Along the Away

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Continuing the theme of relaxing weekends, what a way to follow Pondicherry – a long weekend on the backwaters in Kerala.

I feel the need clarify that the term ‘backwaters’ really doesn’t do the beautiful, serene waterways of the state of Kerala justice. The ‘backwaters’ are a network of lakes and canals fed by 38 rivers and cover more than half the Arabian Sea coastline of the state of Kerala.

Alicia and I flew down from Bangalore on Friday afternoon (no the snorer didn’t put us off the buses, we just left it too late to get a seat!) and stayed at a really lovely guesthouse called Ashtamudi Homestay in Alleppey, an hour south of Kochi where the airport is. It was a good place to stay with a big open balcony where we enjoyed breakfast and met a lovely Lithuanian couple with whom we were able to exchange a few suggestions from our travels around India.

The owners of the homestay were also very friendly and helpful; we wanted to explore the backwaters straight away so they arranged a 4hr canoe cruise for us with a local village guy on Saturday. He took us away from the main channel and through the narrow passages feeding the canal system to tucked away villages. At one point a little girl started chatting to him from the bank, then he pointed to her and proudly told us it was his daughter! A little while later we met his wife the same way, he really was a local villager!


Watching village life pass us by on the banks was fascinating. The water really sets the scene for much of day to day life; we passed women doing the laundry, washing pots and pans by the bank side and collecting water in big buckets, there were kids swimming, people bathing, canoes coming and going loaded with goods to buy or sell. We even witnessed a woman walk up to the edge of the bank and empty an entire rubbish bin into the water (ignorance? I don’t know, but very difficult to watch!) Some people smiled and waved, others ignored us, the kids always laughing and calling out ‘Hello, what’s your name? One pen?’ obviously accustomed to recieving little gifts from visitors.

Our guide was friendly, pointing out all the wildlife and explaining the different types of boats on the water. His efforts rowing us for four hours in the humidity was impressive especially his friendly nature right to the end!

That afternoon we had a wander around the town of Alleppey and had dinner before watching the Cricket World Cup Final where India claimed victory and defeated Sri Lanka! Cricket mad India was filled with anticipation, and the long weekend for Ugadi (New Year) just added to the festival vibe of the occasion. As soon as the Indian team had won the game there was cheering from everywhere and our hosts even had fireworks to celebrate the win.

One of the must-dos in Kerala is to cruise the backwaters on a houseboat, so on Sunday we boarded one that would be ours for the next 23hrs. It was cosy, featuring some comfy chairs and cushions on the front deck, a bedroom with ensuite, a kitchen and a top deck with a couple of chairs. We also were accompanied by a captain and a cook. All resulting in one of the most relaxing days of my life!

We travelled along the main water channels which were almost like highways, they were so busy with houseboat traffic. The hours were ours to lounge on the seating options and watch the landscape and village life pass us by. I also read, listened to music and dozed. Our cook kept us supplied with tea and Indian style snacks like spiced fried bananas, and we were spoilt with a delicious spread at lunch and dinner.

It is so humid in Kerala, and away from the water it is quite unpleasant but on the water there is a breeze that drifts by and keeps it cool. Just as dusk was approaching we felt the temperature and humidity drop and looked out to the horizon to see some ominous clouds appearing. The Captain and the Cook (incidentally both their names are Muni) hurried around us dropping all the side tarps down and securing one on the top deck. At first we were a bit miffed, it seemed a bit premature and now we were sitting in our comfy chairs enclosed by tarps where the gorgeous view had just been, but then we heard the first rain drops fall and within a matter of minutes a crack of lightening, the boom of thunder and the rain downpoured – on the water, in a houseboat, in the middle of a thunderstorm! The crew had acted just in the nick of time. So we settled down to listen to the show outside whilst enjoying being cosy in our boat. We caught glimpses of the storm as the tarps billowed in the wind and we saw the rain slashing the water, the lightening flooding the dark night and the thunder following.

It was a brilliant closure to such a relaxing day, with the added bonus of dropping the temperature and cutting back the humidity to make the nights sleep much more bearable. Sleeping inside the dingy mosquito net was the only unappealing aspect of the experience but after hearing some little scuffles in the night and then finding a nibbled hole through my little paper bag of Laddus (Indian ball-shaped sweet) in the morning, we were more grateful for the net than we’d realised!

After a relaxing brekkie on the deck it was time to return to dry land. We got a lift with our host back to Kochi where we planned to have a quick look around before going to the airport. When our host realised how little time we had he found an eager auto rickshaw driver who took us on the fastest whirlwind tour I’ve ever been on! In less than three hours we hooned around Kochi seeing churches, temples and a spice warehouse, we snuck into a hidden courtyard heaped with piles of ginger, then checked out the museum at the Dutch Palace and strolled along the waterside to see the iconic Chinese Fishing Nets.

It was fast but fun, though it meant one helluva speedy ride to the airport afterwards where we arrived only in the nick of time to check in!

Another fabulous weekend trip in south India. I wish we’d had longer to check out Kochi but think we made the most of the time we had. Unfortunately there is never enough time to do everything, but I guess that just means I’ll have to come back one day!

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A traveler, dreamer, designer and optimist sharing all of the above.

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