Afloat A Fantasy
Cruising across the ocean is one thing, cruising across cultural treasures, another. The backwaters of Kerala and the serene lakes of Kashmir have an enchanting experience to offer, and nothing makes it as immersive as a few days – or months – spent on a houseboat.
Whether you are a first-time traveler or an experienced cruiser, a professionally trained crew pampers you with the best of services aboard this one-of-a-kind ride. Chartering the two extreme corners of the country, Kashmir and Kerala, these regions represent two distinct worlds in terms of culture, architecture and natural beauty. If Kashmir is like an exquisite stage, the houseboats on Dal and Nigeen Lake are Shakespearean dramas waiting to unfold. The majestic houseboats in God’s Own Country, Kerala, on the other hand, boast of timeless architecture and untouched natural pockets.
The view of the mighty Himalayas from a houseboat in the middle of Dal Lake is awe-inspiring. Living on water is a part of Kashmiri tradition, and no visit to the ‘Paradise on Earth’ is complete without a visit to these grand wooden boats. Away from urban humdrum, these intricately carved vessels transport you to a world of tranquility. From simple, sustainable designs to luxurious interiors replete with kingly finery, the houseboats are bathed in tasteful indulgence. The rooms open up on a terrace where one can sip Kashmiri kahwa in the evenings, and a verandah where one can wake up to take in the glorious sunrise from behind the mountains. Each boat has a separate kitchen which also acts as home to the boat keeper and his family who attend to the guests. These are classified in similar fashion to hotels on comfort and services parameters.
These retreats have been popular through history. During colonial rule, a number of Britishers visited the Valley frequently, opening a new chapter in the economy. Testimony to the fact are colonial era motifs and large window panes on these boats. But it is not only the pre-Independence era that witnessed a surge in houseboats. In 1966, sitar maestro Ravi Shankar taught legendary musician George Harrison to play the sitar on one of the houseboats here.
Bathe in the splendor of the backwaters and verdant green and palm fringed landscape while on a houseboat in Kerala. Known as Kettuvalam, these boats were traditionally used to transfer rice and spices from the hills to the market towns and have now been converted into floating hotels. Made by tying huge planks of jackwood together, great amount of skill and precision is required to make these houseboats. Remarkably, not a single iron nail is used in their construction. Back in the day, an entire clan of specialized artisans was dedicated to make these houseboats. Nowadays, these have become an interesting way of holidaying and very proudly represent the distinctive culture of the southern state.
The best way to navigate the backwaters is to hire a private houseboat which generally travels around 40-50 km through the backwaters in a single day. The backwaters of Kerala are a crisscrossed network of lakes, lagoons, canals and rivers. One gets to experience local life and laze around during afternoons while sipping coconut water and gazing at coconut palms, jackfruits, papayas and mangroves. One can stop at one of the banks and take a stroll among the whitewashed homes and churches and hire a houseboat for as little as a day or as long as a week.
Vembanad is the most accessible backwaters where the Vembanad Lake opens to sea at the Cochin Harbour, dotted with interconnected islands that adorn the ‘Queen of the Arabian Sea’. The southern Vembanad Lake is known for its large expanse of water, sandwiched between districts of Alappuzha and Kottayam.
Taking in the sublime sunsets, you can move around in traditional thatched roof houseboats in the backwaters of Alleppey, one of the best places to hire a boat in the state or choose to go on an adventurous ride through Kumarakom, Alumkadavu (near Kollam) and Kottayam. You can combine your houseboat cruise with an ayurvedic treatment, guided meditation, yoga sessions or even a traditional entertainment performance in a nearby village or aboard.