A traditional houseboat pulls into the resort driveway!

We had been living in Bangalore in and out for about 7 years before we planned our Kerala trip. With an easy access to places of interest in South India, hadn’t really not much of an excuse not visiting Kerala backwaters this far. Finally did last month and came back wondering what took so long to plan the trip. The place defines the term relaxation in true sense. Kerala backwaters refers to the the numerous wide canals branching into/out of the largest fresh water lake in South India, Lake Vembanad and cut through the paddy fields, coconut groves and pretty much define the life in the region.

So if you are looking forward, on the verge of, have it at the back of your mind to plan a Kerala trip – here is a ready reckoner ex-Bangalore-

1) Getting there Kanyakumari Express is the ideal way, better than flying. The train runs the length of the Southern corridor from Bangalore to the Southern tip of India and covers many major towns on the way. We booked through IRCTC.co.in about a month in advance. 2nd AC up to Kottayam cost Rs. 1043 per head/- and for the comfort I’d say it was quite reasonable. Starts from Bangalore City Jn, at 9:45 PM, you can sleep 70% of the way and reaches Kottayam at about 11:00 AM. Train Number 6526, platform # 3

2) Staying – Kumarakom the main resort located about 14 KM off Kottayam is the main water front area.  There are a handful of real resorts here and nearly all front the Lake Vembanad. We stayed at Cocobay Resort, a relatively fairly priced resort for its class. Other good ones would be Coconut Lagoon, Whispering Palms. I would recommend these 3 for a relatively right priced holiday. Given the inflow of global tourists here, pricing is on the higher side. The picture below is where we stayed,

3) Houseboat – This is the most charming part of the backwaters, and a must try. Book a houseboat in advance before you go. You can request the resort to book, but resorts dont mostly own their houseboats and charge high commissions to boat operators. So contact a houseboat operator directly. The operator will arrange to pick you up from the resort right outside the doorstep like here below,

Google around houseboat operators and bargain well with them. In peak season you can get a 2 BR houseboat for 7K-8K a night, all meals included –  all to yourself. The houseboats come in many shapes and sizes so, 1 BR to 5 BR and then special Convention houseboats too. With 2 levels, balconies, quite a bit of variety.  So do enquire from a couple of operators and ask about the shape and size of the boat. Make sure to have an AC houseboat. Kerala is a warm place even in cooler seasons.

4) Around Kumarakom – There are a few things you can do,

A) Cheriyapally (means little church)  – Built by a Hindu Maharaja of Travancore some hundred years ago, this chruch has mix of Syrian, Hindu, Muslim architectures. Interesting, but that’s India for you.

B) Shopping – Antique shops – On the way from Kottayam to Kumarakom, there are about 4-5 shops you can stop by at.  Buy a miniature raceboat. For some traditional Travancore textiles ask for Seemathi on KK Road. Its close to the railway station and probably the best known in town. For Spice and Cashew which is quite reasonable there, CSI Commercial complex on Sastri Road.

Having noted these though, these are just the smaller accessories to the trip. Be careful about planning your arriving and leaving journeys. Union strikes that close-down amenities and transport are common in Kerala. On the day we were to return some wing of the communist party that is a key player in the state, decided it was time for one and clamped down all public/commercial vehicular movement in the town. We learnt of the strike while on the houseboat and on way back to the dock, where a taxi would take us to the railway station. On tenterhooks for a few good hours, we were reassured by the houseboat staff that they would find a way, taxi, private car or even by boat all the way to the station! Luckily it didnt have to come to the latter and we had a private car drop us in time for the train. Did it take anything away from the trip? No, just added to the thrill.

So well, make up your mind, book and get going, Bon Voyage!

Sunset from the houseboat

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