Sunday, February 14, 2010

Houseboat ride becomes cheaper

India’s not-to-miss tourist experiences like a ride on the Palace on Wheels or stay at the Lake Palace are often beyond the means of most Indians, but the economic slowdown has brought at least one experience within the reach of the middle-class -- Kerala’s houseboats.

For long patronised by rich foreign tourists, the backwater cruise industry in Kerala has woken up to the benefits of winning domestic tourists who virtually kept it afloat when the waves of the global economic slowdown hit the Indian shores in 2008-end. An overnight cruise through the coconut lagoon - an experience that the National Geographic Traveler has ranked ahead of viewing the Taj Mahal - is now cheaper by at least 20 per cent, if not more, than the period preceding the slowdown.

"A single bedroom houseboat can be hired for as low as Rs 6,000 a day and the rates include all meals for a couple... there were days when the same ride would have cost Rs 10,000-15,000," says Kochumon alias Sanish, who captains ’Sandra’, a well-appointed two bed-room houseboat that in its earlier avatar as ’kettuvallam’ (rope-tied country boat) ferried rice and spices in the Kuttanad region, the state’s rice bowl.

Compared to this, a ride on the Palace on Wheels costs anywhere around Rs 2,00,000 per person per week.

"We are seeing a lot of interest from tourists from the north, especially Maharashtra, Gujarat, Delhi and Haryana and rates are no longer prohibitive," said Anil James, a houseboat operator. A typical backwater cruise takes tourists on a 40-km journey through the Vembanad lake, India’s longest spread over 1,512, with a stopover at night by idyllic fishing villages whose people and tourists alike shop from a floating market ’Triveni’ operated by Kerala Consumerfed.

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