The Best Way to Explore India Is...

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Plying the gentle backwaters of Kerala in a rented houseboat is a fantastical moment for a number of reasons: The rivers and lakes have a misty, mysterious beauty that reminds some Americans of bayou country; the boats themselves include a front lounge, dining area, and two or more bedrooms; and a two-night excursion for two starts at less than $300 per night.
Sheri Giblin
The Kerala houseboat experience is like a little floating B&B, with food cooked on board, surprisingly roomy accommodations, and even air conditioning.
Sheri Giblin
Amazing meals are prepared in the boat’s kitchen (the boat picks up fresh seafood and other items along the way), and the three-person crews are extremely thoughtful and speak fluent English (southernbackwaters.com).
Sheri Giblin
The boat will moor for preparation (and eating!) of the evening’s meal, and we suggest you ask for crab masala, made with curry leaves, freshly crushed garam masala (pictured here), turmeric, and coriander powder, and served on a banana leaf along with “fat” rice (fluffy and airy).
Sheri Giblin
Here, a crab masala meal, including fresh curry leaves, ground garam masala, and "fat" rice.
Sheri Giblin
Be prepared to eat with your hands—the cook will help you break the crab legs with a wooden rolling pin. After dinner, get ready for a symphony of crickets and birdsong and a deep, nearly infinite starry night.
Sheri Giblin
Kerala houseboats are made from local materials like bamboo, coconut fiber, bamboo mats, and palm leaves, and were originally built to transport rice and spices.
Sheri Giblin
A peek at my luxurious digs inside Kerala houseboat.
Sheri Giblin
Passing other colorful boats during our two-day houseboat tour from Kollam to Alleppey in the Kerala region of India.
Sheri Giblin
After you enjoy fresh-brewed chai tea, a sunset canoe ride will explore evocative canals, passing villages, coconut groves, palm trees, and shrimp farms. You may have to duck your head down when passing under low bridges! And if all of this sounds very romantic, it sure is: Houseboat operators do offer honeymoon packages.
Sheri Giblin
As you pass villages along the canals off Ashtamudi Lake, you’ll get glimpses of farming traditions.
Sheri Giblin
Steering our houseboat through peaceful waters in India's Kerala region.
Sheri Giblin
Colorful canoes are the best way to explore some of the backwater canals where houseboats can’t navigate.
Sheri Giblin
Kerala houseboats make frequent stops in local ports to buy fresh seafood such as crabs for meals, and the crew will often fish off the boat.
Sheri Giblin
Enjoying the views of Kerala's backwaters during our two-day cruise.
Sheri Giblin
The boat moors on Ashtamudi Lake (the “Gateway to the Backwaters of Kerala”) for the first evening of our two-night excursion from Kollam to Alleppey, one of the most popular and longest of the Kerala backwater cruises.
Sheri Giblin
 A local man wearing the traditional mundu garmet of the Malayali people of Kerala.
Sheri Giblin
Paddles in our Kerala houseboat.
Sheri Giblin

Yes, you can afford a dream trip to India. Far from the crowded streets of the subcontinent's well-trod cities, mountains, and deserts, the state of Kerala gently beckons with miles of Arabian Sea coast, quiet waterways that host a thriving upscale houseboat industry, and a pleasantly spicy culinary tradition you'll never forget.

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