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Published: June 21st 2017
Geo: 10.012, 76.2251
Once we left Madurai we travelled through a wonderfully fertile valley which was irrigated by water from the Western Ghats, the hills filling the lake at Periyar reserve. In this valley the English engineer who built the dam and massive pipes that provide hydro electric power and irrigation is revered like a God with his own festival.
Then we climbed the hills to the wild life park at Periyar. Never go back, they say. We had memories of herds of wild elephants and tramping through jungle hanging on to our saddle for dear life. Now not an elephant in sight. In fact only birds, wild boar, deer, a bison, all at a distance from a crowded tourist boat, but the landscape around the lake was untouched, protected and stunning.
Another long drive down, on windy roads to the coast brought us eventually to the Kerala backwaters. After various phone calls our driver eventually found our homestay, unpacked our cases and said a quick farewell. We barely had time to express our thanks for safe driving, some challenge overtaking on windy roads where we wouldn't dream of it, and pointing out local life along the way. Much to our surprise we were
helped into an open canoe with our cases and paddled across the river to our low, shady, homestay bungalow. A great way to arrive. As a final touch, demonstrating his care for our safety, our driver waited until we had arrived on the other side and flashed his headlights to say goodbye.
This is a watery world.
Fortunately we don't need to move far from the veranda of our homestay in this extreme heat, rising to 35C and very humid, to see the world drift by. There are boats for all purposes and pockets, the most ostentatious being the coconut thatched house boats cruising by and the much smaller day boats with a shade roof, such as we took through small,weedy backwaters. Then there are more purposeful cargo boats transporting building materials, a cement mixer, milk churns, gas canisters, all sorts. Then we get passenger ferries, single or double decker, running to a regular timetable and finally canoes paddling passengers or single paddlers, slippng silently by. The world comes to life at 6.30 in the morning as the sun comes up and it is as cool as it gets. Music begins to blare out from the temple across the water. Children begin
to walk past our veranda to school, with lots of waves and Hi s and Pen? Then a procession of tourist houseboats block the view. After the early morning rush, river life settles down to the regular passenger ferry crossing the river, men off to work with their tools round their waists, ladies to shop, children to school, lone men in small brown canoes peddling their wares. Sounds of a demonstration intoning repeatedly reached us one morning. Indians seem to like demos. At the end of the hot day, the sun sets fast at 6.30 and with plunging darkness movement on the river comes to a standstill, except for the now less frequent public ferries dropping the latecomers home. Dusk is accompanied by drumming from the temple and singing from the church, together with washing and bathing in the rivers. Then all goes quiet and still with the black night.
As well as our cruise round the backwaters, and a very hot walk also, we did take a trip on the public ferry to the local village and beach. It was busy, hot, the huge beach littered with rubbish and we were pleased to get back in the pitch black to
our little bit of paradise.
Given the primitive circumstances, to us, in which many live it is amazing how well dressed most people appear, especially well groomed children. Most households do now have water and electricity, and therefore a TV, but maybe not a washing machine. Most laundry is done in the canals. Our homestay has a fridge, which makes shopping and catering much easier, and air con overnight, but maybe this is unusual. But we have noticed many more middle class Indians in villages and small towns than 40 years ago.
Three days of this laziness and it was off to Cochin for a night, super luxury Old Harbour Hotel (which served only Indian made wine), our Kerala cookery class as arranged by Kieran as a present for his Dad and a visit to an event at a Hindu Temple with much blowing of curved trumpets and banging on drums and three huge temple elephants who stood quite placidly munching their way through the huge bowls of fruit and sugar cane placed before them. And then for the only train trip of this adventure, 16 hours from Cochin to Goa overnight, but you have to wait for the next episode
to find out about that!
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