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Published: March 13th 2018
Kerala Day 7-10 – Backwaters Alleppey aka Alappuzha
When we came back from Fort Cochin on Christmas Eve a taxi man outside the hotel made a deal with me to bring us to Alleppey or Alappuzha 2 days later at 11am, but we were ready by 10am and he was waiting for us at the front door way before time. So we checked out and they gave us all gifts – umbrellas for kids, spices for husband and necklace for me, very nice of them.
So 58km of interesting roads and towns took I’d say 2 hours, beach road where the Raheem residency was located was inaccessible due to road works so it took the driver a while to figure out how to access the building but he did. We’d agreed 2000rps but he wanted more due to the mystery he had to unravel with the roads so I gave him another 500. Then he volunteers to come back for us to go another 84km to Kollam a few days later for 6000rps, I politely declined and he took it like a man and went on his way. (Kollam trip would turn out to be 3500rps by the way.)
So the Raheem Residency has long been on our radar because it’s owned by the red haired, Donegal Gaeilgeoir (native Irish language speaker), female ex TV presenter named Bibi Baskin. So we couldn’t imagine what she’d be doing in India when we read about it over 10 years ago and remembered it sounded nice from whatever we did read. So no she doesn’t live there, she lives in Dublin and she invested in it with 2 brothers from Trivandrum (capital of Kerala). The house had once belonged to a well off Muslim merchant family and when Bibi & co. took it on it needed serious renovation plus they installed a swimming pool and converted some rooms into Ayurvedic treatment rooms. There are 2 restaurants on site which have a good name, although we didn’t bring our poker playing companions to the dearer upstairs one but it did double as the breakfast room so we were technically in it! It actually overlooks the driver test centre, when I say centre I mean dusty yard and who knew they even had tests? I wonder when they move to, say, Sydney do they have to retrain to not make their own lanes or constantly blow horns?
The food in the downstairs restaurant we mainly used was nice but you know no 5 star buffet! Open to public, regular a la carte menu, good selection, not that the kids had anything other than pasta or chips. We worked our way through the vegetarian selection. Service by multilingual Noby and team was good but it could take time for the food to come, fine by us but not the kids so we taught them to play 25 too, as there’s only so much poker, beg thy neighbour & snap one can play.
Across the road is the beach, which, as Indian beaches go, was nice but had still litter strewn. Indian Ocean looked very rough so couldn’t imagine going in. Kids did try paddling/wave running away. Kite flying was thing to do there which looked good. Of course materialistic 7yo wanted one but we didn’t give in (have a few kites at home so we did go kite flying on first windy day at home on our return). We went a couple of evenings and had ice creams and also got chatting to people who wanted selfies with the kids and even me!
Also nearby was a very interesting working lighthouse with a small museum beside it displaying the progression of light house lights. Total nerds, we all loved it. Didn’t cost much but it’s dearer for foreigners and you also pay for the camera to have its own ticket.
Town centre was a few km’s away or 50rps in a tuk-tuk. We got a guy to give us a guided tour one morning so we could get our bearings and he told it was festival week and all the market stalls etc. came alive at night. So we did go back one night and it was mayhem. There was markets all over the street, which you’d assume was pedestrianized but you’d be wrong! We had noticed 2 fun fairs on our “get our bearings trip” and after we passed the first one decided to walk to the other one instead mainly cause we had seen a Lonely Planet recommended restaurant beside it that morning.
10,000 steps later we had come in full circle to the first fun fair, never found the other one! But at least it was all through nice neighbourhoods the 10k steps (unlike some past adventures pre kids). Poor children!
Funfair was AMAZING. We started with the Ferris wheel which was terrifyingly good, then some chair-o-plane type things (which I thought would never end), then we went to view the wall of death – where there was not one, not 2but 6 vehicles flying around the walls of, what only be described as, a wooden cylinder 50 foot high with us looking down from the top, and holding out money for them to grab. They wore no safety gear and even wore thongs rather than boots. Very impressively 2 of the drivers were female. The 6 vehicles were a mix of cars and motorbikes. It was INSANELY entertaining. Then the kids and I went on that crazy rocking boat thing, the hubby who has worked on a funfair (the one in Paddington2 movie) has seen too much puke in these things so declined to join us! This took up a couple of hours and the kids would’ve stayed for ever and were very annoyed when we said it was tuk-tuk time home for late dinner! Highlight of the trip for them though.
So the whole point of going to Alleppey is that it is backwater central, so one morning we got a tuk-tuk to the backwaters around 10am (not crack of dawn as per the book), looked for a boat we liked the look of and went off for the day on what’s called a Shikara, which is essentially a low boat, covered with a canopy that you have to lie down while a man manually shunts you around the narrow canals of the backwaters (obv. bigger boats cannot go on narrow parts, so powered bigger boat is an option but that’s a different experience). So usually it’s a 6 or 7 hour trip but I said to the guy 4 hours was enough (as I thought the kids heads might explode any longer than that) and he said ok but 5 is better as you will stop off for lunch so allow time for that. We agreed and on 3500rps ($70au). 5 hours ahead of you seemed a lot at minute one, but we each took a child and lay down one behind the other, slowly we got into it and the boy & I even fell asleep after lunch. So it’s all about relaxing and taking it easy and spotting bird life which there were loads of. Our captain was nice with no English but we seemed to communicate ok and even he posed for photos with us, on the way out he stuck to main water-way, occasionally puttering up to the banks so we could see how human life was there. We passed loads of powered boats whose occupants all waved at us and we seemed to be the only ones in a Shikara. Also we passed less friendly European kayakers. Lunch was on a tiny island whose sole purpose seemed to be provide lunch for the boats. We mainly had rice & veg served on palm tree leaves & poppadums. It was simple and nice. Also we used our first squat toilet, which was fine too. Not sure kids knew what to make of it. On the return journey we really went down an intricate maze of tiny canals which was amazing and lovely and sleep inducing. There’s a famous boat race there in August and we went around by where that starts under Nehru’s statue. Soon the 5 (or 5 and s quarter) hours were over and we docked. Naturally we tipped him as he had done a serious amount of manual work, there seemed to be a cartel of men in the morning when we paid who I guess own the boat but are not the worker bees.
That evening we made friends with an English/Canadian family and the kids all ended up having night swims. They were doing the same trip as us but in the opposite direction so Cochin – Hill stations – Beach – Backwaters – Cochin, they could fly international out of Cochin to London via Kuwait. (We are doing Cochin – Backwaters – Beach – Hill stations – Cochin & arrive/depart via Delhi.) Also they paid at time of booking their trip, to have same driver for 3 weeks £450 plus tips, which I was interested to compare (in my head) as we purposely decided to wing the driver situation, which was no bother and after wards I worked out our Cochin only transport came to £315 approx. incl. tips. But, as you know, I had already paid through the teeth for 1 hotel-airport car in Delhi so swings & roundabouts! I don’t think I’d like the same driver for 3 weeks as I’d feel beholden to him, we did see possible other drivers dining with their westerners. We didn’t see these particular guys driver but they said he was a lunatic. So there’s that too.
On our last day in Alleppey the girl and I had Ayurvedic massages; I had the shirodhara, where warm oil drops on your forehead and gets massaged into your hair (which I had been dreaming of) plus full body massage for an hour. The girl had full body massage only (shirodhara not recommended for kids) for 30 mins which she loved. It’s been a while since I had a massage in Asia and forgot there’s no western prudishness and you’re totally starkers, bar a paper disposal knickers – kind of like you have after you have baby only G-string shape! The masseuse was an older lady who had seen it all and didn’t give a crap about big western boobs and flew past them perfunctorily, they are just another body part after all. So once I got over myself I relaxed…a bit! It was all very good. The girl was alarmed when she had to take off her swimmers so I told her roll them down to knickers size and that was fine. The boy sat on my lap and we watched her being massaged but he didn’t want one himself. When I was having mine they are the pool with Dad.
The London lady offered to watch the kids for a bit that night while we had dinner but they wouldn’t have played ball. Our girl wanted to do her own babysitting but you know…. Madeline McCann… so we do everything together!
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