The Kerala coast is famous for its network of backwaters – a vast network of waterways. This is generally a must visit place for travelers here with many staying overnight on the converted rice barges that ply these waters. These houseboats are luxurious traveling vessels with room for multiple families, a crew that cooks lovely meals for you, and even AC. There are also hundreds of them that cruise the Backwaters creating a polluting mess. We opted to enjoy the Backwaters from land at a homestay away from the Backwaters centre of Alleppey.
This was our first real time staying at a homestay in India and we weren’t sure what to expect. Paul and I normally would choose hotels over bed and breakfast type of places because we like our privacy and don’t always love chatting with strangers. But homestays are very popular in Kerala and I knew I wanted to stay in homestays often to connect with local people and the culture.
After the high of our train journey where we met the most welcoming people, we arrived in the dark at our homestay along the Backwaters. We woke up to swaying palm trees and lots of activity on the waterway in front of our cottage. Fishermen were busy dropping their nets, homemade dugout canoes glided through the water and the sounds of birds filled the air. The bird life was amazing and we enjoyed watching the cormorants and other interesting birds that we cannot name. Another advantage of staying in homestays is that you get to eat true Keralan home cooked meals. While in the Backwaters we were served fish, prawn curry, coconut breakfasts and lots of fresh fruit. There were only 3 other travelers at the homestay – 3 girls from Europe and it was great to talk to them about their trip. I think they were quite fascinated to see a family traveling in India. We loved the location and atmosphere of this homestay, but we didn’t have a lot of interactions with our hosts. In fact since it was a family compound, for the first day we were totally confused who the owners were. So really it felt like staying in a guesthouse, which is also nice because you could just do your own thing. We have since stayed in homestays where we have had a lot more interaction with our hosts which really enriched our stay.
We went on a boat trip for a few hours with Sugu, the boatman. We got to lazily lounge in the canoe while he poled and paddled us through the small canals. This was exactly like what I pictured when I planned this trip and a really peaceful way to spend a few hours. We stopped to see an area where they fish farm and Sugu showed us how they make coir rope from coconut fiber. They kids were happy with their souvenir of a homemade piece of rope.
The rest of our time in the Backwaters was spent relaxing in our cottage by the water and even doing some school work. We took out a canoe on our own for a paddle around and walked around the Backwater lanes. We get lots of stares wherever we go and lots of “hellos” and “how are yous”. The kids love coconuts from our time sailing in the Bahamas and right away Gavin found some coconuts on the ground that he started attempting to open. He got some help from a man at our homestay and we all enjoyed a coconut snack.
The food in India is hard for the kids as they don’t like anything spicy and even if it isn’t spicy, they don’t eat a lot of the curries. Our kids are great eaters who eat a wide variety of food at home and always eat what we eat. Here, Ella will try something and mouth “it’s spicy”. They eat what they can, be we always have on hand a pack of biscuits to supplement and fill them up. Is it bad parenting when your kid eats 8 biscuits in one go? Paul buys the “Glucose Biscuits”, which turn me right off just by the name.
- Backwater Farmhouse – a steal at 1000 rupees/night ($20 CAD) for a cottage with a big bed and two extra mattresses. Rooms are basic, but you have a lovely porch that you can sit out on and watch backwater life go by. Bathroom is attached, but open air and attracts lots of bugs (cold water and no toilet paper). This place is a bit hard to get to and feels off the main tourist track.
- Jisha cooks good Keralan food and we got to sample many dishes (I will do a whole blog about food). Breakfasts 150 rupees/adult ($3 CAD), kids half price. Lunch and dinner 250 rupees/adult ($4 CAD), kids half price. They had free filtered water in jugs for drinking. You are in the middle of the Backwaters so no other options for eating, but we were really happy with the food at Backwater Farmhouse.
- Train from Varkala to Thuravoor (very small station) – 2.5 hours – 210 rupees ($4 CAD) for our family
- Boat trip with Sugu – 500 rupees ($10 CAD) + tip, 2 hours