Lazy backwaters, coconut trees, lush paddy fields, hill stations, and sprawling tea estates; there’s nothing that Kerala doesn’t have for the perfect getaway. God’s Own Country, is a vibrant tapestry of history, culture, and economy. The languid backwaters are the lifeline of this prosperous state and one of the most sought-after locations for tourists from the country and across the world. And the iconic houseboat is everyone’s barge of choice to experience these magical waterways. Kumarakom and Alleppey have emerged as two of the top destinations for houseboat experiences over the years. Both are located on opposite ends of the Vembanad Lake and offer two distinct experiences. If it’s harmony with nature you seek, here’s why you should explore the houseboats of Kumarakom.
Stunning Kumarakom is located away from the crowded backwaters typically found in Alleppey. Those seeking a serene and secluded holiday should opt for Kumarakom. While as popular, the houseboats in Kumarakom take you through quieter waters and canals before meeting the majestic Vembanad Lake. There are also fewer houseboats in Kumarakom, but their quality and cleanliness are usually far better than the ones in Alleppey.
With serene backwaters and networks of pretty lagoons, Kumarakom is fast emerging as the preferred houseboat destination in Kerala. There are fewer people and not as many boats vying for space on the waters. To preserve the pristine backwaters, Kumarakom became one of the first places in the country to adopt responsible tourism practices. Explore the houseboats of Kumarakom for a more personal and intimate experience of the Kerala Backwaters.
The houseboats of today are repurposed versions of the old ‘Kettuvallams’ – ancient boats inextricably connected to the history and economy of Kerala. The Kettuvallams were first built around 3,000 B.C.E. to transport valuable merchandise like rice and spices, as well as to ferry passengers. The average boat was at least 100 ft long – a gargantuan structure whose hull comprised of long wooden planks fastened together with coir rope and coconut fiber. It is amazing to note that not a single nail was used to construct its body!
These magnificent vessels sailed the backwaters for centuries, forming routes for trade and economy to flourish in Kerala. But with the advent of modernity, the old-world allure of the Kettuvallams made way for faster, more efficient boats and motor vehicles.
The houseboats today are a throwback to the glory days of the Kettuvallam. They continue to be the lifeline of Kerala’s economy if only a little differently. The trade vessels of yore have transformed into splendid floating hotels that are famed across the globe! Their structure remains true to the old Kettuvallam but remodeled to fit modern amenities and furnishings. The design of the houseboats still incorporates the use of natural materials such as coir and bamboo.
With spacious and cozily-furnished rooms, sparkling clean toilets, kitchens with an on-board chef, sometimes even balconies for private views or fishing, the houseboats in Kumarakom are the finest way to explore the wonder of the backwaters. From one room to as many as six, the houseboats in Kumarakom are of varying sizes and offer different packages to suit any type of itinerary. Simply ask and you shall receive! Whether it’s a short day-trip or an overnight stay, a luxurious getaway or one that’s value for money, an eco-friendly cruise or one that’s commercial; The possibilities are endless and the sights eternally surreal.
Should you choose to make a day of it, the houseboats in Kumarakom usually set sail by 10 am or 12 pm each day and are back by 4 pm.
Cruise along the backwaters and watch the palm trees swaying in the wind with beautiful paddy fields and coconut trees on either side. The only sound is the boat gliding along on the small canals, occasionally interrupted by the melodic chirping of cormorants or egrets along the banks.
The occasional small canoe or boat passes by with locals going about their day. It’s business as usual for them. A daily grocery run, errands to complete or a quick run to the market – just done on a boat. How incredibly fortunate they are to be able to call this heaven home.
As the boat ride progresses, savor delicious Kerala cuisine cooked to perfection by the onboard chef. Wash it all down with a glass or three of sweet toddy.
After navigating the smaller canals for some time, the houseboat emerges out of the backwaters and into the splendor of the Vembanad Lake, the largest freshwater lake in Kerala.
This is a boat ride to remember and an escape from urbanity and the noise of everyday life. Experience incomparable peace, as the scenic waters and gentle purr of the boat slowly envelop you in stillness.
Everything can change in a Kerala minute. And soon enough, it’s time to bid farewell to the boat and a beautiful day out on the waters. The hours spent on the boat have zipped by! Stop by the creek and walk around. Or grab a bite of dinner at one of the many toddy shops nearby.
There’s still much beauty to be had for those staying overnight in the houseboats at Kumarakom! A few more magical hours on the waters, followed by a good night’s sleep in a floating hotel. The one-night houseboats usually leave in the afternoon and dock at sunset. The houseboats then travel after sunrise the next day and drop passengers back to port between 7:30 am and 9:30 am.
The houseboats in Kumarakom transform into stunning sanctuaries in the evenings. Sip a cup of tea or coffee with snacks as you travel further into the stunning Kumarakom backwaters. Make sure to pick a good seat on the boat to catch the evening sun disappear into the stunning watery horizon.
The cruising time is usually for five hours through the spectacular Vembanad Lake, slowly winding towards locations such as Midnight Land, Kavanattinkara, Thannermukkam, the Birds Sanctuary, or the Alleppey backwaters. As night falls, the houseboats dock at the side of a canal in Kumarakom or at the front of seaside hotels.
If you thought the day ride was mesmerizing, the peace and stillness in the backwaters at night is immeasurable. Enjoy dinner on a beautifully-lit boat as the gentle waters keep you company in the otherwise gentle night.
Wake up the next morning to a chorus of nature’s melodies. Quiet sounds of fish feeding on top of the river. The whistles of the Malabar Thrush or the high-pitched calls of Parakeet. Distant sounds of a rooster call, bringing sleepy villages to life in preparation for another busy day. In the distance, the gong of a temple bell or gentle footsteps of people who rise with the sun. These are just a few of the sounds of everyday Kerala life that you’ll get to wake up to.
Soon, the first Kettuvallam makes its way back into the waters followed by a gentle stream of other Houseboats. If there was ever an incentive to wake up for breakfast, a glorious morning on the backwaters in Kumarakom would be it.
Don’t despair about leaving the stunning houseboats and backwaters behind. Make a trip inland to one of these equally gorgeous destinations around the Kumarakom backwaters.
The lush Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary is located right next to the backwaters. It is a haven for bird watchers and home to birds such as the Siberian Stork and Kingfisher. Visit the Sanctuary during November and February for the best sightings.
The magical Pathiramanal island is a ten-minute boat ride from the Bird Sanctuary. The island’s name translates to ‘Sand of Night’ and it is accessible only by boat from Kumarakom and Muhamma. The beautiful island is home to 91 species of beautiful migratory birds!
The Bay Island Driftwood Museum showcases carvings made on driftwood and other types of wood recovered from the water. This unique concept museum was initiated by a school teacher, Raji Punnose.
Visit the numerous toddy shops around town for a true and unforgettable taste of Kerala. These drinking cum dining establishments are inseparable from the culture and everyday lives of Malayalis. There’s nothing quite like freshly-tapped glasses of palm toddy served alongside delectable and spicy Malabar cuisine.
The best time to plan a trip to Kumarakom is from September to March. Clear skies and temperatures between 15 to 20 Degree Celsius make conditions ideal for a houseboat stay in Kumarakom.
It is best to avoid the Monsoons while planning a stay on houseboats in Kumarakom. The backwaters usually flood the banks and into people’s villages and homes. The legendary Kerala Monsoons are a force to be reckoned with.
By Air: The nearest airport to Kumarakom is the Cochin International Airport, 70 km away from the Muhamma boat jetty.
By Train: The nearest railway station is Kottayam (KTYM)
By Road: Kumarakom is well-connected by bus to major cities of the country
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