Published: March 19th 2009March 19th 2009
Afternoon at Kochi
The Chinese nets along the beach are an interesting way of fishing. You drop them and raise them after the fish have swum in with the counterweight.
So. You are looking for a place to go to for a holiday. Can't afford/don't want a flash resort and don't really feel like the activity of cruise. Looking more for something relaxed - lazy even - with everything provided? Need some beautiful surroundings, friendly people, lovely tucker? Well then, I am writing this post sitting on a houseboat on the Kerala backwaters. We have a storm coming in and this has backed off the heat of the day.. Lights are coming on along the banks of the waters. We can still just hear the singing from a Sunday evening church service over the rain that is starting to hit the tarpaulins dropped to protect us by the attentive but unobtrusive 3 staff.
It really is a lovely place to be and unlike the hustle and bustle that we have become used to through India. As you float out onto the waterways and get away from the other boats - we did see others as we moved around but not a lot - you simply shift gear, moving into a nice cruising mode.
Get yourself onto a form of transport - a plane could be a good option. Take
On the beach at Fort Kochi. They all sat on marble benches and waited for the fish to be brought in. Then the war began.
a few days around the old fort at Kochi and then head down to Allaphuza - Alleppi - jump on houseboat, kick back and relax. The backwaters of Kerala are extensive so it will take as long as you want.
We came into Kerala from Tamil Nadu having spent the last couple of days in Ooti. It was a long and pretty difficult drive. Down the mountains there were a series of 14 hairpins in pretty short order. This was a lot better than the 36 on the way up but we still dropped about 2000 meters down from the mountains in a relatively short distance. We then set off towards Fort Kochi (Cochin in the old money). The total trip was over 300 kms but this was no quick 2 hour trip down the deck to Katherine. The road itself was not bad but the traffic was incessant. Shankar cannot relax for a moment when he is driving. There are always bikes sneaking through on the inside, buses swinging wide around the corners and taking up most of the road, trucks either going like the clappers or poking along very slowly in the middle of the road. Drivers
don't seem to get overly angry. They might express a view on occasion but most of the time they just deal with the issue. The rule seems to be - do whatever is necessary but don't let it get to you.
Being Territorians we looked a the distance we had to travel and made the assessment that it wouldn't be too long before we got there. Sure, we knew about the traffic and we knew it wouldn't be an expressway but we still were looking at getting there in the early arvo. So we didn't really suggest a stop and poor Shankar just kept on driving and driving and .... We drove until about 5.30 with only a short break for a drink. He was pretty buggered and so were we. There will be a new arrangement for the next long trip.
The problem for us this time was that none of us, including Shankar, were sure where we were going. They have signs along Indian roads but they are a little different to where we come from. We had a sign for Fort Kochi - our destination - at the Tamil Nadu/Kerala border. But then nothing for
Francis Zavier Church
Vasco Da Gama was buried here
a couple of hundred kilometers. No sign, no indication at all that we were headed in roughly the right direction, nothing.
Shankar faces an interesting problem. As we move from State to State we move from language to language and script to script. So it is not just a problem of having difficulty being understood and understanding it is also very hard, or impossible, to read whatever signs are there. Shankar speaks 4 languages pretty well and is able to get along in a few others. This comes in handy in asking directions. Without him we would be relying just on English and, while every Indian kid is taught English at school, it is not always easy to understand or be understood in sufficient detail to ask the necessary questions - and understand the answers.
We did make it into Fort Kochi eventually and found our accommodation. This was a very nice old 'residency' called the Chiramel. Fort Kochi is an old Portuguese fort. Vasco da Gama died here and was buried at the church around the corner from our guest house. Fishing is an industry here along with tourism. The neighbouring larger town of Ernakulam is a
Didn,t call it bags did I? Trish had to cuddle up with the bags for this leg.
major centre. While we were there we spotted the Oriana sailing in with a load of tourists.
Kochi is a nice place to wander around for a day or so but a number of the sights were closed on the day we had there. Didn't realy break our collective hearts. It needs to be a good temple to inspire us these days and the real appeal of the place is simply just walking around taking in the feeling of being in a a place with such a long recorded history. We ate the second night in a street cafe and had an interesting time watching the wait staff in full on tout mode as they tried to fill the tables around us. A lot of humour and careful assessment of what might appeal seemed to be the key. They were reasonably successful in getting people to their tables - at least after the mozzies started to slow down and they could let up on some of the smoke they were using to change them away.
The backwaters of Kerala are an extensive waterway. Inevitably, with places like this you arrive with expectations. I had read an account of
The water hyacinth was a nuisance here.
the development of the tourist industry here starting with what was essentially a community development project years ago. Basically, there had been a major industry in the production of coconuts. The boats used to take out the coconuts had a wide beam and a large bulbous superstructure. When the coconut industry dried up the economy of the area was destroyed. Someone had the bright idea of refitting the boats as tourist boats.
There are now apparently about 1,000 boats. Most of them probably don't look too much like the orginals inside I suspect. Ours had 3 staff, 2 double rooms both with ensuites and a/c. There was a very comfortable sitting area on the front deck. We were fed excellent food and basically looked after extremely well for the 2 nights we spent.
There are many kilometers of waterways here. Our captain told me that it takes about 10 days to get around all of them going most of the time. We obviously didn't see the lot. Those we did see were a little different to what I had expected. This is not swamp. All of the waterways that we travelled aloang were walled with granite which has
Che was important in this Communist State.
clearly been there a long time. Many of the walls are constructed to keep the water out of extensive rice fields that sit behind the houses, shops, churches and small villages that line much of the waterways. They harvest 2 crops of rice a year here and the work is constant. It looks a bit like most of the land is owned or run for larger organisations than the normal family operation but that impression may be wrong. People might just cooperate well here.
Floating past houses and villages on the boat it could feel a little intrusive but we didn't have the feeling that the people along the way felt that way. Most of them just went on doing their normal daily business. Washing is a constant job. All along the way women, and some men, were standing in the water slapping clothes on the rocks of the wall and rinsing them in the river. This requires a lot of activity. Most give their clothes a terrible beating getting a real rythmn going smacking first one, then the other side, into the rock. It is a lot of work. Bodies need to be washed as well of course.
We bought 3 of these for dinner. Freshwater lobsters with long blue tentacles.
This is done with clothes pretty much on. You don't stand about naked in any way. You keep yourself covered at all times but, at the same time, get as much soap as possible on to you and clean off properly. And you do all of this at the side of the river at a convenient place.
The sights and sounds of the waterways are something I hope we never forget. The slap of the clothes on the rock, the long strings of 'water boats' - strings of the type of long canoe that is used for normal transport piled with tanks and containers - being towed by a motor boat making the early morning run for drinking water, the workers loading the rice onto boats that have almost no freeboard for the trip to the mill, kids in smart uniforms heading off to school along the banks, workers having an afternoon bogey in the water and having a nice swim at the same time, kingfishers sitting on the power lines that regularly cross the water, coconut trees lining much of the water ways and, above all, people smiling and waving from the banks and from boats making us
Wearing company T-shirts.
They call Kerala 'God's Own Country'. It is a good slogan. The Christian influence seems heavier here than in the other places we have been. There are a lot of churches and possibly less mosques and temples, although they are still around. Religion is important here as it seems to be throughout India. Interestingly though, the State is run by a Communist government and has been for some time. The mix seems to be working well.
Overall, Kerala is much more green and lush than what we have seen in Karnataka, Andra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu to date. The rains are only just starting to arrive but there is just so much water about that I guess the irrigation keeps things pretty green most of the time.
To us, driving and floating through, it seems that the infrastructure is being well developed here. There are many major infrastructure projects underway. Roads are generally in pretty good repair and the power system seems to work more often. Kerala is supposed to be one of the poorest States in India. We certainly saw poverty but not apparently as much as we have seen elsewhere. One of the
Happy in their Work
and I suspect that some of the tourists who go by are a little, say, younger?
factors may be the amount of 'gulf' money that is flowing in to the place with new and very nice houses being constructed at the edges of villages. Young people are going off to the gulf states to work and sending money home to apparently good effect.
Leaving Kerala and heading into Tamil Nadu for the run over to Madurai - and some serious temples - we were quickly back into the swing of the colour, movement and excitement of India but it was very good to have had a few days relaxing in the Kerala backwaters to kick back and take a nice break.
There are more photos below