Two roads diverged...

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April 21st 2017
Published: May 12th 2017
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The Road Not Taken, by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that, the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood and I -

I took the one less traveled by

And that has made all the difference."

A few months ago when I was planning my next Lottie Let Loose trip I met my own two divergent roads, one would have taken me to Ecuador, but I chose to take the other to southern India. Like the paths in the yellow wood of Frost's poem, each option had pretty much equal draws for me but I decided to 'keep the first for another day' and took the path to Kerala instead. Unlike the poem where the road isn't really less traveled but rather the speaker knows at some future point he will likely claim it was, I actually chose the path more traveled joining one of 10 million visitors a year to Kerala in contrast to only 1.6 million to Ecuador. And today is the day we travel the road to Kerala proper, palms, backwaters, houseboats, rivers, stillness and tranquility. I'm so excited, but first we have a five hour drive to get there!

The time passes surprisingly quickly. I'm still fascinated watching the scenery pass by and seeing people going about their every day business. Although it is still pretty hot, we pass through countryside that today is enveloped in mist, the tea plantations hugging the hillside actually damp and covered in dew. We stop at a church on top of a small hillside. At the bottom of the steps up to the church is a tall golden pole which I discover is a common sight outside such Syrian Christian churches in Kerala. The blend of Jewish, Christian and Hindu beliefs of this region has created some odd little anomalies like this that don't quite fit with the more traditional Christian symbols. I take the opportunity to use the toilets here and suddenly realise that my trousers have developed a massive rip in the crotch seam! Luckily my top covers it but I'm going to have to do a bit of sewing tonight or lose my one pair of vaguely cool trousers. Oops!

We carry on through the mountains and twisting roads and actually see the mist rolling across the hillside at speed. It's quite a sight and totally unexpected. We stop at a little roadside shop and cafe that looks down on the forest canopy below. The leaves are dripping and the birds seem to be pretty happy with this break from the blistering heat of the sun and are chirping away in the branches of the trees below us. A sad looking couple of cows are mooching about in a pile of rubbish in the layby near the cafe. It's sad to see them so pitifully scrabbling around in the muck like this. There is lush grass really close by but they choose the rubbish all the same. I see a sign close by saying 'Litter free zone'. The irony is lost on the cows who happily eat a banana given to them by one of our group, who hasn't noticed there is plenty of lush grass for the cows to eat if only they chose to.

Further into the journey we pass by some trees decked out in little plastic skirts, like lanky ballerinas on their points. We find out they are rubber trees that are being tapped, a V shape cut in the trunk oozes latex that is collected in a cup. Once enough latex is collected it is washed and filtered before being mixed with acid. The resulting reaction produces particles of rubber that stick together. These are then pressed into sheets before being chewed up and vulcanised ready for use.

Other interesting sights on the dual carriageway on this journey to the Keralan backwaters include a massive elephant on the back of a lorry, a drystone wall and sadly yet more rubbish strewn all over the countryside. It's even lining the rivers and streams that flow through towns and villages.

As we get closer to Alleppy we find the countryside flattening out and more palm trees line the roadways than we've seen before. We drive down a spit of land that has a river clogged up with water plants on one side of us and on the other some open water stretching off into the distance. Every so often we see a small netted area containing loads of ducks. These are farmed for the table and the birds wings must be clipped somehow to keep them them from flying off.

Eventually we are dropped off and walk the short distance to the waterside where a large wooden canoe is waiting to transport us across the river to Chennamkary island where we'll be staying with a local family. Each end of the canoe has a beautiful wooden spiral. The rest of my group gingerly clambers onto the canoe sitting two abreast clutching their overnight bags. I decide to wait for the next canoe and take a few photos while we wait. Then it's my turn to get in the canoe along with some locals who are also crossing the river to get to their island home.

We arrive and are welcomed with a scrummy lunch in our homestay hosts lovely island house. Finally I've made it to the Keralan backwaters.

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