Helen Jackson travels around India – Chapter 4: Cruising and chilling in Southern India

If you’ve seen Season 2 of BBCs ‘The Real Marigold Hotel’ or ITVs ‘The Good Karma Hospital’, you may be tempted by Kerala’s chilled-back lifestyle. As we’d visited 10 years ago, we knew it would provide a relaxing finale to a tiring month-long tour.

Having previously explored Kochi, the Tea Bungalow was just somewhere to sleep before embarking on a two-night cruise on Kerala’s famous backwaters on a converted rice barge known as Kettuvallam.

Our Kettuvallam

Lakes and Lagoons’ Our Kettuvallam two-berth, premium houseboat had air-conditioning: essential with temperatures of 30°. The open deck, with four, comfortable cane armchairs had an enclosed dining room behind. The good-sized bedroom had wardrobe, cupboard and compact TV. A surprisingly spacious bathroom had walk-in shower, toiletries, good-quality towels and plenty of hot water. Decor was tasteful with silver elephant-head door handles. Crew quarters and the kitchen were at the back of the boat.

The trip

Having bought beers and soft drinks from the office shop, we were introduced to the crew: Captain Laly, Murali (mate) and Suresh the chef. Having being shown our route on the map, we got ensconced on cushions directly behind the captain, with camera and binoculars.


We cruised on both wide channels, lined with houses with wooden boats moored outside, and narrow waterways carpeted with abundant lilac water hyacinth. Lime-green paddy fields had silver glittering streamers to scare the birds. Cruising and chilling in southern India Pots and pans, bodies and hair were all washed in the water with a ‘thwack, thwack’ signalling laundry time as clothes were bashed against stone.

Men fished with simple rod and line on banks full of banana and papaya trees, whilst ‘toddy tappers’ scaled tall palms to collect sap. Black cormorants, herons, egrets and kingfishers waded in the reeds or perched on electricity wires.

On the water, a school boat picked up noisy children, wooden canoes laden with various goods drifted past powered by motor or oar, a crammed commuter ferry had people hanging from the doorways whilst smaller boats took villagers from bank to bank.


At Champakulam, we visited St Mary’s Basilica, a huge, well maintained, 500-year-old Catholic church and St Thomas’ Fine Arts Studio which carved wooden religious items. A motorised canoe took us along channels too narrow for the kettuvallam, and allowed us to see the water’ clarity, floating tiny purple flours and coloured flies skimming the water.

After dropping anchor around 6pm, we stretched our legs with walks through villages. At a private fish farm, we were invited to watch the evening feed, whilst a man fished with huge bow and arrow.


Breakfast – Having declined eggs, we chose a light option: freshly-squeezed pineapple juice, a beautifully presented fruit selection and toast, butter and jam. 

Our lunch Lunch – Our first lunch was an absolute feast, with six curries and vegetables dishes with rice and poppadoms and a whole small fish followed by a spiced, nutty noodle pudding to follow. But this was surpassed when dishes were served onto large banana leaf plates; banana chips, spicy lime pickle, pineapple, beetroot, cream-coloured mango which belied its punch, green banana, warm mixed vegetables, rice, prawns, poppadoms and fish wrapped and cooked in a banana leaf.

Dinner – Like lunch, dinner was a superb selection of curries, vegetables, breads and rice. Despite two lunches and two dinners, no dish was repeated: not easy bearing in mind the number of dishes and the small kitchen.

Snacks – Just in case we were still hungry or thirsty, there was a constant supply of snacks and drinks: spiced banana fritters, warm roasted cashew nuts and banana chips with green tea, fresh lime sodas and coconut juice.

This was the perfect way to relax and as there was no signal or wi-fi, mobiles were only used for photography: it was lovely to literally switch off and dream about our final destination.

Marari Beach

We’d experienced the peace and tranquillity of Marari Beach before and it was an obvious choice. The 53, detached and thatched, white-washed bungalows, resembling local fishermen’s houses, are spread over 36 acres.

Marari Beach - our bungalow Our bungalow had a separate area for relaxing with wicker furniture and a spacious bedroom with lots of hanging space and shelves. It was well equipped with safe, mini bar with soft drinks, tea and coffee facilities and hairdryer. The semi-open bathroom housed a large, pebbled shower area. Baskets of fruit were provided daily and there was a nightly turn-down service.

Blissfully routine days began with a buffet breakfast (Indian and western, hot and cold), followed by sunbathing on either beds or in hammocks on a huge grassy area between the hotel and beach. Tall palms trees provided natural shade and tethered grazing cows kept the grass trim. We swam in either the warm Arabian Sea or the salt water swimming pool which was excellent in size, shape and depth.

Lunch was a snack from one of the three bars before more sunbathing. Most guests opted for the buffet dinner but we chose from the a la carte menu with Chef Rinto, happy to cook to order as we were long- stay guests at 12 nights. A fish restaurant appeared an expensive option.

Marari Beach The Ayurveda Spa tempted. I decided not to have the Chavitty Uzhichil massage ‘specially for the obese’ although after all I’d eaten, it was appropriate. Instead I had 4.5 litres of warm herbal oil trickled over me for 60 minutes – an interesting experience.

The hotel ran a daily programme of in house activities: cookery classes, yoga and meditation, saree and dhoti demonstration, village walks, music lessons etc and trips could be arranged to see the local fisherman, nearby temples and further afield to Kochi and Alleppey.

I left thoroughly relaxed, if a bit oily, ready to face the UK’s February chills.

262 people found this helpful

Share Article:

Helen Jackson

Traveller & writer

Leave a comment


Sign up to our newsletter to receive the latest travel tips on top destinations.

Join the club

Become a member to receive exclusive benefits

Our community is the heart of Silver Travel Advisor, we love nothing more than sharing ideas, inspiration, hints and tips between us.

Most Recent Articles

Mark Nicholls visits Austria’s snowiest ski resort and stumbles across a chapter of pop history….

Come feel the love on a Princess cruise. You’ll enjoy the MedallionClass experience others simply can’t, and it’s exclusively for everyone. Visit incredible destinations and be involved in the best experiences around each one of them.

Experience more with Princess and connect effortlessly with the world around you, spend time away with loved ones, take a moment for yourself, and fall in love with your holiday of a lifetime, every time.

With over 20 years of experience, Wendy Wu Tours has mastered the art of creating exceptional, fully inclusive tours which showcase the very best of each destination.

Each tour is led by a world-class guide, who will highlight the very best of their homeland, and includes authentic cultural experiences so you are not just seeing the sights, but truly immersing yourself in local life.

Say hello to ease at sea. Ambassador’s purpose is simple: they want to inspire every guest to experience authentic cruising, effortlessly and sustainably. Passionate about protecting our oceans and destinations, their ships comply with the highest industry emission standards and there is no single-use plastic on board.

On your voyage, you will receive the warmest of welcomes from the Ambassador community as you sail upon the friendliest ships afloat.

This is a global co-operative co-owned by local partners using real local experts and guides, which supports local communities, environments and wildlife. It offers travellers quirky places to stay, activity holidays and learning experiences. Not In The Guidebooks gets travellers off the beaten track into local culture with day experiences and longer, immersive adventures.

From wild wellness breaks in Wales to painting in Portugal, sustainable adventures in Mauritius to food safaris in Brazil, this is immersive, exciting travel.

Seabourn’s five intimate ships carry guests to the heart of great cities, exclusive yacht harbours and secluded coves around the world, while two new purpose-built expedition ships will combine exhilarating adventures in remote destinations with the sophisticated amenities of the world’s finest resorts at sea.

From the luxury of all suite accommodations to complimentary fine wines and spirits, and a no tipping policy, Seabourn exemplifies the definition of travelling well.