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Monday, 25 April 2011

Kerala: 'God's Own Country' - Page 4

Written by Brian W Fisher
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Evergreen Tours (Houseboats)

There are many companies based around the Kerala Backwaters, that offer Houseboat Cruises for periods of usually one, two or three nights. All function in a similar way with full board, and a start time around noon on day one, ending at around ten a.m. on the final day. There is a wide variety of one, two and three bedroom boats to choose from.

However, all companies do not offer the same standard of facilities. For example, some boats are powered by quite noisy outboard motors, many of which are somewhat underpowered and so are worked to capacity. Others are fitted with inboard diesels, which are better suited to both the environment and the comfort of guests. The reputation of companies regarding customer service also varies widely, as does the interaction of the crew with their guests.

All I can do to steer you in the right direction is prompt you to study the internet postings on sites such as Trip Advisor, or you could follow my recommendation.

In cooperation with the Indian operator, Red Dot Tours, we agreed that the long-established company Evergreen Tours based at Alleppey would be my best bet.  It was a great choice, with absolutely no regrets on my part.

The one bedroom boat with A/C (operational between 8.30 p.m. and 8.00 a.m.) was perfect, although I'm sure that I could have slept soundly without it. The furniture and fittings could not be faulted in any area of the boat. It was well maintained, clean and very efficient.

Pottering along the backwaters – some wide, others narrow – gave me a fantastic opportunity to capture many pictures. Life really is fascinating to observe and the local population strung along these watery byways would always return a wave, emphasized with their beaming smiles.

The three-man crew were a delight to be with. The Captain, who I christened Captain Ahab, allowed me to take the helm under his watchful eye. The complete lack of communication between us, he speaking Malayalam and I speaking English, was unimportant. Mere head nods and sparkling, toothy grins when I got things right were sufficient.

His second in command did the cooking – all mouthwatering local dishes. On close questioning coupled with expressive hand movements, I learned that his mother had schooled him extensively before he was even allowed to apply for the post. Well done, Mum, you did a fine job!

When we tied up at the Company's headquarters a little before 10 a.m., I did feel a tinge of regret. In the twenty hours, a kind of 'bond' had been formed (at least on my part) and Shakespeare's words 'parting is such sweet sorrow...' came to mind.

My rating...9/10

Another air-conditioned car complete with an English speaking driver named Sebastian were awaiting my appearance. My luggage was loaded and moments later we left the boatyard and turned south onto Kerala's main highway NH47 for the hundred plus kilometer journey from where I'd disembarked the houseboat to the small, coastal town of Varkala and the nearby beach, Papanasam.

This was no meandering sojourn. We encountered the madness of Indian driving conditions. Vehicles of every conceivable type twisted, shunted, weaved and hooted, all obeying the country's one and only road traffic law...'Get to wherever you are going and ignore everything else.' Somehow, it works. Eventually the car you're sitting in moves forward, perhaps for as far as half a km, more often just a few car lengths. Crazy – mad – unbelievable – a bit like 'The Charge of The Light Brigade.'

Because Kerala's beaches have become popular with tourists, particularly the beaches of Kovalam and Marari, my decision to spend a week at one can be understood. Having experienced both those and noted the changes, I thought it best to select one of the lesser known resorts being advertised. I narrowed my choice down to one in the region of Varkala.

(Page 4 of 5)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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