A tropical labyrinth of lakes and lagoons criss-crossed by rivers and canals, there’s no better way to explore Kerala’s Backwaters than by houseboat.
Through a verdant countryside in every shade of green imaginable the watery network lacing its way between villages and farms was once used to transfer rice and spices from the hills to market towns. These days the Backwaters are left to visitors to enjoy; it’s the perfect excuse to do nothing more than kick back and drift aimlessly along the languid waters.
A private houseboat is a wonderfully relaxed way to get around in tune with the local slower pace of life and idle away an afternoon, sipping fresh coconut water through a straw as coconut palms, groves of mango, papaya and jackfruit pass before your eyes. Made from wood in traditional style, with a nod to modern requirements like a flush loo, our favourite houseboats remain simple but comfortable for a night or two.
When we're here we love the opportunity to pull up at a bank and go for a stroll among whitewashed homes and churches or be punted along channels in a leaky dug-out canoe. Families barely give you a second look as they go about their daily business beating laundry into submission, washing pots and pans and bathing in the lake, while poised girls in tiny boats brimming with baskets of fruit glide off to school between scooters and the occasional pig as if it’s the most natural thing in the world.
Before you know it an hour or two passes by and you’re ready for a freshly cooked meal of rice, fish and curry served traditionally on a banana leaf plate, followed by the sweetest, juiciest pineapple you’ve ever tasted. Fortunately, cold wet flannels magically appear before you become a sticky juicy mess.
For something a little more contemporary, the Discovery houseboat blends a traditional stitched wooden hull and carved prow with brilliant turquoise painted cabin, a quiet eco-friendly electric motor and a spacious shaded deck for the ultimate uninterrupted views of the Backwaters. All with your own personal crew to show you the way to hidden temples on shore and rustle up a dish of Malabar prawns worthy of a five star restaurant in the impossibly small galley.
In the backwaters of northern Kerala The Lotus houseboat takes things up a notch or three. The luxurious mobile hideaway has spacious living spaces with polished wooden floors, optional yoga and Ayuverdic - and even a bath tub in the en-suite.
The sunsets are sublime and we recommend a couple of nights afloat so that you can sail through untouched waterways, but if your time is limited then a day afloat combined with a stay at a Backwaters hotel or homestay is a flexible alternative.