With a little bit of luck, there is a rare and very delightful kind of nut you might find while in Kerala, India, Like everything else in nature, this kind of nut shines its brightest in its high season. In these parts that's right about now, at the turn of the year.
The scientific name of this nut is the heckwithhighmargins-wejustwantyoutobehappy-homestayandhouseboathost nut. And thanks to Babs's sister Aasha's research and organising, and a little serendipity, we came across 2 during our time here.
This week the 4 of us (Babs and me, Aasha and husband Greg) paid a mere 11,000 rupees for a 1 night stay on a gorgeous 2-bedroom houseboat with AC built just a year ago. By comparison, the Swiss couple who had the boat just before us paid a whopping 34,000 rupees for the same.
The 2 Keralan nuts responsible for this delightfully bargainous travel tale?
1) Jose who owns and runs Kattayam Homestay and said houseboat in Alappuzha (Allepey), who charges a high-season rate only during the week between Christmas and New Year (while many others extend high season till mid or end January).
2) Beena of Beena Homestay in Fort Cochin, who took only a 1,000 rupee commission to set us up with Jose's boat. (Now do some quick Math and think how much commission the Swiss couple's houseboat tout took.)
Both Jose and Beena are the real deal when it comes to homestays. They live onsite with their guests, amid a growing number of newcomers who capitalise on the "Keralan homestay" buzzword by renting a house and subletting the rooms while living somewhere else (sometimes overseas).
Beena also provides delicious breakfasts and local dinner feasts for guests (according to rave reviews from Aasha and Greg). Add that to her unusual commission-taking behaviour, and it's no wonder her homestay is so popular that she has to maintain a waiting list of hopefuls. While other homestay hosts rejoice when they get a Lonely Planet mention, Beena reportedly went into a bit of a fit because her waiting list -- already at a healthy length from word of mouth -- spurted straight to unruly.
Jose's nuttiness burst forth from its shell the minute he found out that Babs's Dad was originally from Kerala, and I from Singapore. Turns out his twin teenage sons are studying in Singapore. He immediately declared Babs and me to be extended family. He even took Babs's hand and held it swinging while walking down the street to the houseboat!
Jose did indeed treat us like extended family, in the Indian context. When we came back from town to his homestay the next evening we were sat down for a long chat about Singapore's job market. Shown assorted family slideshows. Used as a sounding board for lamenting why oh why were their sons buying iPhones, aiyoh with that money they could be buying gold. Asked when we were going to start having kids and hopefully we'll bring a baby the next time we visit. And even put on the phone to say hello to one of the sons who called home from Singapore, even though I had of course never met him before.
Ah well. The houseboat was worth it. A few peeks below.
The living and dining deck, ensuite bathroom, hallway and bedroom.
Our Captain and first mate. Nice work if you can get it.
We stopped at a backwaters fish shop to pick up some still-flapping local pearl spot, to be fried with masala later in the afternoon for a snack. (Tip: if you're serious about scoring extra seafood for your voyage, buy it in town before getting to the backwaters, where you will be charged double.)
The cruise also came with a delicious Keralan lunch and dinner cooked on board. My favourites were the veggies, fried lightly with masala and coconut stubble, as opposed to the often over-gravied concoctions in so many eateries. The little pomfrets were pretty damn tasty too.
The rest of the day was a delicious lazeabout, soaking in the view.
Phat looking ramshackle house.
Waiting for the local ferry.
Padi fields. Quite ingeniously water levels are maintained at a higher level than the rice fields by man-made embankments, to facilitate irrigation.
All houseboats have to dock at 5.30pm each evening for the day, so that local fishermen can do their thing.
Nehru Trophy Starting Point
Alappuzha 13, Kerala, India
+91 944 743 2518, +91 477 223 2380
(Contact Jose directly for houseboat hire to minimize commissions)
KB Jacob Road, Kadathanad
Fort Kochi, Cochin, India
+91 484 221 5458