whom speak any English at all, so we speak only to say thank you for the amazing meals. The three days we spend gliding through endless palm trees feel like a series of moments woven together by the glide of the boat and our meal times. We wake up around 8am and are served coffee and tea while we wait for an authentic Keralan breakfast. The boat sets off around 9:30 each morning, though we wish it would leave earlier so we could have more time watching this incredible world go by. At 1pm the boat stops wherever it is and we eat lunch, the largest meal of the day.

kerala houseboat dinnerWe are served two or three curries, a soup, vegetable dishes, both cold and hot, plus rice and chapathi bread. Just as the heat breaks, around 4pm, we are served coffee and tea again, with a sweet snack and then, after crossing the lake, we head back into a quiet little inlet and are served dinner just after the sun sets, around 7.30pm.

The rest of the day is punctuated by intimate moments, like the exotic bird that lands on the railing upstairs, flirts with our cameras and then flies away or the group of bright yellow butterflies that flutter alongside the boat until we slowly but surely outpace them. Kids with big smiles and wide eyes wave at us as we pass, their mothers standing on steps that lead into the water, smacking the water out of the clothing they beat on the laundry stone.

kerala backwaters guy doing laundryIn the mornings, we pass people standing on those same steps, brushing their teeth or lathered in thick white soap which they wash right off into the water. The water is their source of life, and where everything takes place: washing, fishing, bathing, and every so often a motor boat nearly sinking, stocked bricks, or steel or sandbags speeds by with the materials to build one more house somewhere out here.

One morning before we set sail, two boys came by with a rabbit and her tiny bunnies in a box. We rubbed the bunnies’ furry little bellies and laughed with the boys and the captain of the boat, who we think is from here, but since he doesn’t speak English, this is the most time he spends with us the whole trip. The moment was so simple and sweet, and ended with a polite ‘Bye, bye!’ and off they went.

In the afternoon on the second day, we were tooling along and approaching a smaller water channel, when suddenly thousands of ducks started pouring out of the channel into the main river alongside our boat. Not much faster than these ducks, we were able to watch as the last of the thousands of birds rounded the corner and floated together in a unified migration wherever it was they were headed.

kerala backwaters ducksThe first night, before the relaxation seeped into every cell of our bodies, we stayed up drinking and talking until late. The second and third nights we spent watching Modern Family, swapping stories or just relaxing. If it weren’t for the bit of caffeine we drank twice a day, I am not sure I would have made it out of sleep mode by the third day at all.

It feels like nothing could go wrong the in the world, which is shocking considering that most of the time we spend in a moving vehicle in India the hectic pace, incessant honking, brake slamming and near misses make me hyper-aware of just how many things could go wrong at any moment. But that is India, a land of contrasts, of extremes.

houseboat captain dani by valIn fact, it makes sense that it is here, in India, where the pendulum could swing so far away from the mania in the cities over to such an utterly peaceful place.

Read our tips on how to find the right houseboat for your own Kerala backwaters cruise here.

Here are some of our favorite pictures from our houseboat experience:

Opt In Image
Beyond the Blog: Get updates straight to your inbox!

Keep up with me! Get updates, additional stories that don't make it on the blog, future travel plans, plus I'll answer reader questions and arrange some pretty sweet travel giveaways, too!

Tags: , ,

40 Responses to “Our India highlight: A three-day cruise through paradise”

  1. Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)

    05. Aug, 2012

    That really does look heavenly! A friend of the family highly recommended that we do a backwater tour in Kochi, but said we should only do 1 day, because otherwise it gets boring. (As if!) Can’t wait to read your next post on how to pick a houseboat as this definitely seems to be an experience not to be missed!
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted..What Not To Do With Your Car When Traveling

    Reply to this comment
    • Jess

      06. Aug, 2012

      Hey Steph – we’ll put out the post on Tuesday, so stay tuned for that. We wouldn’t recommend doing it from Kochi, and we’ll tell you why in that post! :)

      Reply to this comment
  2. Sky

    05. Aug, 2012

    Sounds like heaven! 3 days of relaxations…perfect!
    Sky recently posted..Visiting Mixco Viejo

    Reply to this comment
    • Jess

      06. Aug, 2012

      Thanks Sky! The relaxation is particularly serene when you know you’re escaping the craziness of India – unlike any other craziness in the world :) You just have to be ready to get back into the madness the minute the boat docks and you get off :)

      Reply to this comment
  3. Jaime

    05. Aug, 2012

    Damn… you just took me back to those 3 days. This is seriously one of the highlights of my trip around the world. I don’t even know how to describe how amazing it was. I’m so glad I was able to do this with friends like y’all. It really made it more memorable than being with strangers like I normally am on tours like this.
    Jaime recently posted..A love story with an expiration date.

    Reply to this comment
    • Jess

      06. Aug, 2012

      Hey Jaime, I wrote this while laying in a hammock, looking out and water and palm trees here on the beach and so it was so similar it practically teleported me right back there, too! I loved how relaxed you were, too, it was so nice to see you recover from the stressful months in India before that!

      Reply to this comment
  4. Laurence

    06. Aug, 2012

    This looks absolutely fantastic. India is somewhere I’m dying to visit :D Although maybe not with Dani at the wheel ;)
    Laurence recently posted..The terrible importance of Finding Your Voice

    Reply to this comment
    • Jess

      06. Aug, 2012

      Hi Laurence – Definitely go to India – it is a photographer’s dream! And do this boat tour for sure. Dani only crashed us once or twice, haha! ;)

      Reply to this comment
  5. perola negra

    06. Aug, 2012

    Wait for me …..Kerala

    Reply to this comment
  6. This is something we really REALLY want to do! I can’t believe we didn’t make it back to India when we were in that part of the world, but there’s plenty of time. But dang, the country is so huge we’ll need months to properly explore it all. :)
    Christy @ Technosyncratic recently posted..Why We Stopped Traveling (When We Could Have Continued Indefinitely)

    Reply to this comment
    • Dani

      08. Aug, 2012

      Oh guys, you HAVE TO do this one day! You will love it! It was one of our all-time favorite travel experiences.

      Reply to this comment
  7. Bethaney Davies

    06. Aug, 2012

    I’ve wanted to do one of these backwater cruises ever since I saw Justine do it on one of the Lonely Planet/Globetrekker videos. It look so relaxing – having everything taken care of and just sitting back and enjoying the scenery.

    Reply to this comment
    • Dani

      08. Aug, 2012

      We’ve never seen or heard anything about the Backwaters before we got to Asia and started planning our trip to India, to be honest – I had no idea they were so popular and featured in all kind of TV shows and travel articles and even included in the `50 destinations of a lifetime’ by National Geographic Traveler and similar lists!

      Reply to this comment
  8. Arti

    06. Aug, 2012

    This is just fantastic! I will have to plan a trip to Kerela real fast! Sounds like heaven. The traditional Southern Meal also has Sambhar and Idli and Dosa, did you try all that out?
    Have a wonderful week :)
    Arti recently posted..Ancient Tungareshwar Shiva Temple in Vasai, Mumbai during Shravan

    Reply to this comment
  9. Audrey | That Backpacker

    07. Aug, 2012

    This is incredible! I’ve been dreaming of Kerala!!! I only made it as far south as Goa, but I am going to correct that next year. The nature all around you and the thousands of migrating ducks sound like pure bliss to me! :D
    Audrey | That Backpacker recently posted..My Three Favourite Travel Moments – The Blogger Relay!

    Reply to this comment
    • Dani

      08. Aug, 2012

      It seems like you did exactly the opposite of what we did – we only made it as far north as Goa :) We are hoping to correct that ASAP! I am sure you will love Kerala, Audrey – it’s an incredible place and the backwaters are just beautiful.

      Reply to this comment
  10. Cole @ Four Jandals

    07. Aug, 2012

    This looks wonderful and so relaxing!
    Cole @ Four Jandals recently posted..One Day in Venice Itinerary

    Reply to this comment
    • Dani

      08. Aug, 2012

      Definitely the most relaxing time we’ve had in India, but also way more relaxing than some of our beach getaways. It doesn’t happen often that somebody cooks three meals a day for us :D

      Reply to this comment
  11. Thanks for ripping the scab off our years-long regret that we did NOT do this when we were in India in the mid ’90s. We so thought those wounds had healed…
    Karen @ Trans-Americas Journey recently posted..100 Years of the Calgary Stampede – Calgary, Canada

    Reply to this comment
  12. Michelle

    08. Aug, 2012

    Will definitely have to do this when cross India off my bucket list. ;) It sounds heavenly.
    Michelle recently posted..Curiosity Rover Lands on Mars Safely

    Reply to this comment
  13. Bobbi Lee Hitchon

    08. Aug, 2012

    I read a short article about this in a magazine a few months ago and have been meaning to research it more. This post says it all. I soooo want to do this when I visit India, which will hopefully be next year. Soo cheap too!

    Reply to this comment
    • Dani

      12. Aug, 2012

      Next year – yay! We can’t recommend this enough, and you are right, it is ridiculously cheap compared to anything like this in the Western world. At the time it even felt expensive because India is just so cheap and it was hard to spend more than $20 per day most of the time, but $35 per day including all meals for this once-in-a-lifetime experience is pretty amazing!

      Reply to this comment
  14. This looks absolutely stunning, from the scenery and the people to the food and the boat itself. It sort of reminds me of our Amazon River Cruise, although we did have small-boat excursions every day that allowed us to get a bit closer to the wildlife. India has been in my top 5 dream destinations for years– Mary has been there, but I never have– and this trip away from the bustling cities looks like just the sort of thing we would love!

    Reply to this comment
  15. This looks absolutely stunning, from the scenery and the people to the food and the boat itself. It sort of reminds me of our Amazon River Cruise, although we did have small-boat excursions every day that allowed us to get a bit closer to the wildlife. India has been in my top 5 dream destinations for years– Mary has been there, but I never have– and this trip away from the bustling cities looks like just the sort of thing we would love!

    Reply to this comment
    • Dani

      12. Aug, 2012

      Bret – it was stunning, you are right! An experience none of us will ever forget. An Amazon river cruise sounds amazing too and I hope we’ll get to do one when we travel through South America.. maybe next spring? :)

      Reply to this comment
  16. Jeremy Branham

    09. Aug, 2012

    Wow, that is one amazing houseboat! I loved reading this as it sounds so peaceful and relaxing. After three days though, might get a little boring but definitely a great way to relax and enjoy some “me” time. Even seems romantic as well. I would definitely do this!
    Jeremy Branham recently posted..Hiking Mt Tamalpais, wrong turns, and visions of Ewoks

    Reply to this comment
    • Dani

      12. Aug, 2012

      Thanks Jeremy – it was soooo peaceful! I think there are definitely people who might get bored but we were at a point where we had traveled quite fast and through some hectic places and we were looking for some peace and quiet. And we all had great books to read and good company :)

      Reply to this comment
  17. Matthew Karsten

    14. Aug, 2012

    What a boat! Very cool looking. Felt like I was with you after reading this too. A few days of relaxation is sometimes just what the doctor ordered.
    Matthew Karsten recently posted..Travel Insurance 101: Worth It or Not?

    Reply to this comment
  18. Jade - OurOyster.com

    19. Aug, 2012

    Wow that sound amazing! I am definitely adding this to my list of things to do when I eventually make it to India

    Reply to this comment
    • Dani

      20. Aug, 2012

      Thanks, Jade :) Yes, please put Hampi on your list of places to see in India – it’s definitely a highlight!

      Reply to this comment
  19. Rebecca

    01. Sep, 2012

    This is on my travel to do list (wow, I feel like I say that every time… although the list is pretty long so that’s not surprising!). It seems like such a relaxing way to travel and an amazing way to see India.
    Rebecca recently posted..Angkor Wat in pictures

    Reply to this comment
    • Dani

      05. Sep, 2012

      I know what you mean about the travel list, Rebecca – ours is soooo long, and we’re adding new places constantly! I’d definitely recommend Kerala though – cruising through the backwaters remains one of the highlights of our travels!

      Reply to this comment
  20. Adrienne @ AdrienneAway

    05. Aug, 2014

    I never have heard of anyone taking a cruise through India, but it looks super cool!
    Adrienne @ AdrienneAway recently posted..How to Survive a Long Flight

    Reply to this comment

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Tips on Booking a Houseboat in Kerala | Kerala India Travel - January 7, 2013

    [...] well as their tips for booking a houseboat in Kerala also read about their relaxing experience on the houseboat, which was their highlight of India, and their photo essay of the fishermen in Fort [...]

  2. Take An Overnight Houseboat Cruise Through The Backwaters Of Kerala, India | Nirvana Excursions - August 14, 2013

    […] year, the couple took a three-day houseboat river cruise in Kerala, India, a region known for its sprawling river system and proximity to the Laccadive […]

Leave a Reply

CommentLuv badge

css.php