On January 12th we took a train and taxi to Kumarakom which has a reputation as the best place to enjoy the backwaters, a major attraction of Kerala. The backwaters are an inter-connected series of fresh water lakes and canals located a short distance east of the coast of the Arabian Sea and extending for the length of Kerala.
Houseboat on the Backwaters
Shorty after arriving, Paul came down with a nasty cold. As a result, we spent the next morning in the hotel, a lovely heritage building operated by the great-grandson of the original owner.
Breakfast at our Hotel
Later, we made our way to the Taj Garden Retreat, a beautiful luxury hotel, and inquired about having lunch. We were given a very warm welcome and invited to explore the extensive grounds.
After walking for half an hour or so we reached Vembanad Lake where two of the hotel's beautiful houseboats were berthed. The armed guard posted beside them eyed me suspiciously when I began to take photos, but didn't say anything. When we approached the houseboats, one of the men on board asked if we were interested in renting it. We agreed to have a look. It was gorgeous, but we were horrified by the extravagant price and regretfully declined.
At lunch, we were greeted by a couple who had been sitting at an adjacent table. The husband asked us if we were from Canada. I wondered how he had guessed. As it turned out, they were Indians who lived in Woodbridge, part of the municipality that had been Paul's employer. The husband had seen Paul in the city hall and recognized him. What a small world!
After lunch, one of the hotel staff offered to take us on a tour of the hotel and its grounds. He told us that in the late 19th Century, the natural beauty of the area had inspired Henry Baker, an English missionary, to build a bungalow which subsequently was purchased by Taj Hotels. Under Taj ownership, the bungalow was renovated, new cottages and luxury villas were built, and the grounds were beautifully landscaped. Sometimes called the little jewel of Kumarakom, the hotel has retained the beauty of its surroundings on Vembanad lake.
On January 15th when it was time to leave Kumarakom, we decided to forgo the very popular but expensive houseboat idea and take a less expensive option, a three-hour ferry from Kottayam to Alleppey. This had a total price tag of less than $1.00 for the two of us. The added attraction was that we would share the experience with locals rather than tourists.
The ferry soon became very crowded with standing room only. It seemed to be the only means of transport for the agricultural villages we passed which appeared not to have road access. The ferry was was old, dilapidated, and in need of a good paint job. Nevertheless, we enjoyed the trip very much and felt that, not only did we get a bargain, but in many ways to experience the backwaters as the locals do was to be preferred to riding in a houseboat. It must be said, however, that a one- or two-day trip on a houseboat has been described as among the one hundred most important things to experience before one dies. The furnishings are beautiful and you are waited upon and fed in the most luxurious fashion.
At the Ferry Dock
House on the Ferry Route
Construction Project Seen along the Way
Arriving in Alleppey
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