Make mine a sea bed . . .
THE next best thing to cruising, all snug in a comfy cabin, has to be staying at a hotel or lodge on a pontoon or a houseboat that’s permanently moored as they are up in Kashmir, India, on Srinagar’s Dal and Nagin lakes.
There’s something very Ratty and Mole about being on the water. It doesn’t always have to be glamorous and sometimes it’s even a bit of a relief not to be going anywhere much — maybe out for a few hours, as you do on a wooden kettuvallam, literally a ‘‘sewn boat’’, made without nails, on the backwaters of Kerala in India’s southwest. Just an outing, please, to feel the breeze and observe swooping kingfishers and blue butterflies and bargain with passing fishermen over fat prawns and bony but delicious little karimeen fish for dinner.
Decades ago I spent a lot of time up in Kashmir before it all but fell off the map, even for the most gung-ho of tourists; the border remains in dispute, more than 60 years after the horrors of Partition, and travel advisories suggest we stay away, sadly. Yet there’s still something appealing and peaceful about the prospect of sitting on the poop-deck of a moored houseboat as hawkers sail in, paddling shikara canoes bulging with sacks of pashmina shawls, papier-mache boxes and lustrous moonstones.
The houseboats mostly have regal names, suggesting rajahs and their ranis would have been very happy resting their bejewelled heads here, but the concept dates to the time of the Raj. When the local ruler denied the Brits the rights to build summer houses in Srinagar, those canny colonisers commissioned houseboats that were never intended to move and most of which were lavishly embellished and kitted, floral curtains, chandeliers et al.
A few years ago, I stayed at King Pacific Lodge in Canada — one of the best adventures ever. It’s a 17-room pop-up hotel anchored along the shore of Barnard Harbour on Princess Royal Island and surrounded by the world’s largest tract of intact temperate rainforest. The two-storey lodge is perched atop a former naval barge beside a jetty; it’s towed into place at the end of each winter after its hibernation at Prince Rupert.
Access is by vintage floatplane from Bella Bella, north of Vancouver, which adds to the fun, and the place moves and creaks and there’s even the occasional sensation when the wind whips in that a tremendous gust could carry you off to the watery realms of whales and all those salmon, so full of fight up in British Columbia.
There’s the sensation of almost being at sea if you stay at overwater resort bungalows in destinations such as French Polynesia or the Maldives. I holed up in one at Bora Bora that had a glass panel in the floor to observe the parade of vibrant marine life below; the housekeeper, Odette, called it my ‘‘Tahitian television’’ and pointed out a fish that we swore was wearing coral-pink lipstick.
All such overwater bungalows (or bures or villas, depending where you are) have wooden decks, sometimes jutting out like the prow of a ship, ploughing into the breeze, and many with private pools cantilevered over the lagoon for the ultimate in (allowable) double dipping.