Saturday, March 30, 2013

Kerala Backwaters

Cruising in a house boat on the Kerala backwaters for one and half days was a perfect counterpoint to the prior day in Periyar National Park.  In Alappuzha (formerly Alleppey) we boarded a kettuvallom, a grain barge with a thatched roof and wooden hull, essentially a floating cottage with two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a dining/sitting room. The vessels were formerly used to barge grain through the canals.

A sprawling network of colorful canals connect with five lakes and 38 rivers to form a vast watery highway; 900 km of waterways fringe the coast.  The water is brackish and teeming with bird life; the area is compared sometimes to the American bayou. We cruised along from Alappuzha to Kottoyam.
Formerly the main highways of Kerala, the canals are still used by many villagers as their main form of transport. We could understand why as we traveled along in the shade with coconut and cashew trees growing on the banks. Isolated fields could be spotted between the trees where farmers grow cassava, bananas and yams - the same as it's been for eons. But wait, did I see one of those farmers with a cell phone?

Two pleasant men manned our boat - one the cook/host, the other the all-round boatman. They spoke little, but did make sure we noted the abundant bird life. While sipping our Kingfisher beer, we actually got to see the bird skimming along the surface of the water.

Our pictures are fuzzy. Lifted this from

Turned out we saw more than a few Kingfishers; the waters were full of birds perched along the banks, swirling and diving -  heron, terns, parrots and cormorants. Gliding along the still water through patches of water lilies the scene was beautiful.

Meals on these boats are legendary and ours lived up to the reputation. A lovely lunch of grilled pomfret with vegetables was nicely served.  They tried to serve us tea at 4 but we turned it down having just put aside our forks from lunch. Nevertheless a plate of fried bananas and some biscuits appeared. Dinner was a huge repast; breakfast was crepes filled with bananas and coconut, accompanied by watermelon, pineapple, papaya and the ever present flat breads and excellent coffee. We were seriously over-fed. The food in Kerala was excellent - making any study of it or any part of the vast and complex Indian cuisine would take the rest of my life. Instead of spending too much time or effort figuring anything out, I just sat back and ate and enjoyed.

Lest I'm painting too romantic a picture, there are some discomforts to deal with on these houseboats in order to enjoy the watery paradise. As soon as the boat stopped for the night, the mosquitoes moved in (took care of that with the spray), next the heat and humidity became stifling. You choose between sitting outside swatting bugs or sweating inside with the heat. Although the boat was air conditioned, the crew ration the use of the generator because of fuel limitations. Zouzou, who likes icebox temperatures, gave them a little grief and got a concession of an hour or two of half blast; when she got sleepy she retired to the bedroom, turned the thermostat to 16 and conked out. The bedrooms were very comfortable and everyone slept well.

A peaceful interlude in our packed and busy schedule.

Life along the canals

Soaking it up.

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