Houseboats, also known as water cruises, have always been a major attraction for travellers, both from India and abroad. Whether you are a first-time vacationer on a houseboat or are an experienced cruiser, a team of professionally trained crew pampers you with the best of services. Chartering the two extreme corners of the country, Kashmir and Kerala, these regions represent two distinct worlds and have their own charms. Right from culture, architecture, natural beauty, services and amenities, houseboats have their own charm. If Kashmir is like an exquisite stage, the houseboats on Dal Lake are Shakespearean dramas everyone wants to watch. On the other hand, the beautiful houseboats in God’s Own Country, Kerala, boasts of traditional architecture.
Immerse yourself in the charm of the hills in the Kashmir Valley. The view of the mighty Himalayas from a houseboat in the middle of Dal Lake is simply breathtaking. Living on water is a part of Kashmiri tradition and no visit to the Paradise on Earth is complete without a visit to these grand wooden boats. Detached from the madness of city life, these marvellous wonders transport you to a calm and serene world. Made of cedar wood with intricate wooden carvings, the houseboats are moored along the western periphery of the lake. Many of these boats redefine luxury with their lavish rooms which open up on a terrace where one can sip Kashmiri kahwa in the evenings and a verandah where one can wake up to experience the glorious sunrise from behind the mountains. Each boat has a separate kitchen which also acts as home to the boat keeper and his family who also attend to the guests.
Classified in a similar fashion to hotels on comfort and services parameters, a majority of houseboats in Kashmir boasts about the grandeur of the British colonial era. During Imperial rule, a number of Britishers visited the Valley frequently and a new chapter in economy got triggered. A number of Kashmiris got involved in the making of the houseboats and this is one of the primary reasons one gets to see colonial-era motifs and large window panes on these boats. But it is not only the pre-Independence era that witnessed a surge in houseboats. In 1966, sitar maestro Ravi Shankar taught legendary musician George Harrison to play the sitar on one of the houseboats here. Another soothing aspect of holidaying in Kashmir is the shikara. These wooden boats are one of the best ways to enjoy the picturesque landscape and like Venetian gondolas, these are the cultural symbol of the state.
Soak in the beauty of the backwaters and lush green and palm-fringed landscape while on a houseboat in Kerala. Known as Kettuvalam, these boats were traditionally used to transfer rice and spices from the hills to the market towns and have now been converted into floating hotels. Made by tying huge planks of jack wood together, a great amount of skill and precision is required to make these houseboats. Interestingly, not a single iron nail is used in their construction. Earlier, an entire clan of artisans was dedicated to making these houseboats. Today, these have become an innovative way of holidaying and very proudly represent the unique culture of the southern state.
The backwaters of Kerala are a crisscrossed network of lakes, lagoons, canals and rivers. The best way to move around the backwaters is to hire a private houseboat which generally travels around 40-50 km through the backwaters in a single day. One gets to experience local life and laze around during afternoons while sipping coconut water and gazing at coconut palms, jackfruits, papayas and mango groves. One can stop at one of the banks and take a stroll among the whitewashed homes and churches and hire a houseboat for as little as a day or as long as a week. The sunsets are sublime and most people opt for an overnight hire which includes a serene sleep in the middle of nowhere, in a lake or any other peaceful spot.
You can move around in traditionally thatched roof houseboats in the backwaters of Alleppey, one of the best places to hire a boat in the state or choose to go on an adventurous ride through Kumarakom, Alumkadavu (near Kollam) and Kottayam. Vembanad is the most accessible backwaters where the Vembanad Lake opens to sea at the Cochin Harbour, dotted with interconnected islands that adorn the Queen of the Arabian Sea. The southern Vembanad Lake is known for its large expanse of water, sandwiched between districts of Alappuzha and Kottayam. Houseboat tourism, made this backwaters popular where tourists can stay overnight in luxurious houseboats, enjoying the natural beauty and wind off their stress. You can combine your houseboat cruise with an ayurvedic treatment. Enjoy this cruise of a lifetime!
Text by Supriya Aggarwal
Images source: India Perspectives magazine