The Backwaters of Kerala, India

Upstairs deck/lounge

Upstairs deck/lounge

Our group of four was greeted with “tender coconuts” to drink while we got settled into the boat and into our bedrooms. Our houseboat was over 100ft long with three bedrooms, a dining room, an upstairs lounge deck and all the amenities of a hotel (including AC), I was in awe. The outside was covered in a coconut palm woven shell tied together by coconut husk rope. Truly a product of “Kerala”, meaning “Land of Coconuts”. Continue reading

Kuttanad – “the rice bowl of Kerala”

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If you are like me, you enjoy the fresh air, green scenic views and appreciate a variety of cultures. Kuttanand, south of Cochin is a promising destination with its rich rice picking culture and its backwater systems. It also offers diverse species of animals, especially birds which can easily be spotted due to the open landscape.

Next on my Kerala bucket list!

To read more click here

(photo credits: Keralatourism.org)

Navigating the Backwaters of Kerala

Have you ever felt like you were in a book ?

 Traveling on a houseboat  in the Backwaters was a desire of mine for quite a while, and I had been told the monsoon was the ideal period to take a trip on the Backwaters. The boats are fewer on the waterways, you can see locals compete in spectacular snake-boat races, the rice-paddies fill-up with rainwater, everybody gets around by canoe or ferry. It’s as different to my everyday life as can be. Continue reading

A Great Finale To Our Kerala Experience

Photo: Milo Inman

Our time at Cardamom County in Thekaddy, Kerala was way too short.  After returning from a wonderful trip with River Escapes in the backwaters of Kerala we headed for the state’s iconic hill stations in the Western Ghats.  I suggested to my husband Dave that we take a taxi, but being a former backpacker, he urged me to give the bus a chance.  I stood my ground, insisting the trip would take several hours and I could bet the buses wouldn’t pass an inspection. But Dave was persistent and persuasive – I acquiesced and don’t regret that decision for one moment.  It was a wild ride.

Continue reading

Across Waters to the Mississippi River Adventure

Guest Author: Rania Mirabueno

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Adventurers canoeing 2320 miles of the Mississippi River.

As I recall my beautiful houseboat experience in the backwaters of Kerala with River Escapes, I cannot help but think across waters to four adventurers, who are embarking on a journey with two canoes and 2320 miles of rafting across 10 US states on the Mississippi River. Continue reading

Where Waters Meet


We were recently traveling by houseboat from Kumarakom across Lake Vembanad, the largest backwater in Kerala, toward Cochin and therefore the Arabian Sea.  This route requires passing through the Thannermukkom Bund, the largest mud regulator in India.

This barrier essentially divides Vembanad in half  – separating the brackish waters that flow from the Arabian Sea from the sweet river water that feeds into the lake.  For six months a year the dike is left open, particularly during the monsoon season, but historically the gates are closed on December 15th to assist agriculture in the Kuttanad District, where farming is done below sea level.

Like many areas of the world with significant geographical elements that effect both country and culture, the watery landscape is defined as either north of the bund or south of it. These discriptors are as elemental as global coordinates for people in the region.

We’d made this journey from North to South last year when the gates were still open, but this second, opposite journey required negotiating with the gatekeepers in order to continue our passage.

Even without understanding a word of Malayalam the process was fascinating. Continue reading

Rollin’ On The River

Our second excursion in India was heading from Fort Cochin to the backwater region of Kerala called Alleppey. (The actual Malayalam name is Alappuzha, the ‘zha’ letters forming the same sound as the Hungarian actress who I’m sure to date myself by mentioning.) Just the sound of these Indian names invoked a sense of the exotic and we weren’t disappointed. After a little adventure finding the River Escapes dock (a determined taxi driver made sure we arrived at the right location), we were welcomed with a refreshing drink of tender coconut and sipped away along with four other guests – a young Indian couple (honeymoon perhaps?) and an older English couple. As Dave and I began to settle in, we felt ourselves slipping into a lazy relaxation underlined with an excited sense of anticipation.  After a brief orientation, each group was escorted to the dock, where a row of beautifully maintained wooden houseboats waited for boarding.

The houseboat held a casual elegance with spotless wooden floors, wide wicker chairs and large open-air windows. The dining table had a bowl of fresh fruit and before we even got our shoes off, the staff of three – the captain, first mate and chef introduced themselves, integrating a slight nod of the head, a typical Indian gesture indicating friendship or often agreement (depending upon the exchange at the moment).  With the captain comfortably seated at the helm, the steward pushed the houseboat away from the dock and the chef headed to the galley.

Having been a chef on the high seas myself, a highlight for me was following the chef to the galley as he prepared our lunch. (At the end of this blog, I’ve included some of the culinary tips I learned and have repeated, with great success, at home.)  The chef, a tall, slender man in a clean white chef’s coat and tall toque (making him all the more imposing in height) was shy but friendly, explaining his preparations as he skillfully cooked with a deliberateness that conveyed training and personal pride. Our fish, a favorite on the Kerala backwaters called Pearl Spot or Karimeen, was trippy looking, resembling more of a skeleton than an edible item, but it was delicious – crunchy and spicy. As the chef cooked, the captain remained attentive at the helm, navigating through the waterways that would eventually (for someone else) lead to the Arabian Sea. And we were not alone. There were dozens of other houseboats meandering their way down the river  – some had two levels with expansive balconies while others stood out with ornate window frames and decorative wood designs. And we all just moseyed along, with passengers waving to one another as we passed modest homes on the shore with clotheslines holding colorful saris. As the waterway became narrower, we found ourselves being led off the houseboat and into a long motorized canoe.  We had arrived at the backwaters. Continue reading

Life Mein Ek Baar, Featuring River Escapes

Every minute of this is fun.  The 35th minute is particularly fun for those of us based in Kerala because members of our organization join the stage with the stars of this show.

About five months ago we were approached by a film production company about a show they were filming for National Geographic Channel.  They told us that River Escapes was recommended to them as having the best houseboats in the Kerala backwaters (a bit of music to our ears).  Then they proposed that their Kerala episode should be based on our houseboats (we danced to that music).

Continue reading

National Geographic Dream Team In Kerala

News came today from the film production company mentioned a while back.  Editing is complete.  The travelers are still friends.  And more.

But the main point was: this Sunday night (India time) we finally get to watch the episode that features Kerala’s backwaters and our houseboats.  Thank you for the notification, Vivek!

To the right is a luggage tag.  Not a non sequitur: we were working on these while the film crew mentioned above was with us.  Our tags had been, quite frankly, boring.  We thought the crew deserved a reminder of where they had been with us.  So our friends at Thought Factory Design came up with a simple reminder.

I hope Vivek, his production crew, and those four dashing stars of the show are all still carrying around trunks, duffel bags, suit cases and carry-ons with these little reminders of their friends in Kerala…

That reminds me.  Before the end of 2011 you will be able to see some of the handiwork of Thought Factory Design if you happen to be traveling in Kerala.  Continue reading

Watch It On National Geographic Channel

Our colleagues offer amazing experiences on the backwaters of Kerala, in the houseboats described here, with some visual support here and here; and once more here (really, look at it to get a sense of grocery shopping in our neighborhood); so no surprise that a film crew and remarkable cast of characters asked to spend time with them.  The crew of 15 or so (I lost count) was from all over India; so was the cast.  The four featured men in this film are part of a “bucket list” adventure that is being filmed in the locations ranked most highly in a national competition as “must go.” Kerala’s backwaters made that list. Raxa Collective’s houseboats were chosen as the venue for best experiencing those backwaters.

The four men–a student, an IT marketing executive, an Indian Capoeira master-in-training, and a famous Bollywood actor–met for the first time not long ago, and by the time we met them they seemed like old friends.  By the time it airs on the National Geographic Channel, that will stand out as much as the fabulous locations (I like the picture hanging on the wall past the camera man).  We will share more on the broadcast times when we have them.  The photo below is Milo’s, and we have some additional photos by Sung from this particular day (they were on the houseboats for many more days), more on which as we have those photos, and hopefully some film outtakes.