India: Kerala’s Cochin & Alappuzha Houseboats Cruises

Cochin is a traveler’s dream destination. Also known as Kochi and the Queen of the Arabian Sea, this major port city sits on India’s southwest coast in the state of Kerala. Thanks to its perfect harbor, Cochin ruled the spice trade for centuries. Though Cochin remains a seafarer’s outpost, the outlying area has a new angle in its maritime industry — houseboat cruises. The cruises are centered in Alappuzha, a city of about 175,000 residents. Alappuzha also refers to its network of canals, waterways, and backwaters.

A water taxi with a thatched covering glides by a fisherman using a purple sunhat for protection.

Cruising is a love of mine, and I must say that I took to it like a duck to water. I’ve done the standard ocean liner luxury cruises. Loved ’em! One in particular was my first Asian sailing, which brought me so close to my birth country of Vietnam. Read about my homecoming here. The Alappuzha cruise was different in atmosphere but every bit as exotic and comfortable as any shiny and sparkly excursion anywhere in the world.

From Cochin to Cruising

We traveled by motorcoach from Cochin to Alappuzha. Weaving and bobbing through the street scenes was thrilling enough with all the sights, sounds, and smells sneaking into the vehicle. To tell the truth, the quiet river was a welcome sight.

What We Saw

Cruising through the rural life of Kerala observing farming, fishing, and family life, I found it so fascinating how geography influences lifestyle. When I think how differently a Bedouin desert dweller and an Indian inhabitant of the tropics live, sometimes I get lost in the details, wondering about things such as “how long did it take to figure out how to weave straw shelters” or “who first figured out how to use turmeric as a seasoning.”

A motorized boat in a canal with tropical trees lining both sides of the waterway.

This New Brand of Tourism

Farming and fishing, and, of course, the spice trade, made up economic infrastructure until just about 20 years ago. Just in the last five or 10 years, more than 2,000 houseboats have served visitors and tourists. Like one would expect, the levels of comfort vary among operators, just like hotel standards vary among 1- through 5-star hotels. Be sure to shop around. India’s Department of Tourism rates some of the floating accommodations. One thing all of them have in common is sharing the area’s off-the-beaten-track lifestyle, and that is definitely worth visiting.

 A Tour of a Houseboat

The Alappuzha houseboat is an excellent example of melding the old and new. There’s the straw or thatched roof. Then, there’s the solar panels used for lighting! The houseboats are based on the design of a kettuvallam, a traditional Indian boat that has been in use for centuries.

A houseboat with a bamboo-like or rattan covering on top of a black hull.

Lunch Break

We got lucky with lunch. We ate at the Marari Beach Resort for a leisurely meal. I had plenty of time to think about how many spice travelers journeyed the route we followed that day. What impressions did they have of the region and its people? Did they want to stay or move on to the next port?

Musings and Memories

This trip really resonated with me. As we cruised the rural life, I wanted to hop off the little boat that I shared with another couple to peek further into the locals’ lives. It was interesting to see a big, beautiful house, yet see a giant pile of trash about 200 yards away from the property. We take for granted for the bi-weekly trash pickup in the U.S. Although I live in a suburban neighborhood, the association fee takes care of these sorts of maintenance issues.

A smiling local woman in a red and white polka dot dress using the river to wash laundry.

So, I digress here … While living though this pandemic, we can appreciate some positive factors. Yes, we had some major issues this past year, but let’s focus on gratitude. Traveling always gives me the time and ability for self-reflection. This trip to Asia gave me a very different perspective, especially when I consider our American lives. Cochin and Alappuzha has been my favorite excursion—so far —of this cruise.

Cruise India: Kerala’s Alappuzha and Cochin Spice Up Houseboats

Let’s keep each other posted on our travels. What have you been up to? Any cruises in your future? We want to hear all the spicy details.

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