I have noticed among travelers that there is some confusion over what is the best way to experience the serenity of Kerala’s backwaters. While we were traveling through the aptly named God’s own country many people approached us with questions about our experiences so I have decided to write a quick blog of contacts and information for those on a tight budget.
The main three places in Kerala that people travel to to see the backwaters are Alleppey, Vakarla and Kottayam. The options range from kayaking yourself to luxury two story, marble floored house boats. We found that the choice can be overwhelming especially if you arrive in Allepuzha or Kottayam without pre booked plans. Neither of the places are particularly geared towards tourists and if you have booked a boat finding it isn’t always clear.
The 2015 edition of Lonely Planet suggest Kerala Kayaking for budget tours in canoes and kayaks. Sadly the guide book fame seems to have ruined this small company as their prices have sky rocketed and they were extremely unhelpful when we spoke to them. A less well known and better option are Kalypso Adventures. These guys do day trips as well as longer excursions where they organise your accommodation, village trips and food.
It seems a shame to publish this guys number as he and his trusty team of boatmen are a hidden gem yet to be discovered by the bigger tourist guys. Oscar owns around 5 canoes which he hires out for as long as you want them with a guide. His best deal and the one which I would highly recommend is his full day canoe tour. It starts at 8.30 lasting till 4.30pm and includes a traditional Keralan breakfast and lunch both to be enjoyed with your personal rower’s family. The tour explores Kuttandadu’s charming beauty and takes you through the village canals and rivers that the bigger boats cannot reach.
The price for this experience is a mere 1000 rupees each all in which is the best we have found. The only contact I have is Oscar’s number which we were entrusted with by a fellow couple of travelers, who got it from other travelers, who got it off other travelers and so the chain goes on and on. He is a prompt replier and tends to have space available so get ringing!
Oscar AKA Boat man : +919947532527
For those of you who aren’t into planning ahead or like us often can’t get to wifi to do so, do not fret. You will still be able to experience the wonder of the back waters. There are so many boats around that like many other things in India the cheapest option can be just to turn up and haggle. The downside to this is they are all very spread out and you might not be able to see the boat you end up haggling for until a price has been agreed. However we were blessed with good luck and while walking up the north canal on the east bank came
across Kingfisher tourist information. Outside this small white box building was a small old Indian man called Francis who when introducing himself showed us a tattoo of the cross on his forearm. We told Francis what we wanted and after agreeing on a price of 1400 rupees for 5 hours in a canoe with our own rower we set off. Initially we were slightly sceptical as we were ushered into a rickshaw with Francis, the driver and another man who seemed to be part of the deal and taken five minutes down the road. I must admit that I turned to Yusef and said ‘why whenever I get into a rickshaw do I feel like I might die’, however thank god we needn’t have worried. The canoe was beautiful with shade and our rower was a delight.
All I would say is that while mid row he convinced us that we needed an extra hour to see the back waters fully. We really didn’t need 6 hours and it ended up only being 30 mins extra for 200 rupees because our rower was pretty old and by the end of our trip he was so tired I don’t think he could’ve gone for another hour. But apart from that small mistake on our part the experience was purely positive and in fact one of our highlights of the trip so far. Our guide took us to his friend for coconuts where we met a trained eagle and his mother in law on the banks of the river for our best chai yet!
Kingfisher travels are found around 200 metres before the jetty on the east bank of the north river in Alleppey. They don’t have a website so just ask for Francis for a good deal.
A final note
In the past few years the influx of backwater tourism has really taken it’s toll on the state of the environment and wildlife in Kerala. Steps are being put in pace by the locals and government to combat the effects but the demand for large houseboats is huge. With over 2000 registered houseboats cruising through the waters the exhaust fuels twinned with pesticides from nearby fields have resulted in record levels of cancer in the local people living in the river villages. Do your bit to help Kerala combat this growing problem and explore the backwaters by canoe or kayak. Although the houseboats look impressive and you can get ones which label themselves as ‘eco houseboats’ they still leave their mark on the landscape. So go engine free and enjoy a guilt free lazy day meandering through one of the world’s most beautiful watery landscapes.