A gentle voice coaxed me from outside my cabin on board the Kerala houseboat. A faint knock accompanied the words, “good morning – tea or coffee?”
Already awake, I had been lazily gazing through my cabin window since the first blush of dawn. Watching Kerala wake up, palm trees swaying on the shore and the paddy fields rustling with farmers preparing for the harvest, was beautiful. A fresh morning breeze blew in as the sun lazily rose into the sky, revealing a passing dugout canoe and a local fisherman examining his net for an overnight catch. A Cormorant dived into the river beside him.
This slow start heralded a change of pace. We’d trekked the tea plantations, hiked through Periyar National Park in search of wild elephants and sidled through the busy streets of Madurai amidst the many temples towering above us. Two days spent cruising the canal was a welcome pause – but more importantly, a chance to drift the backwaters that bring life to southern India.
Our chatty captain Thomas navigated the waters with skill, casually throwing out insights into his way of life. His rice barge was built from the bark of the special Angali tree, held together with coir rope and lengths of bamboo; not a single nail was used in its construction. The waterways once held sole responsibility for linking Kerala with the outside world; canals leading to the Arabian Sea and rivers flowing from the Western Ghats encouraged trade, until road and rail began to take over. These traditional boats once transported rice and spices from the farms to the rest of the world.
Luckily, some of this local fare stayed on the boat for us to taste. Our chef was a local named Josef, born and bred along the backwaters, who made the most amazing dishes in his little kitchen at the rear of the boat. He expertly juggled Indian and Keralan flavours, creating a cuisine full of fresh fish, a Keralan speciality. His delicious dinners were no doubt some of the best we ate in southern India.
Life drifted past us constantly. As we floated through this maze of canals, past people fishing, washing, casually going about their daily chores, pursuits and pleasures, it was easy to breathe in the atmosphere. Occasionally we’d meander over to the bank and moor up alongside village markets and local places of worship and simply wander about in a sea of smiling faces, children pausing curiously to watch us pass.
Our sailing ended just as the sun began to set, as we docked beneath countless palm trees. We took an evening stroll along the thin path snaking towards the paddy fields. Homeward bound birds freewheeled through the skies, returning to roost. The dipping sun shimmered in the waterways, slowly sinking. In the distance, temple bells began to ring very faintly. It was the sort of moment you want to cling to forever. I was mesmerised.
By Niraj Shrestha, Customer Operations Executive.
Want to follow in Niraj’s footsteps? Trek the Spice Trails of Kerala and you could trek the tea plantations and float on the backwaters of Kerala.
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