A houseboat cruise along the backwaters of Kumarakom in southern India's Kerala state, popularly known as God's own country, is not a mere boat ride but a breathtaking experience through backwater stretches surrounded by lush green paddy fields, coconut groves and misty hills of Western Ghats with a bird sanctuary bordering the lake.
In Kumarakom, a renowned tourist destination for backwater tourism, about 45 houseboats varying from one bedroom to six bedrooms and made of marine plywood with bamboo strips for roof, cruise along the Vembanad lake, India's largest freshwater lake.
These luxury houseboats resemble colonial houses in architecture with carved doors and window panes, heavy curtains, wooden ceilings, mahogany furniture and a private gallery on top with comfortable antique armchairs. Modern amenities such as air conditioners and television are also available.
The serene and quiet 22-hour tour is undoubtedly one of the best in south India.
With the introduction of family packages that include a village tour, fishing using bow and arrow, bird watching, picnic at Daivathinte Munamb (God's island) more people are being attracted, Tourism Secretary for Kumarakom, Joykutty George says.
An hour and a half boat ride takes one to Ayemenem also called as Aymanam, the setting for Arundhati Roy's Booker prize winning novel, 'God of Small Things.' It is Roy's hometown.
According to Mr George, the Kumarakom bird sanctuary located on the banks of the Vembanad lake attracts large numbers of migratory birds such as pintailed duck, garganey teal, spot billed duck, osprey, marsh harrier, steppy eagle etc. from November to May. It also houses wetland birds like cormorants, the darter, white ibis, egret, heron and teal. The breeding season of wetland birds is from June to August.
Each houseboat has a three-member crew including the captain, personal chef, and cabin assistant.
South Indian dishes, traditional Kerala cuisine and special Syrian-Christian cuisine unique to Kerala are served onboard. Those who travel get the chance of savouring local fish preparations with 'Karimeen' (pearl spotted fish), 'Konju' (tiger prawns) and 'Chemmeen' (shrimps).
The nearest international airports are Kochi (76 km) and Thiruvanathapuram (160 km).
Houseboat prices range from SLR 10,000 to 50,000 per day including all three meals.
Apart from houseboat cruises, ayurvedic health holidays, yoga, meditation, boating, fishing and angling are some of the leisure options in Kumarakom.