Last updated on March 20th, 2017 at 10:25 am
Lord Vishnu’s 6th incarnation, Parasurama fought back the sea to save the land. He threw his axe from Konkan to Kanyakumari and sea gave way. Thus was God’s Own Country born, which is called Kerala.
We have travelled to Kerala five times as tourists; still, get enchanted by the beauty of the state. A few more visits are required to discover the many hidden gems.
This time we planned a trip to see one of the snake boat races in Kerala. Snake boat races are the state’s speciality. There are many boat races and a list is:
Nehru trophy boat race: This is also called Alappuzha boat race or Alleppey Boat race. This is the most famous of all the boat races in Kerala and is usually held around the 2nd week of August. It is held in the Punnamada Lake in Alleppey. The race trials usually start at around 2 pm and the race gets over by 6 pm.
Payippad boat race: Payippad snake boat race; also known as Haripad boat race is held in the Payippad river in Alappuzha or Alleppey. This race sees maximum participation after the prized Nehru trophy race. The story says villagers in Haripad had a vision years back that led them to the discovery of idol of Sree Subramanya Swamy in the whirlpool of Kayamkulam Lake. Payippad boat race is held to celebrate this occasion. All the teams first visit the Subrahmanya Swamy Temple in Haripad before the race. They carry with them a decorated replica of their boats. We were lucky to see the pujas being performed before we proceeded to the boat race venue. The boat race usually starts around 2:30 pm and ends at 5 pm.
Kumarakom snake boat race: This boat race is held on the occasion of Onam every year and the venue is Kumarakom lake. It is also called The Sree Narayana Jayanthi Vallam Kali and is held at Kottathodu near Kumarakom Aatumangalam church. The boat race usually starts around 2:30 pm and ends at 5 pm.
Aranmula Boat Race: This boat race is known for its grandeur. Legend says that a brahmin offered to take care of all requirements of Sadya at the Aranmula Parthasarathy Temple during Onam festival (Sadya is the traditional feast during Onam). Once, a boat carrying these offerings was attacked by the enemies. People from neighbouring villages sent their snake boats to protect the boat carrying Sadya offerings. This became an annual practice as an offering to Lord Parthasarathy in the form of a snake boat race which is now called Aranmula Snake Boat Race.
We figured that Payipad Boat race dates coincided with our holiday plans this year. We booked the tickets and started the research on the boat race. There was decent info online on the Nehru Trophy Boat Race, which is the most popular snake boat race; but hardly any information on Payipad Boat Race. With scarce info online and what we could gather from some friends from Kerala, we finalised our itinerary. This time we were joined by 2 more friends with families. So we were 6 adults and 3kids in the age ground 3-5 yrs.
Day 1: Hyd -Kochi – Alleppey
Day 2: Payipad Boat Race
Day 3: Alleppey Local Sight Seeing
Day 4: Houseboat
Day 5: Kumarakom
Day 6: Back to Kochi – Hyd.
A week before the trip, Spicejet emailed saying our ongoing flight has been cancelled. We called up Spicejet and figured that they have reduced the number of HYD – Kochi flights and we were given the option to chose from the 2 remaining flights. One was at ~5:30 am via Chennai and the other was at ~6:30 pm. We wanted to be in Alleppey a day before the race so the 6:30 pm flight was ruled out. With a toddler, we didn’t want to go for a 5:30 am flight either. It was too inconvenient to start from home at 3:30 am. So we took the option of 6:30 pm flight a day before (let us call it Day 0:)) and make an overnight stay at Cochin/ Kochi. The other 2 families decided to take the morning 5:30 am flight next day.
Day 0: Cochin – Quality Airport Hotel. We stayed in Quality Airport Hotel for a night when we visited Kerala in 2013. It’s a good hotel, close to the airport and has a free pickup/ drop. Given that we needed to leave for Alleppey next morning, we didn’t want to get into Cochin city. Luckily, in MakeMyTrip hotel sale, we got Quality Airport Hotel at ~Rs.1400. It was a steal.
Day 1-3: Casamaria Beach Resort, Alleppey. We wanted a resort close to the beach, preferably having the beach view and/or access to the beach. Casamaria fitted the criteria perfectly. Again, in a travelguru sale, we got it at Rs.1500 per night. It was not much of a discount given the original price was Rs.2200, but anything is good when booking hotels 🙂 We booked 3 rooms.
Day 4: Pournami Houseboat. Went through reviews on TripAdvisor and zeroed in on Pournami. We wanted a houseboat with an upper deck, but the ones with upper deck did not have good reviews. Pournami also quoted higher than rest (Rs.13500 for 3 bedroom houseboats), but this was first houseboat ride for the other 2 families and our kiddo too, so we didn’t want to compromise on the experience. Their replies were prompt and they sent us photos of the houseboat that would be booked for us too. We transferred Rs.5000 to confirm the booking and pay the rest on the boat itself.
Day 5: Kumarakom – KTDC Waterscapes – Reviews on TripAdvisor were good. And we wanted some timepass activity for kids at the resort itself so we could relax. This place was inside a bird sanctuary, what else could we ask for 🙂 Again yatra.com had a great deal and we booked KTDC waterscapes lake view room for a night at Rs.2240.
We were thinking of self-drive initially since the distances were short and roads in Kerala are not bad. However, we discovered that self-driving has not picked up much in Kerala and there are hardly any companies that rent cars. We then started emailing travel agencies for a car. We wanted an Innova with luggage rack at the top since we were a big group. After emailing several guys and back and forth emails, we decided on one Mr.Roy’s agency. His contacts are:
Mob:+91 9447825000, +91 9847708678, +91 9446815000, +91 9446816000
Email: [email protected]
Transporter Tours & Travels
There are several agencies and a quick google search will give many results. Our criteria for going with Transporter Tours were:
We reached Kochi airport at around 8:30 pm. We had called Quality airport hotel when boarding the flight, but nobody was there to pick us up. They are hardly 1.5km away and I guess they send their vehicle only once you call them after landing. We faced this issue last time also. After 2-3 calls to them, we finally managed to locate the car and reached the hotel.
We reached on Onam day and were very hopeful of getting Onam special thali at the hotel restaurant. To our disappointment, there was no special thali. We ordered some traditional veg dishes. Quality Airport Hotel has a small library and I picked up a book to read. Then we retired for the night.
Got up early and kiddo was up too at 6am. We decided to explore the swimming pool. It was very clean and we spent some time playing in the kiddy pool and then relax on the recliners. Dear hubby was also up after some time and came down. From this trip onwards, we have been taking our badminton rackets for holidays. The hotel has a good lawn area and we played badminton for some time. By 8 am, it was too hot and sunny to play outside. We explored the gym for a while. The last time we stayed at Quality Airport Hotel, some of their gym equipment were not working. But this time, they had improved quite a lot. The gym was good, and pool was clean. The rooms were comfortable too; with kettle etc.
Breakfast again was not traditional Malayalam. I guess they have mostly transit guests/ business guests and these guys don’t experiment much with food. Toast/ idly/ puri-sabzi/ fruits/ cornflakes were available for breakfast.
At around 11:30 am, we got a drop at the airport back. Our friends were supposed to land at that time, and we had called the taxi to the airport itself. Then we drove to Alleppey. There was a lot of traffic in Kochi city, but the drive was fast once we were out. On our way, we had lunch at Empire Plaza in Kochi.
Alleppey: We reached Casamaria at around 3:30 pm. Kochi – Alleppey is around 80km; with a lunch break, we reached in 3.5hrs. We were in for a surprise at Casamaria, and not a good one. I had called Casamaria a month earlier and even emailed them to confirm the booking. We wanted rooms together and their GM, Mr.Rodrigues had confirmed that he would give us rooms on the same floor. But when we went there, the person at reception said he had booking for only 1 room. When I mentioned that I have spoken to Mr.Rodrigues; he said he would be coming in 5min and asked us to wait. After he made few calls to the GM, he said they have only 1 room available and in the 2nd room there is no AC. He kept on showing us his bookings saying he has no confirmation (despite us showing him the booking voucher from Travelguru). Mr.Rodrigues didn’t come and later we were told he was in Kochi. After much discussion, they offered us rooms in a nearby resort, Panoramic Sea View Resort for that night. Some guests were checking out the next day and they said they can give us at least one room by 10 am, and rest after noon. We had to leave for Payipad Boat Race at 9 am next day and didn’t want any hassle. We asked them to shift us to that resort for all 3 days but they didn’t agree. Finally, we went and saw the other resort. It was right across the main Alleppey beach. But it was on the other side of the beach so didn’t have the sea view. We had no option so we moved to Panoramic Sea View Resort finally. We called Mr.Rodrigues in the evening to confirm what time the rooms would be available next day. He said the rates that Travelguru had given him were not acceptable to him and he had declined the booking. But since he did not want the guests to suffer, he accommodated us in a different resort and would give us rooms at Casamaria next day. Our take on the whole situation given their attitude was:
Not sure who pays for all the discounts that we get online. My guess is investors. The hotels still get the rate at which they list their property. If the GM was not okay with the rate he got from Travelguru (even if we assume its the hotel who bears the discount); Mr.Rodrigues should not have confirmed to me on phone and email that our booking was confirmed and he would give us rooms on the same floor. Casamaria has very few rooms (6 or 7), 3 on the first floor and 3 or 4 on the ground. We went on a long weekend (Onam, Rakhi etc) and he would have given rooms at a higher rate to the walk-in guests. He cannot obviously throw them out once we came. So we had to go through all the inconvenience even though we booked so much in advance.
Panoramic Sea View Resort: It’s a nice resort located on the other side of Alleppey main beach. The rooms are big and the best part is they have a kiddo bed too. The kitchen was separate too where they had a kettle, drinking water, basin etc. The only drawback in the room was the water pressure in the taps; which was too low. They have a play area for kids where they have swings and slides. The lawn area was good enough for us to play badminton next morning. We did not go to the swimming pool. Who would want it when a nice beach is right across the resort 🙂
The evening was spent on the beach. Alleppey beach is rough and getting into the sea is not possible. The waves were very big and to our huge disappointment, kiddo’s beach toys were washed away by a big wave on the first day itself.
Day 2: Back to Casamaria Beach Resort. We packed up and dumped our luggage at Casamaria Beach Resort and headed towards Payipad. Payipad is around 40kms down south of Alleppey. There were 2 boat races on that day – Payipad and Kumarakom. Boat Race schedules are available on this site:
Nehru Boat Race website: http://www.nehrutrophy.nic.in/
Payipad Boat Race (also called Haripad Boat Race): http://www.payipadboatrace.com/
We had seen some videos of the races on youtube and decided on Payipad boat race. Reasons being:
When planning the trip, we spoke to friends from Kerala but they didn’t have much idea about the race. I then called the secretary of Payipad Boat Race (no. was on the website). He said the tickets were priced at Rs.1000 per person. This would ensure that we get chairs at the finishing point of the race. If we paid Rs.1500 per person, he could arrange for a boat that would let us see the race start and finish while cruising the Pamba river(which is the venue for the race). He gave us his personal a/c details to deposit the money. This all looked preposterous to us since the best tickets at Nehru Boat Race itself were priced at Rs.2000 and paying Rs.1500 for a boat race no one knew about sounded high. Also, he wanted us to deposit the money in his personal a/c. So we told him we would pay by cash when we come there. He asked us to come few hours in advance.
Mr.Roy, the travel agent through whom we booked the car; told me he is from Payipad. He said the race happens in open and there are no tickets required. With all mixed reviews, we headed for the race. On the way, we stopped at Haripad temple which is a very old temple and race participants offer their prayers. Saw some race participants doing puja of a model of their boat. Then we stopped for lunch at Royale Gardens and managed to reach the race finishing point by 2 pm. The race was to start at 2 pm and we were told would end by 5 pm. The scene at Payipad boat race was something like this:
There is a shaded pavilion towards the finishing point of the race. The backwaters are narrow and not more than 5 boats can race together. Perpendicular to the pavilion is Payipad bridge. To sit inside the pavilion, tickets are priced at Rs.200 per person (no tickets for kids below 5yrs). There were 5 rows of plastic chairs kept inside the pavilion.
The place was not very crowded when we reached and we managed seats in the 2nd row. Some tourist day cruise boats were cruising in the backwaters and small and big snake boats were going around. Nothing much seemed to be happening at least till 3-3:15 pm. The trials began after that. There were 9 snake boats in total, and trials happened with 3 at a time. Each snake boat had about 80-90 people, including rowe and captains. So 3 boats left from the finishing point, went to the starting point and then raced back to the finishing point. Each trial took about 30mins. In between, small snake boat race also happened. After the trials, 2nd winner of each trial raced for 4th position. In the end, the 3 boats who were 1st in the trials raced. By the time it was all over, it was nearly 6 pm. Some glimpses of the race:
It was a thrilling experience to watch the race. But it was very badly organised. The announcements were not clear and it was hard to know what was happening. The timing between the races could have been reduced. Tips for whoever would want to go in future:
After the race, we headed back to Alleppey, too tired to do anything other than dinner.
The beach behind Casamaria is also rough, so we could only play near the sand. It’s clean and is well maintained. It gets too hot by 8 am.
Casamaria Beach Resort: All the rooms have sea view and there is a gate behind the resort to access the beach. Inside the resort, they have a small garden. They stock games like Badminton rackets, balls etc. Also, carom board is available too and a hammock in the garden area. We got all 3 rooms on the first floor and the corridor outside has carom board and dining table. Rooms are just about okay. Some of the electrical points don’t work. It has a fridge, AC, TV. No kettles, but you can ask for tea from room service.They have a tap in the garden so one can clean off the beach sand. Rooms don’t get cleaned up every day 🙁
Breakfast on the first day was Idly and Set Dosa. Food is delicious at Casamaria. Unfortunately, they do not serve lunch and dinner. We requested them for Kerala breakfast for the next day and they made yummy puttu along with idly.
I would have given them a 4* for the value they offer, if it was not for the goof-up they did with our booking.
We spent the day indoors playing carom and spending time with kids and then went to Vijay Park in the evening.
We had made the booking with Pournami Houseboat and reached at 11 am to the Houseboat Jetty. Rest of the houseboat amount needs to be paid before the houseboat starts. The staff of the houseboat was very good. They prepared good Kerala food for lunch and dinner. For non vegetarians, they had Chicken fry in the afternoon and fish fry in the night. Sometime after lunch, a guy came in small boat selling ice creams and all the kids were super thrilled. We wanted to have some coconut water so the houseboat docked again at a small shack. The shack was selling live crabs, prawns, fish too. One can buy them and get it prepared for dinner in the houseboat. At around 5:30 pm, we stopped near a village and the houseboat docked for the night. Evening snack was Banana fry. Some boat guy came and offered boat ride at Rs.200 per boat for 20mins. He had a small boat and could accommodate max 2 adults and 2 kids. After the boat ride, we spent some time in the farms and watched the sunset.
Our views on Pournami Houseboat: Their boats are well maintained and staff is good. However, the management seems to be very biased towards foreigners.
Regarding Upperdeck :-We would like to inform that tourism dept has set a rule that they wont issue license and registration to houseboat with upperdeck. So only the old houseboat are having upperdeck. You are not allowded to climb there after evening . Also the tourism dept will declare for a surprise inspection and the houseboats with upperdeck wont be allowed to cruise. All these are the hidden risk while you go for an upperdeck.
However, when we reached Alleppey; we found many boats having upper decks. Later, I called up KTDC tourism office to find if they have any such restrictions and were told there was none. It was a plain lie from Pournami just to get business from us. KTDC does not have its own boats but they have registered agents who do houseboat bookings. One of them sent us a quote of Rs.11500 with upper deck (when we had booked at Rs.13500 from Pournami without upper deck). Though Pournami was expensive than other agents who sent us a quote; we only went for the service and were disappointed.
Our suggestion to anyone going for a houseboat:
Things to do in Alleppey:
Hot Dishes: This small place deserves first place in the list – for the food and for the hospitality. We had checked the reviews on Tripadvisor and went for lunch on one of the days. It’s a homestay which doubles up as a restaurant. A sign greeted us – “Hot Dishes. Open for Breakfast and Dinner”. With 3 tired kids, we were disappointed. A man came from inside and assured us he would check if lunch can be prepared. He apparently called up the owners and took permission to make lunch. He assured if we waited for 45min, we would get hot meals. Within 45 mins, we got lovely home made Veg Kerala Thali. In between, the owners had also come and helped the cook. Veg Thali was priced at Rs.90, Omelette at Rs.40 and Buttermilk (chaas) at Rs.15. The owner gave his number and asked us to call him if we wanted dinner packed for that night. Though half of us wanted to try some non-veg from them that night, rest of the half wanted to try other places too.. So we went to Cassia that night.
Cassia (on the Alleppey Beach): This restaurant has 2 branches – one near the Alleppey Beach and other in the Alleppey town. We went to the one close to the beach. The food was just about OK and overpriced. There was no AC and the fans were positioned very far. Biryani was a huge letdown. Other dishes were ok.
India Coffee House (ICH)- White the ICH in Alleppey town is very good, the one on the Alleppey beach is not at all like other ICHs. The menu is very limited, ambience is bad and the restrooms are better avoided. The one on the Alleppey beach is good only for a quick bite, but the one in the town has a full menu including south Indian thalis. Like all other Indian Coffee Houses, they are priced very reasonably.
Royale Gardens. Haripad: This one is on the way to Payipad. Its a huge property and has a hotel and restaurant. We had lunch on the day we went for the boat race. Except for the looks, there is nothing to appreciate the place. The restaurant had no AC and only one fan kept near the reception. Service was extremely slow. We requested them to get our food fast (at least noodles for kids), but we had to wait for almost 45mins before the first item came. And this is when we were the only guests at that time!! The food was priced atrociously high (without any soup/dessert/non-veg), our bill for 6 adults and 3 guests was Rs.2500+. The place is ~30kms from Alleppey town.
We checked out from Pournami Houseboat after breakfast and were scheduled to go Kumarakom. However, CPI announced All India Strike on that day and our taxi driver was not very comfortable driving. CPI has a huge presence in Kerala and he was expecting chaos on the way. We checked out little earlier than expected (we were back at the jetty by 7 am). Within 10min of leaving the jetty, we were stopped by CPI guys. They allowed us when we said we were going to the airport (not very easily, though…they threatened that the car might be stopped/damaged on the way). The driver put a paper with “TO AIRPORT” written in the front to avoid any trouble. Thankfully there was no more trouble and we reached KTDC Waterscapes. Kumarakom. Went with very low expectations on the rooms/amenities front since its a govt property. However, we were in for a surprise.
We had a lake view room and the view of the Vembanad lake was beautiful. All rooms have a hammock underneath which was great. Wifi is available in the lounge area and work was on to provide them in rooms. The swimming pool was very well maintained and overlooks the lake. Kids and adults all had a wonderful time there. The best part of the pool was that it was not very deep (hardly 5 feet), and there were many swimming rings. Most of us do not know swimming but could still get into the adult pool. The pool is accessible to outsiders too and can be used by paying Rs.250 per person per hour.
The TT/ carom tables are not in good shape, but we hardly bothered about them. The restaurant is expensive, but the quality of food and view from the place is good.
There are ducks and emus inside the resort itself. We spent the entire day at the resort itself and had both meals there only.
We visited the bird sanctuary early in the morning as advised by the resort staff, but could not see any birds. We were told that Mar/April are the breeding season and that’s when birds would be in plenty. A day cruise houseboat guy came to the resort jetty and was charging Rs.850 per hour for the entire boat. It was a good deal, but we had already done houseboat stay at Alleppey so gave it a miss.
We checked out by 10:30 am after breakfast and had an entire day ahead of us. Our flight was at 9:45 pm, so we went to Athirapally Waterfalls. The place is around 45kms north-east of Kochi airport. We reached there by 3 pm after lunch.
The falls have a view year round, but best time would be the peak monsoon when it’s in full force. There is a 10 min walk to where you get the view from the top of the falls after buying the ticket (priced at Rs.20 per person/Rs.100 for a camera). One side of the place before the water cascades is cordoned off for splashing and swimming. The second view is from the bottom of the falls. you need to trek down to get to there but the view is amazing. No one is allowed under the falls as the water comes down with huge force.
Empire Plaza, Ernakulam: We had lunch at Empire Plaza on our way from Kochi to Alleppey. It was Onam and the restaurant was crowded. The service was slow that day, but that could be because of the lack of staff on the festival and more crowd. We ordered Veg Meals, some veg and non-veg starters and noodles for kids. The food was good, especially the sambar. A good meal for 2 including starters would cost Rs.500 approx.
Saravana Bhavan: There are many branches of Saravana Bhavan, and we had lunch on the last day at the one near the airport. Like other Saravana Bhavans, this one is pure veg too. The food was delicious and we could not avoid over eating 🙂 Veg meal in the non-AC section costs Rs.80, while in the AC section costs Rs.120.
Aarya’s: Aaryas is again a chain of Veg restaurants in Kochi. We had our dinner packed on the last day near the airport branch. We got idly, dosa and puris packed. Quality was good and packing was decent. It’s quite reasonably priced too.
Detailed expense for the total trip was:
|Expense Head||Total amount (in INR)|
|Flight (Hyd-Kochi return for 2 adults + 1 kid on Economy)||14029|
|Taxi (shared between 3 familes for 5 days)||3400|
|Taxi for 1 full day||2000|
|Quality Airport [email protected] Cochin (1 night)||1400|
|Casamaria Resort @ Alleppey (3 nights)||4500|
|KTDC [email protected] Kumarakom (1 night)||2240|
|Houseboat (shared between 3 families)||4500|
|Payippad Boat Race tickets||400|
Note that many expenses in this trip were shared with 2 other families (taxi/ houseboat and food expenses). The trip cost would have been more if it was for a single family.
Overall, our trip was good. One of our bucket list item of watching Snake Boat Race was also ticked 🙂 Another visit to Gods own country can be made to see the north side of Kerala. We are yet to see Kozhikode and Bekal:)
Do share the post if you think it will help someone plan their Kerala holiday.