From the moment I landed in India, as the woman in the seat next to me spoke no words and thrust her crying baby into my arms, I knew I was in for an adventure.
I have that magical November’s eve to thank, that night the Indiana Jones explorer’s hat was placed so thoughtfully on the kitchen table, full of hopes and dreams and most importantly, my destiny. With just one quick gesture and a small piece of paper, India and Sri Lanka were embedded into my future. Geographically it was so clear where I was supposed to go, but I never could have guessed where my heart would end up in those three weeks exploring the Indian subcontinent.
Our first stop was a place of myth and wonder. Nicknamed “God’s Own Country,” Kerala sits along the Arabian Sea, shrouded by palm trees and the sweet scent of salt floating off the sea. This region is unique in that it has this extensive network of waterways that seeps deep into the countryside, which you can explore via houseboat. To reach these intricate backwaters, my fiance and I took an air conditioned taxi from Cochin International Airport to the docks of Alappuzha aka Alleppey aka “the Venice of the East,” which took two hours and cost ~1,700 Rs ($25 USD).
There were dozens of adorned houseboats to choose from. Some with balconies, some enclosed in glass, some double story, whatever you could wish for! Like snowflakes, no two houseboats were alike. After some negotiating, we picked a one bedroom with an open patio, enclosed dining space and rooftop deck for ~16,000 Rs ($235 USD).
We had a few hours before exodus so we took a stroll through Alappuzha city while the crew prepared the boat. Wide eyed and bushy tailed, we looked at everything. Listened to every sound. Smelt every smell. This place was like nowhere we had ever been before. Vibrant, eclectic, ancient and inspiring.
They say stay away the street food, but I’m going to be brutally honest here. When you’re standing on the corner and a man is mixing nuts with a blend of honey and spices in a hot wok right before your eyes, the bitter and sweet aromas wafting into your nose and gurgling your stomach… You try and say no.
Back at the boat we were welcome by a smiling captain, grocery bags full of booze (that had been bought on the black market – it was Sunday), and a platter of freshly fried plantains (we emphasized how much we like snacks!). The boat rocked beneath us as we maneuvered onto the main waterway. Where we were going, we had no idea. Did we care? Absolutely not. All that mattered was that we had each other, a great crew, and of course, this view for the next couple of days.
Relax, reflect, rejuvenate. We bird watched and napped during the day, and listened to the temperate wake at night. Outside of these activities, there weren’t many pit stops. As we navigated through one of the busier channels, we paid homage to a local fisherman and picked out a couple of fresh lobsters for dinner. Mid-stay we caught a break in our lazy routine and posted up at a remote village for a couple hours, visiting the local craftsmen and stepping into Champakulam Church, one of the most elegant structures I’ve ever seen.
The environment is unreal in Kerala. The unity between the sky and the water makes it seem like one endless hue of blue. The sounds of the jungle captivated our ears, until song-like prayers erupted from hidden villages within the adjacent palms. Every inch of you can’t help but feel inspired by its beauty.
What’s great about renting a houseboat in Kerala is you dictate what the itinerary looks like. If you’d go stir crazy sitting on a boat for a couple days, take a day or overnight trip! However coming hot off the busiest time of year for me, spending three days drifting through the Indian countryside with nothing but a book, a stack of cards, a camera and my fiance was just right.