5 Nov 2013

Alleppey - The Venice Of East

We decided to head south from Kochi to enjoy a much raved about Keralan Houseboat in Alleppey 'The Venice Of The East'. The journey there was amusing, a 2.5 hour taxi ride with an eclectic soundtrack: 90 minutes of Aqua on repeat (remember THIS?), 30 minutes of Backstreet Boys and Blue, followed by some Bob Marley reggae vibes for the home straight. At the halfway point we thought it was going to be Aqua all the way - no matter how many times we heard it, we just didn't want to party with Barbie, or hanky panky with Ken!

Houseboats in Alleppey
Locals canoeing through the tourist houseboats in Alleppey.

It was a smooth journey and we chose some great accommodation, we stayed at the Vedanta Wake Up Hostel and were well looked after by our helpful host, Hari. After a quick, tasty lunch at the popular Thaff restaurant we headed to the canal to check out the tour operators and boats on offer. It felt pretty straight forward except that the boats were 4km away (or so the agents claimed, it was actually just 1km at grubby boatyard/dock), so we had to go by photos - we got five quotes then headed back to the hostel to research rates online and locate some beer.

Watching men work the rice paddy fields in Alleppey.

The beer mission: after two days dry of alcohol we found out that off licenses are run by BEVCO, a government agency and there are three in Alleppey. Hari organised a rickshaw for a round trip - it was Saturday night and the men were out in force for beer! Outside were two queues of around 50 men each queuing for beer and spirits,  we thought we were in for a long wait in the rain. Luckily our driver was in the know and after just a few minutes an iron door opened and Steve was ushered into the inner sanctum of the stock room and counting house, moments later he emerged victorious with six large Kingfisher! Mission accomplished! That evening we enjoyed al fresco beers with our fellow hostel guests. 

Beer = Happy Steve!

Back to the houseboat: we chose the agent that had a highly rated homestay on trip advisor and our second most expensive option. Safe bet right? WRONG.  We got totally shafted - our boat was dirty, old and everything but luxurious. We tried to get out of it before the boat set sail but our rep wasn't very helpful... Long story short we used the boat for the day, enjoyed a huge lunch, then headed back as there was no way we were going to sleep on that boat. 

Keralan Lunch
A giant Keralan lunch for two! 

As we sailed the busy Kerala backwaters we were filled with boat envy of people lounging on their plush cushioned beds on the deck as we were sat on a wooden bench - quite comical really!! The backwaters around Alleppey are pretty dirty and the canals are much wider than expected - it's surreal how many houseboats sail around polluting the water at one time, we wouldn't describe it as tranquil but life by the river is very scenic. It was extra busy due to Diwali and it was still fun to people watch and wave to the other houseboats - from young Indian men swigging beer and dancing, to three generations of a family with the kids on the top deck singing away to a karaoke machine and the grown ups below sipping chai or taking a siesta.

Houseboats Kerala
"There are 9 million houseboats in Alleppey, that's a fact"

We returned to Alleppey, checked back in to the hostel and set out on a quest to get our money back, it took a couple of hours and lots of phone calls but we finally got the majority back. Their excuse when they finally admitted it was pretty poor: due to Diwali the agent had no luxury one bed boats left, rather than tell us this he gave us on an old two bed, as that's all he could get - if he told us this we could have called a different agent as we knew that 7,000 rupees was too cheap for a two bed and would not have taken it. It was a shame but to be honest the Kerala houseboat experience is possibly overrated and overpriced anyway.

The next morning it was time for our first Indian train journey as we venture to North Kerala in search of wild elephants. We'll let you know what happens soon...

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