Floating away on the Kerala Backwaters

A quick 2 hour flight from Sri Lanka and I’m back in India again. I arrived in Cochin in the southern state of Kerala. This is India but it’s so dramatically different from North India – more subdued, more laidback and relaxed and more like, well, Sri Lanka.

It doesn’t take more than a few hours before one notices that it is a political oddity too – the state government is an elected communist party which has ruled since the 1950s. It’s quite odd to travel around and see more hammer and sickles and Che Guevara images than in China!

Fort Cochin was my base for exploration of the city. I booked into a guesthouse where an Indian Christian couple Mary and Patrick were my hosts – to my great amusement.

It’s famous for the Chinese fishing nets which have been scooping fish out of the waters since the time of Kubla Khan in the 1400s. A crew of 4 or 6 men cantilever the nets in, leave for about 5 mins then haul out checking for any catch.

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Local fishman Michael explained to me the operation of the nets

Nearby is a restored old Portuguese church which was for some time the resting place of Vasco de Gama before he was shipped back to Lisbon.

In the evening I checked out the Kathakali classical dance show. Arriving beforehand they apply the makeup on stage for an hour before the performance.

The dances and stories themselves are highly ritualised and not spoken. Concepts and emotions are communicated through various hand and body movements known as mudras.

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The story we witnessed was that of an evil army chief who attempts to rape a royal princess and the ensuing revenge which was suitably dramatic.

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Evil army chief meets his dramatic demise

An hour and a half south is the inland waterway base of Allepey. From here depart hundreds of houseboats, day cruises, ferries which ply the placid tropical backwaters.

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Small day cruise boats in Alleppey

I managed to organise a boat for two day cruise directly with the owners of Blue Lake boat for 6000 INR a night for double room boat ‘Blue Lake’ with upper deck including 4 meals a day and have to say was very happy with the boat and service.

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My boat the ‘Blue Lake’ docked for lunch

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Dealt with the owner of Blue Lake direct and would recommend

After arranging everything that morning we eased out of the logjam of boats at noon and glided out into the tropical backwaters sipping on a chilled coconut for refreshment as I eased into the wicker chairs on the upper deck grazing on my fruit basket.

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Welcome coconut before we set off!

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Fruit bowl and some holiday reading on the top deck

The scenery is completely tropical with palm fringed waterways, impossibly green paddy fields, and nothing to disturb the peace other than the odd whack of clothes being cleaned by women on the water bank.

The day proceeds like this with stops for lunch and then before sunset (boats cannot operate at night) and dinner.

The days progressed reading books, listening to podcasts, relaxing in the sun, watching the boat crews practice for the upcoming snakeboat race, avoiding the occasional rain shower and generally unwinding. Somehow slowly drifting makes doing absolutely nothing feel less sedentary.

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These snakeboats are ribbon thin and must have 100 people rowing like crazy!

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The food itself was one of the highlights of the trip with a full spread of local dishes served. Breakfast was a combination of omelettes, toast and then pancakes or spongey idli rice cakes.

On the final day we stopped in and bought some tiger prawns before dinner which honestly were the best prawns (and biggest) I’ve tasted.

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Best prawns I’ve had with a cornucopia of sides

We finally arrived back at the same jetty in Allepey around 8.30am on the second morning fully refreshed and feeling like I could have done another day. Getting a houseboat is certainly pricey for India but the experience itself was definitely worth every penny.

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