The Kerala Queen

Yes, not content with chauffered air-conditioned cars, breezy tuk-tuks or flashy airplanes, we decided to seek out another form of transportation on our travels.

We are in what is called the backwaters of Kerala, in the area of Vayalar. Don has always thought we would take a three-day boat trip in this area, which is a quite popular tourist experience. There is a port in Alleppey, somewhat nearby, where a boat will meet you. You can order one online, but Trip Advisor reports that might be an iffy move. You think you have a private boat, then a family with five children boards at the last minute. Or, the boat you saw online turns out to be absolutely nothing like the one you actually get.

So Don thought we should go to the port, and pick out one just right for us. However, the manager at the Intercontinental in Mamallapuram almost had a seizure when we told him that plan. No, no! He suggested that we stay at a resort in Vayalar, which he used to run, and have a day/night experience on their private boat. A cook, stewards and pilot would attend to our every need, and we would have a carefully curated experience.

Our lust for risk-taking and adventure (if it ever existed) has somewhat dulled, so we decided to go with his suggestion. He emailed the hotel and let them know that Very Important People were coming who should be extended every courtesy. This is a somewhat superfluous instruction, as any more courtesies would have to include tucking us into bed and guarding us all night.

The hotel itself is spectacular. It is a large complex, right on the water. The lobby is filled with images of Kathakali dancers, so it’s very good that we have already had an introduction.

We are staying in what is called a floating cottage, with its own private hot tub. (You will notice we have been upgraded from towel art to banana-leaf decor and flowers on the bed.) From our bungalow, we could see “our” boat, anchored around the corner.

Last night the chef at the hotel told us what to expect for meals on the boat – all regional Kerala specialties. What he had planned sounded adequate for about ten people. This morning we saw the boat being loaded, and it did indeed look like an army of people were setting off on a one-month adventure.

The boat has two levels. The main one consists of a lounge/dining room (air-conditioned!) and two bedrooms. Our cabin is an extension of the hotel, with the same bed art. Upstairs are two lounge areas, fore and aft. One has a jacuzzi; the other has benches to watch the view, which is where we sat most of the time.

This amazing day was spent on a large waterway that we mostly had to ourselves. Except for a few fishermen, we only saw small houses, those now-familiar Chinese cantilevered fishing nets, some ducks and goats, and just a few people. Those with children would run to an open spot to have the children wave and for us to take their picture. One hut had a satellite dish, and the man was taking our picture on his i-phone before running with his child to a spot where we could reciprocate. Lots of waving. Guess we are the exotic ones. What a funny combination of technology and ancient ways of life.

At 6:00, the boat docked at a little inlet, because it is prime fishing time and they don’t want to disturb the locals. We are fully equipped with wifi and a/c so no complaints from us.

The day was so quiet and serene, it seemed like we were the only people in existence. Grab a bit of it for yourself, and – if you have very good ears – you might hear prayers accompanying us from a nearby mosque. Hope your day was at least half as calm.

Don’s Food Corner

The description of today’s feast on the houseboat is short. First, because I’d rather go outside on the deck to experience the complete silence of the night, the clean air, the gentle night breeze and a beautiful crescent moon. Second, because of the elaborate food displays at each meal — nearly as overwhelming as those breakfast extravaganzas we had at the Intercontinental at the start of our trip — that to describe each dish would take hours.  Suffice it to say, they were all spectacular. And most of the dishes were Kerala specialties. If you look closely, you can see about a ton of curry leaves, scrapped coconut and black mustard seeds — all Kerala staples — swimming around in everything.

I think the official count of dishes for lunch was five main dishes — including fish curry, deep-fried chicken, a “dry” potato dish, a “wet” vegetable dish featuring the reedy drumstick — along with two different desserts, including rice noodles covered with a caramel syrup and golab jamun, those syrup soaked dough balls. This is not to mention the rice, a platter of raw vegetables and two kinds of bread. That glum look on my face was showing a stunned reaction of how I could possibly eat all that and then face yet another such feast a few hours later. We did our best, but with our waiter watching our every move, I think we went too far.

Later, at dinner, we had another five main dishes: butter chicken, deep-fried fish, a dal, a vegetable korma and a “dry” okra dish. Again, all spectacular. Again, all too much. Add the bread, the salad, the rice and then a brownie and a frozen mousse and we might have to have one of those Chinese fishing nets try to lift us out of the boat tomorrow morning.

But, wait, in just a few hours, we get breakfast on the boat! I know that I ordered idly and sambar, to the delight of the resort’s chef, so I’m a little concerned about how elaborate that will become. There is a dedicated cook on board putting this all together. I saw the kitchen. It’s bigger than our New York City kitchen and while that’s not saying much, it’s still kind of amazing. This boat is so big that we smell none of the cooking and hear nothing either. Somehow the staff just silently disappears.

2 thoughts on “The Kerala Queen

  1. How is it that we get to see Humphrey in a photo but not you Katherine as you navigate the land of “God of small things” but no small meals? The landscape, the boat, the food, everything looks spectacular. Can’t wait to experience this myself on of the visits. Thanks for the inspiration.

  2. Haven’t I mentioned that I am in the witness protection program? Don’t want my face flashing around the web.

    You would love the boat ride we had. We’ve now heard that in Aleppey, where twenty years ago there were once three backwater boats, there are now 1500. Evidently they keep bumping into each other all day. Not our experience!

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