Monday, 29 October 2012

The Keralan Backwaters

13th-15th October

We left Fort Cochin via the ferry to Ernakulam where we could get the bus to Alleppey. (Or Alappuzha: a lot of Indian places have two names, the mangled English version from the days of the Empire and the more correct Indian spelling. See Bombay/Mumbai, Cochin/Kochi, Calcutta/Kolkata.)

Apart from getting dodgy directions from our guest-house owner (hint: for buses, go to the bus station) it was all fairly simple, just like Indian buses – hard seats, no windows (just blinds) and rock-hard suspension. Despite the incessant horn-honking and jerky driving style, it's not an altogether unpleasant way to travel. I wouldn't have fancied it so much in the rain though: it would have been a bit stuffy inside with the shutters closed and no cooling breeze.

We arrived in Alleppey, fought our way past hundreds of rickshaw drivers (and houseboat sellers) and took the short walk to our “homestay” – the Indian version of a bed & breakfast. In our experience, unless you can afford to stay at one of the top hotel chains, homestays are definitely the way to go in India. The mid-budget hotels are a bit of a lottery: frequently badly run, not guaranteed to be clean (and my expectations of ‘clean’ are fairly low these days), and often with a deluded self-image – by that I mean their description of the facilities rarely bears any resemblance to reality.

The place we'd booked, the Venice Castle, was very nice (and very cheap) – a big clean room, a big clean bathroom with loads of hot water, and apart from an early morning wake-up call from the nearby mosque, very quiet. Breakfast was good too.

Alleppey was only a stop-off for a trip into the Keralan back-waters. Luckily, our host at the homestay part-owns a houseboat and with his help we managed to get a good price for the night.

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A Keralan houseboat, like the one we took
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Inside the houseboat
We set off at about midday. On the boat, there really was nothing to do but relax and enjoy the tranquillity, gently chugging our way around the backwaters east of Alleppey, watching the locals go about their daily business.

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Vembanadu lake
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Ice cream shop
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Locals going about their business
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Another houseboat
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Other boats on the way out of Alleppey
In the late afternoon the views got even more picturesque and just before sunset we berthed for the night at a fantastic spot for photos.

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Just chillin'
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Sunset over rice paddies
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A local on his way home after work
That evening, we were treated to a magnificent thunderstorm, all fun and games until one bolt struck very close to the boat.

The next morning, nice and rested after a good breakfast (I'm slowly getting used to curry for breakfast), the boat took us back to Alleppey, returning to dry land at about 9am. Then it was a quick rickshaw ride into town and the bus to Varkala.

Had we not already spent a number of days on the Mekong, we might have been tempted to spend longer on the houseboat. As it was, one night was plenty and a very relaxing and enjoyable night it was too.

Next up: Surf and sand at Varkala

Current location: Delhi until tomorrow
Next stop: Agra

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