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Published: January 26th 2012
Here's Lynne telling you all about our overnight boat cruise on the backwaters.
By lunchtime each day the riceboats are ready to go: fresh linen on the beds, supplies stowed and passengers on board.
A riceboat is a houseboat used traditionally to transport rice from the paddy fields that flank the waterways. Now many boats are built for tourist cruises but they still have to opeate alongside all the people who live and work on the banks of the lake and its backwaters.
Our first houseboat cruise in 2010 was memorable and so we decided to do another one on this trip. The lake was busier this time and is quite obviously becoming a bigger tourist attraction. But the picturesque crafts still have old fashioned charm, making their way through the carpets of water hyancinths like majestic elephants. They are built of timber, held together with wooden pegs, and are covered with woven barrel roofs which are in varying shades of brown or grey, depending on the age of the boat.
On our boat we had a captain, an engineer and a cook. We were their sole pasengers. Our role was to sit in two large wicker
chairs at the front of the boat and watch the world go by on the palm fringed lake. We were also required to move to a small dining table behind the chairs at lunchtime and again in the evening to sample the cook's many delightful Keralan dishes.
Late in the afternoon we transferred to a small boat in order to go along the backwaters. The main lake is a pleasure to behold, but the narrower canals, known as the backwaters, hold the greater fascination as this is where the homes and little shops have grown up over the years to form the rice pickers community. As the boat meandered through the backwaters we found ourselves watching snapshots oflife there: a fully clothed woman wades in to her waist to wash her clothes; another crouches at the edge cleaning pots and pans; a young girl with a shy toddler comes down to fill cooking pots with water; chattering schoolgirls return from school, bandbox fresh in their uniforms with matching hair ribbons, ankle socks and shoes; an old lady does her laundry close to the bank, slapping her clothes on stones to get them clean. A man arrives, naked from the
waist up. The women make way. He submerges himself in the deeper water, surfaces, and, like a boisterous labrador, shakes the glistening drops away from his head. So life goes on.
We returned to our boat which was tied up to a coconut tree for the night. As the day faded the lighting was kept low to discourage mosquitos. Later, when the crew had cleared the meal and retired to their quarters at the rear of the boat, we sat alone in the darkness and watched fireflies dancing against the sky. It was quite unexpected and quite thrilling.
We slept well that night in our air conditioned cabin and woke to the sight of the lake looking pale and resh in the early morning haze. We headed back to base along with a fleet of other rice boats and had disembarked by 9.00 am.
It was, once again, memorable.
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