Published: April 7th 2012April 7th 2012
Today didn’t exactly go to plan but, thank goodness, the way it started is not the way it ended.
Our arrival in Cochin, India was delayed by 3 hours (almost certainly to save on fuel costs). No great problem there but then the Indian authorities decided to do a full face-to-face immigration check on board first and that is never going to be a quick job. We were told that only guests going on a tour should head for the immigration officers but when Richard and I got there it was utter chaos and it seemed like all 2,618 guests had decided to go at the same time. And then to pour misery on to madness, there wasn’t a single member of Cunard staff to be seen anywhere. Mind you, I’m not sure I would want to try and organise queuing lines for that many people but without any attempt at order, there wasn’t any semblance of it. Then the Captain made a tannoy call basically blaming it all on the immigration authorities. That went down like a lead balloon and it wasn’t long before there was a lot of shouting and loud booing anytime anyone came over the tannoy with more banalities. Then they announced they would now process all those guests due on a ship’s tour … with which all 2,618 people just surged forward. It really was a classic case of how not to do crowd control. Everyone was worried they would miss their tour but in the end they kept all the tour buses back until everyone cleared customs. We left the ship nearly 2 hours late. But at least we got away and on the right bus too.
And that’s when the day changed completely. We are in the far south of India and we’ve both fallen in love with the place. The city is Cochin in the Kerala region and our 2-hour drive was fascinating. The area is much greener than we expected, no doubt in part due to having 2 monsoons each year. Fortunately neither of them was here today! We’d been warned the coach would be nothing like the standard we are used to and it wasn’t. It was better. Big seats, loads of leg room and great air conditioning. We drove through lots of small country towns and villages and didn’t see a single tourist shop. Lots of tuk-tuks (open sided 3-wheeled vehicles), scooters, cows, dogs, markets, fruit and veg stalls and big queues at the open-air butchers with people hoping to get their Easter dinner organised. And then we arrived in the backwater town of Alappuzha. Here we boarded a boat for a 2-hour cruise of the backwaters. We had no idea what to expect and were enchanted. The backwaters consist of tiny canals, vast lakes and meandering rivers populated by hundreds of wonderful houseboats and waterside homes. This is no tourist area with almost no hotels; just the most friendly people you can imagine. The children run alongside the water edge asking for a biro and the parents smile and wave. Our guide told us there is almost no crime here because the people live such happy lives. And I can believe it. We were utterly mesmerised. The banks are full of banana trees, cashews, mangoes, jack fruit and cassava growing just in front of huge paddy fields. The buses are boats, the shops float, the sun shines and we couldn’t think of a single thing that would wipe the smile off your face.
By the end of the day, we had taken 434 photos and recorded 20 pieces of video. It was all such a beautiful and wonderful and disorganised mess, and we loved it.
We knew India would be hot and crowded but we didn’t anticipate it being so amazing. Not since the Pacific have we felt so drawn to a country or so hopeful of making a return visit. As they say on the advert, it really is incredible India.