Trip Start May 01, 2010
90Trip End Apr 30, 2011
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Where I stayed
We flew from Bangkok to Mumbai and then caught a domestic India Airways flight to Trivandrum, Kerala’s capital near the southern tip of India. Although not a huge distance from South-East Asia, India feels very different. It didn’t take long to notice a few cultural quirks like the charming head wobble. We have also noticed that there is a kind of separation between men and women. You are more likely to see groups of men or groups of women rather than mixed groups and the bus stand in Trivandrum had a separate waiting area for men and women
Trivandrum is a busy but pleasant enough place and we stayed for a couple of nights visiting the impressive zoological gardens which were a nice shady retreat from the heat and noise of the town. In the evening we discovered that alcohol is not easy to come by in Kerala. It only seems to be available in expensive hotels or a few seedy looking bars. It is not for sale in cheap budget guesthouses and not in shops. It’s probably no bad thing though as we could do with a detox!
From Trivandrum we caught our first Indian train up the coast to Alleppey. It was only a three hour journey so we bought cheap sleeper class tickets. The train was very punctual and left at exactly 9.50am. It wasn’t luxury but it was cleanish and the ride was smooth (not like the bumpy and very grubby trains we took in Burma). The landscape here is overwhelmingly green with emerald rice paddies and thousands of palm trees. We arrived in Alleppey at lunch time and grabbed a rickshaw to a little guesthouse called Urindhavanam. The friendly guesthouse consisted of a low stone building surrounding a plant filled garden which was lit by hundreds of fairy lights at night. Unfortunately the gardens were also home to large numbers of voracious mosquitoes!
We had come to Alleppey for one reason, to explore Kerala’s famous backwaters, a network of rivers, canals and lakes that run parallel to the coast
We spent the rest of that day resting and went to bed early in preparation for our second attempt at going out on the backwaters!
The next morning we woke early and got down to the water’s edge by 6am where we met our boat man, Lal. We spent the next six wonderful hours lying back on comfy cushions while Lal rowed us along the meandering waterways. In the early morning light we saw plenty of birds including herons, kingfishers, cormorants, eagles and egrets
The next day we started later, reaching the boat jetty by 11.30am where we boarded our beautiful houseboat. The boat is built in the style of a traditional rice boat and had a large bedroom, a bathroom, a large back deck with table and chairs and a smaller sun deck upstairs. For just the two of us, we had a staff of three including our own chef who created mouth-watering traditional Keralan curries and breads. We spent the afternoon drifting along the coconut lined canals gazing out at a timeless landscape where life continues here much as it has for centuries. We moored up at 6pm and sat on the sun deck drinking cold Kingfisher beers as the sun went down. In the reeds below us we spotted a beautiful water snake swimming about. We also had a giant fruit bat land in the palm tree next to us and saw a woodpecker walking up a nearby branch.
We set off at 7.45 the next morning, chugging along slowly in the early morning cool, reaching the jetty by 9am. We were more than reluctant to leave our wonderful boat. We have only been in India for a few days but I’m sure this will be a highlight for us during our time here.
On a less positive note, we have since read that the booming houseboat tourism industry in Kerala is putting an immense amount of pressure on the backwaters environment in terms of pollution. The authorities have introduced an eco-friendly accreditation system for boat operators and hopefully this will go some way to reducing the problems. Ultimately though I think there needs to be limits placed on the number of boats allowed if the backwaters are to survive in their current state and a way of life that has persisted for hundreds of years is allowed to continue.