Quaint villages, green fields and coconut palms that snag wandering clouds glide past as you cruise on a Sterling Holidays houseboat in India Quaint villages, green fields and coconut palms that snag wandering clouds glide past as you cruise on a Sterling Holidays houseboat in India

Quaint villages, green fields and coconut palms that snag wandering clouds glide past as you cruise Kerala’s backwaters on a Sterling Holidays houseboat.

A languid rural world slips past as one cruises on a luxurious Sterling Holidays houseboat on the backwaters of Kerala, in India’s southwest. Kerala’s backwaters, one of the region’s most popular destinations, are a 900-km long, labyrinthine maze of lakes, lagoons, rivers and canals that run parallel to the Arabian Sea on much of the coast of the Indian state.

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While there are close to 1,500 tourist houseboats cruising down this liquid avenue, ranging from the frugal to the luxurious, Sterling Holidays’ richly wood-panelled cruisers boast of all the bells and whistles. The lux vessels come with one or two air conditioned ensuite bedrooms, dining area, lounge and a sun deck. Gourmet local or international cuisine is served on board while you cruise past neat waterfront villages, picturesque cafes and colourful temples where devotees bow and pray. Nothing rises above the palm trees etched on the horizon. The trip is typically for a day or overnight.

Quaint villages, green fields and coconut palms that snag wandering clouds glide past as you cruise Kerala's backwaters on a Sterling Holidays’ houseboat.

Originally, Kerala’s houseboats were converted rice boats that once transported the harvest from one place to another. Today, the cruisers are crafted from scratch in the traditional way, with wood planks lashed together with coir ropes and polished with black resin made from boiled cashew nut shells. Below the palm-thatched roof – covered with eco-friendly coir matting – is a sun deck where you can feel and sense nature’s largesse around you.

Guests may board their floating home from Sterling Lake Palace resort in Alleppey (now called Alappuzha), a picturesque town with a laid-back vibe, and the hub of houseboat tourism in the state of Kerala. Located a scenic 84 km drive from Cochin International Airport, the charming Lake Palace, which sprawls on Lake Vembanad, is the overture to a cruise down the backwaters.

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The crew, comprising the captain, an assistant and a chef, welcome guests on board with a chilled welcome drink with which to relax in the open-to-the-elements lounge-cum-dining area over which arches a traditional carved wood ceiling. The captain sits at the wheel to steer the motorised boat while guests relax and watch everyday life unfold along the banks in a timeless way.  There’s the sapphire flash of a kingfisher diving into the waters for his dinner; children heading for school; fishermen repairing their nets; thatched cargo boats with unfurled sails billowing in the wind; the silhouette of a toddy tapper scaling a palm tree; and a familiar hymn pouring out of a white-washed church.

Quaint villages, green fields and coconut palms that snag wandering clouds glide past as you cruise Kerala's backwaters on a Sterling Holidays’ houseboat.

Lunch is a gourmet affair on Kerala’s backwaters and the curated menu embodies the original farm-to-table concept where karimeen or pearl spot fish is reeled in fresh that morning from the backwaters; greens and wild rice may be sourced from little markets that line the canals, backdropped by lush paddy fields, and a tender coconut is scalped and served after having been brought down minutes ago from a tree leaning over our route.

Local ingredients are celebrated, as is the concept of slow dining, in the appetising array of dishes conjured by the on-board chef. Indeed, some of the recipes have been sourced from the chef’s own grandmother and are fragrant with a simple yet magical flavour that comes from natural and fresh ingredients.

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Couples and families get to spend quality time with each other as they savour delicacies such as fried karimeen; Alleppey fish curry, lightly spiced and tangy with the fugitive flavours of coconut milk infused with raw mango; aloo-capsicum pulissery, potatoes and bell peppers simmered in a sweet and sour yogurt gravy; and achinga mezhukkupuratti, stir-fried yard-long beans where the fresh taste of the beans shine through. A local dessert, payasam, a toothsome rice pudding; chocolate brownies; and fresh fruit are the sweet finale of the banquet.

Quaint villages, green fields and coconut palms that snag wandering clouds glide past as you cruise Kerala's backwaters on a Sterling Holidays’ houseboat.

Grab some shut eye in the air-conditioned bedroom, which comes with a double bed, writing desk, bedside table, carved ceiling and picture windows that lasso the outdoors indoors, and feel the gentle roll of the water below the boat, which induces an overwhelming sense of peace and calm.

Come evening, kick back and relax against the bolsters placed behind the helm as you sip tea and bite into hot banana fritters. Revel in a 360-degree view of life on the backwaters – chugging local ferries, a speeding police patrol boat, a floating ambulance idling on the waters, dugout canoes bearing a rich harvest of bananas and another with a cooler containing hand-churned ice cream.

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In the evening, nurse a tall drink on the upper viewing deck, and after a sumptuous dinner the houseboat is moored overnight near the jetty of Sterling Lake Palace Alleppey. All that’s left to do is slow down, slumber on the boat and de-tox from the pressures of a frenetic daily life.

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