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Published: November 12th 2008
Train to Kottayam
Keeping the railways clean
Kollam, Kerala ................3/4th November 2008
Took a morning train from Ernakulum Town (Kochi) to Kollam (proper name Quilon) which is mid/south of Kerala. It took a good hour to get off the island of Fort Kochi due to the heavy traffic but still arrived in plenty of time for the train. This had come down from Bangalore
so there were lots of people who had slept in the bunks before we got on. They don't seem to clear away used linen so we had to do it ourselves in order to sit down!
We had booked the Sea Bee hotel but having learned our lesson, I decided to check out the room first. I politely declined to stay there....... say no-more. Fortunately there was another hotel Sudarsan
nearby that was much more acceptable. The guide book described Kollam as a the gateway to Ashtamudi Lake and the backwaters. It is also the cashew and coir
production centre of Kerala. Well we didn't see much of either, it is just a very busy city full of shops, huge wedding centres and equally big gold jewellry shops (presumably for the weddings). Can't say it was really what we expected.
Backwater trip at Kollam
Stephen and Libby check out the guide
We did take an auto-rickshaw to the beach which was big. It was quite interesting to see a beach where no-one sits down and sunbathes. The rip was easily visible and you were clearly taking a risk to even dip your toes in, never mind swim. Apparently this is true of most beaches in Kerala at this time of year. There were Brahmin kites and crows on the beach too. Day 2
we took a backwater trip in a punt and shared it with a really nice couple from UK, Libby and Stephen
both ex BBC employees. It turned out that Libby had been a researcher on Eastenders so we got lots of insider info which we are going to sell to the News of the World
Who would have ever thought that about Ian Beale and Willard? You couldn't make that sort of thing up, could you? Lucky things - Libby and Stephen, not Ian Beale and Willard - had found the real tourist info office and got a nice room out on an island resort. We'll try that at Kottayam!! Later we saw them in a rickshaw in Allepey and hairing down the water in a Rice
The 'punter' tries his hand at coir rope making.
Boat! Small world!
The back water trip was excellent and we spent a good 3+ hours travelling through sleepy narrow canals and seeing life as it is lived on Munroe Island
. 5TH NOVEMBER to 10TH ................ ALLEPEY
We were moving back up north to Kottayam
. Caught the train but when we arrived and took an auto rickshaw through the town to find the local tourist info office, we looked at each other and said NO!!!! Move on!
As it turned out it was a good move. We caught a ferry to Allepey which took 3 hours and cost us 10 rupees each. We travelled along a canal at first then into a large lake where we got our first glimpse of the Rice Boats
which looked fabulous.
Tourist info at Allepey was less than helpful! After one or two false starts we were taken to Palmy Residency which was a really nice house, 2 mins walk from the ferry terminal andthere were 2 really nice guys running it called Surish and Joseph. At 500 rupees a night it was excellent value. They even took the tv out of the office for us and put it
Paddling in the Arabian Sea
This is how the Keralans spend a day at the beach
in our room. Joseph spotted me reading a Rebus
novel and said "Have you read Strip Jack?". He thought the Rebus was great and had read it in 'Scottish/English!!!'
. Needless to say I quickly finished the one I was reading and left it for him.
Hung out for 3 days in Allepey which, though nowhere near as touristy as we had expected, had quite a comfortable feel to it. There was a beach here too with a 'Pier'
which turned out to be a hunk of rusting metal which had obviously died decades ago!!
While David was getting a cold drink at Kottayam
, he met an Austrian couple who had just come from a rice-boat tour at Allepey and thoroughly recommended a small (and cheap) boat run by a lad called Alex. Apparently his English was excellent and the food was superb! So! we phoned him and although the boat was small and a bit disappointing, the recommendations were overwhelming and at 3,500 rupees a day we could easily afford the 2 days we had to fill.
I had mixed feelings because it was my birthday on Saturday so we could have splashed out on a bigger
boat but we were NOT disappointed. Alex
(real name Alichan Tel 98479 14100) was a brilliant guide, so intelligent and knowledgeable in so many areas from history to politics and beyond and a very devout St Thomas Catholic too. Because the boat was small, we could do small canals that the big boats couldn't get to, as well as the big lakes that they do. Gigi
his mate was the most SUPERB
cook and produced Malayalam food to die for, from the tiniest galley you could imagine. We bought fresh water prawns that were like lobsters and I am sure we put on a stone in 2 days even though we only ate half of what was out in front of us!! (OK 2/3rds)
. Any shortcomings of the Maryam 11 were more than made up for buy the crew and the food.
On the first night Alex took us on a tour of his village. We met all his 'rellies' including Tessie
who was shortly leaving for the East End of London to work as a nurse. In return for pens the children of the village sang us songs and Nursery rhymes in English and the older boys
Cost effective travel
10 rupees for a 3 hour ferry ride. H&S would have a field day mind you!
gave a very stirring rendition of a song about the wonders of Jesus, that they learned in Church. Nearly all the village are Catholic and their Church was magnificent.
All the people we passed were so friendly and happy, especially the kids who came out and waved. There are few roads on the backwaters and the people live on tiny strips of land between the rivers and lakes and the paddy fields a few feet below. All life takes place by the water's edge, washing, bathing, swimming, fishing and cleaning the pots! Up north the ladies stand in the water and beat the washiing with things like cricket bats, here they swing it in the air and smack it on a rock. I wouldn't think clothes last too long here.
Each year the paddy fields give a yield of rice and are then flooded and used as fish farms for the rest of the year before being drained and planted again. After they are drained thousands of ducks are sent into the fields to eat up any remaining fish. I think our abiding memory (after Gigi's food) will be thousands of ducks being herded by a man in
Libby takes the strain
Libby was up for trying everything
a punt, whistling and clouting the occasional stray with a bamboo pole!
What a beautiful place! To coin a phrase from Paul McCartney 'Truly God's Own Country
. So glad we came because it is still relatively unspoiled and is in total contrast to the magniificent forts and palaces we saw in Rajasthan.
Off back up to Kochi now to a very expensive homestay as a treat before we haed back home to Delhi on Wednesday and Birmingham on Thursday.
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