Adrift on the backwaters

Manu Remakant spends a day in a houseboat on Punnamada Kayal

The bedroom is neat, with windows on the opposite side covered with white curtains, and a chic wardrobe at the other end. It is hard to find a speck of dirt on the white bedsheet. The corridor outside the bedroom leads to a sophisticated kitchen. Do you feel the ground rocking? It is just the water.

You are inside a houseboat.

The boat rocks once again. And unhurriedly, steadily, the large houseboat leaves the Nehru Trophy boat race jetty in Alappuzha, and chugs into the Punnamada Kayal. There is heavy traffic on the river. Dozens of boys kayaking or practising on the lake adds to the traffic. Slender vessels with long paddles that slide past seem like pond skater bugs balancing on water.

Soon our boat gains momentum, and whizzes past the kayaks. We enter the Kayal proper, it is water, water everywhere as far as the eye can see. The scenery is devoid of vegetation, and the boatman's gait as he tries to manage the monster boat is the only entertainment.

We soon go past Arthungal Church and Pallathuruthu Bridge. We see one of the legendary snake boats anchored outside a house. Evening wears off slowly.

The driver anchors the boat at Kanjippalam, a beautiful countryside, far from human inhabitation.

It is time to get on to solid ground. It was quite dark now, and it begins to get cold. Everything melts into darkness tempered with silence. Kerosene lamps are hung on every corner of the boat. At times the silence is marred by paddles, which softly fall on the water. It is time to turn in, sleep comes like an unwelcome guest.

Early morning has a dream-like quality. The whole river is enveloped in mist. Everything seems to be moving in slow motion. Soon it is time to go home.

How to get there

Nehru Boat Race jetty from where you board the houseboat is two kilometres from Alappuzha Junction. You can hire an autorickshaw to reach the jetty.

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