You could argue all day long about how there's nothing "authentic" about houseboats and "God's Own Country," Kerala, but that hardly matters. It's a great way to savor an amazing piece of the Indian experience. Imagine floating carefreely through a system of backwater canals mapping out an infinite number of paths through beautiful rice paddy countryside. Yup, that's exactly how JDB and I spent our friendship honeymoon.
As beautiful as the scenery is, though, the chance to peek into village life along the canals is even more fascinating. 75% of the passage is lined with houses, you're free to observe traditional living with a smile and a wave. Every house has a small boat and a small ghat of steps down to water level, it's the center of life of the community. People bath in the river. People brush their teeth in the river. People wash their pots in the river. People herd their ducks in the river. People ride the watertaxis and water-school buses. It's beautiful to watch. (Although in truth you do need to bring a book if you go for more than one night.)
Rent a car from the Kochi airport or Kochi city center. Expect to pay about 1200-1500 rupees for the 1.5 hour ride.
Getting a Houseboat:
One possibility is booking a houseboat online, there are a variety of websites offering a wide range of boats/trips. Another option is to arrange a houseboat through your Kochi hotel. We turned down 5500 boat offered by hotel because we wanted to see the options and we thought it would be easy to do in the low season.
We hired a car to take us to Alleppey, and the driver offered a connection on the ride. We ended up on his friend's boat, 6500 rupees for a well-equipped one-bedroom AC houseboat. Tougher than expected to bargain at the site, because the boats were not at a centralized location due to upcoming snake boat races. Price includes staff of three, all meals, bottled water, etc. Expect to pay 100 rupees per bottle of piss beer unless you plan ahead and bring your own.
Bring bug spray and suntan lotion. Paths along the river are muddy, bring sturdy sandals that can get dirty. Bring books, paper and pen. In fact, bring extra pens, as kids like them.
Delicious Keralan food, prepared fresh three times a day, plus snacks. Jen enjoyed the veg entrees, I liked the fish.
Hiking along the riverbank after docking for the evening, a 30 minute stroll north of St. Thomas church. Making friends with precocious children, who were in the market for one pen.
Stopping for a lunch break in provincial Champakulam, giving ourselves a VIP tour of the local hospital, St. Josephs Mission Hospital.
Postcards from picturesque post offices.
Finishing a book about Custer.