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KERALA HOUSEBOATS
Houseboat BOOKING TIPS

While making online bookings for houseboats, make sure whoever you are dealing with actually owns a houseboat. Quite a few of site owners that are listed on Google’s 1st 3 pages of main keywords such as ‘Alleppey houseboats, Kerala houseboats, houseboats in Alleppey, houseboats in Kerala, Kerala house boats, Alleppey boat house’, etc. do not own or lease houseboats.

The houseboat jetty or finishing point is controlled by a coterie of mafia like unscrupulous touts who sets the price for the day depending on how busy it is, or how much they think they can fleece a particular tourist. ‘Shopping for houseboats’ is outdated. Tourist offices are the same. They just pass you on to whoever gives them most commission. Rickshaw drivers, taxi drivers, well…

Bargaining is a way of life in India, to some extent. But never bargain when booking a Kerala house boat. The more you bargain and the cheaper you get the kerala houseboats tour operator to bring the costs down to, so does your onboard service and running time.

If you book online directly with the owner, or through a guesthouse in Alleppey, you have somebody you can go back to, in case of any complaints that may crop up during a trip…

And if there are faults that arise during the course of the Alleppey backwater cruise, contact the person responsible for your trip and get it rectified on the fly. Why wait and complain later. Review sites like TripAdvisor are making a fortune from tourist complaints. Also, take TripAdvisor recommendations with a pinch of salt. They are a business. One can pay and get into their listings, and the reviews can be manipulated, if the owner is willing to pay them.

Never mind how the boat looks, ultimately it’s the staff that matters. While having a look at the boat is not a bad idea, try to chat and get to know the staff first. However great the boat looks, bad staff, and there’s plenty around,( especially during high season, when there’s a shortage of hands), can spoil your trip.

Running time - The reason you hire a rice boat is to cruise and see as much as possible. For a houseboat operator, one of the biggest running costs is fuel. Saving fuel is cutting costs. Less time running, is seeing and experiencing Alleppey backwaters less for the guests. So ask how long the running hours, lunch breaks are and when the boat comes to rest in the evenings, etc.

Another kettuvallom booking tip is where the boat is berthed in the evening. Most house boats simply dock next to each other in long lines as close to town as possible. Meaning noise from other boats, early morning check-outs.

A number of houseboats in Alleppey now boasts T.V.’s. Ridiculous. The whole point of going out on a houseboat backwaters cruise is to be at one with nature. Listen to sound of crickets at nights, watch fireflies, and spot a kingfisher while cruising. There’s so much of wonderful natural sights and sounds to experience, that not having a TV or internet/Wi-Fi is a blessing.

Swimming - Johnson has seen guests coming back after a dip in Alleppey backwaters and developing skin rashes. It could also be a cause for stomach upsets. There are clearer waterways, yet there’s no way a tourist not used to these waters can be completely immune.

Jumping off a houseboat into the lake is illegal. And dangerous. Can lead to fatal accidents.

When there’s a group of guests on board a little bit of partying is expected, but do not overdo it. The staff works hard to make their guest's trip enjoyable, so they need their sleep. Sound carries across water. Do not disturb the backwater village people or the environment around you. A self-imposed curfew of 10.00 p.m. is advisable. If you do want to stay up late at night, try not to make noise.

Ask if you can bring your own beer on board. Most houseboat owners lets their staff make a little extra money by letting them sell beer. Yes, it’s overpriced. So are the food stalls enroute where the staff stops and brings you plates heaped with tiger prawns, casks of toddy, etc. It’s definitely overpriced. You’ve paid for your food anyway. Why pay for extra.

Johnson's Column on 'How to book a houseboat in Alleppey, Kerala.

It irks me to see traveller blogs and guide book authors putting out misguided information of houseboat booking tips for tourists. So we have guide book authors happily advising their readers to 'Go shopping', 'Make sure you look at the boat'. I can't understand how that can be the main criteria. You can hire the most expensive houseboat with chauffeured English speaking staff, and still get a nightmarish cruise if the staff is not nice. Or through some other myriad reasons.

Then the blogs and guide books that go about encouraging others to bargain. 'They are getting too much money anyway'. 'After all, it is India'. Irresponsible, wrong, almost racist comments. In my travels around India, and especially the recent trips that I've made, everywhere I've been- hotels, tours etc., has had fixed rates. Which is good.

Another 'advice' I find offensive is the 'withhold payment till the end of the trip' tip. Leading to some travellers giving half the amount up front, then finding some non - existent fault at the end, to try and cheat the operator to a discount. In our case, there is almost nothing to complain about, and I make sure the guests read my 'Traveller tips' page before they leave for my eco houseboat. One of the major points that I highlight on this page is that 'no complaints after the trip, please call if there is any problem and I will sort it out'. Even though we make the occasional mistake, luckily enough or maybe through good honest hard work, we get it right almost all the time. It is impossible to give 100% satisfaction in the tourism industry, human nature being what it is.

Select your houseboat operator through a website, or through a guesthouse in Alleppey, and once you've made your choice, relax, enjoy the Kerala houseboat experience. There really is nothing like it anywhere else in the world.