Exploring India’s Backwaters

Door of houseboat

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

It was time to leave the hill country and as Baskar and I careened down the mountains I thought to myself – it’s time for some sun – though I’m traveling through southern India during monsoon season so I’m not sure why I had that thought – hope springs eternal.

I’m headed to the Kerala backwaters – a world of interlacing rivers and lakes with long, narrow stretches of land woven through them. The first night I’ll stay at a place called the Coconut Lagoon.  Now, I’m more of a “water” person then a “mountain” person – so I was looking forward to whatever I might find at a place that had both the words “coconut” and “lagoon” in it.

We arrived at a dock on the Vembanad Lake and it was here that Baskar and I said our goodbyes.  I got onto a boat and resumed my journey to the Coconut Lagoon Hotel.

Stepping on boat

The Coconut Lagoon did not let me down.  I arrived – I was welcomed – I took myself off to the pool for a swim and a cocktail and I thoroughly enjoyed my 24-hour stay here.

welcom coconut lagoon

View of the property out to the pool

view of pool

My two-story room is on the left. The windows all along the top make the bedroom feel like it’s inside a ship!

my bungalo

How cool is this! Can you see how it sort of feels like the inside of a ship?

Room 1

room 2

The outside bathroom — showering at night was WAY cool!

bathroom

The view from the toilet…lol  🙂

view of sky

The downstairs area…

room 3

The view from the windows upstairs…

view from room

After the “dry” spell at The Windermere – I made sure that I could purchase a bottle of wine “to go” before my next adventure.  I was pretty sure that I’d need it – overnight on a traditional rice boat or “ketuvallam”.  My plan was a bottle of wine and a sleeping pill. Check and check – I’m ready – all aboard!

These riceboats (houseboats) are country boats that were used in the early days for the transport of goods from the isolated interior villages of the Kerala backwater area to the towns of Alleppey, Kolam, Cochin and Kottayam.  Now, they’re just used as houseboats for tourists who want to see the area from the water.  They vary in length from 95 feet and 13 feet wide to 110 feet and 19 feet wide.  They’re made of bamboo poles, coconut fiber ropes, bamboo mats and coir carpets…all eco-friendly materials.

my room

lounge

view ot the front

This was going to be a great way to see the scenic backwaters and traditional villages of Kerala.  We would be traveling through the area of Allepey…known as the Venice of the East.

My stay on the houseboat was coordinated by three nice men – Rajesh, Kuttappan and Shibu.  They alternated duties – driving, cooking and taking care of me.  I spent my time working on the computer, reading or capturing the scenes with pictures and video.  They do the same things that we do…just at a much slower pace.  They bathe, do their laundry, send their kids off to school and go to work. They do it their way – not our way and that’s what’s so interesting about traveling to other countries – to see how it’s different.

Bathing…

bathing

bathing 2

bathing 3

Fishing…

bathing 4

fishing

fishing 2

Laundry…

laundry 1

laundrey 2

Just hangin’ out…doing the heavy lookin’ on…

hanging out

The narrow pieces of land that they live upon defies all good sense for they couldn’t have been wider than 12 feet…if that!  It was just enough for a small house and what looked like about 2 feet out front so that you could get outside.  We meandered through the backwaters and watched life go on around us…and it was very peaceful.

small house

Tiny House Living

house 2

backyard 2

backyard 1

Lunch was indian fare – which I’ve enjoyed – but am now tired of. It’s like eating pizza every day. You really like it at first – but then with no variety – the novelty wears off. In the bigger city of Mumbai, there were western options for meals but down south – not so much.  It’s been all indian food and it looked like lunch, dinner and breakfast tomorrow weren’t going to be any different.

First of all, it’s always too much food. I’d asked for all vegetarian and they do know how to spice up their veggies!  The smiling fish freaked me out for a moment but you walk a fine line between what you might want to eat or not eat and insulting the chef!

dinner 1

The fish came from the river we were on and I had a pretty good idea of what was going on in the water – remember the bathing, washing, etc…?

There comes a time when you make a decision to just not think about some things. This was one of those times. And I ate the fish.

dinner 6

dinner 5

dinner 4

dinner 3

dinner 2

I’m sure it just added another level of flavor to the fish…sigh

water spewing

church

other houseboats

boats on the water

another boat

Alleppey hosts the world famous Nehru boat races – sometimes referred to as snake boat races.  Below are pictures of these long boats which are powered by an army of very strong men!

boat race 1

boat race 2

boat race 3

Most of the day had been beautiful and sunny, but in late afternoon we began to see clouds forming.

cloud 2

cloud 1

cloud 3

Stray dogs…

dogs 5.30.32 PM

We docked for the night along a stretch of land with some other houseboats like ours and settled in for the evening and the rain.

raindrops

foliage

rain from inside

Being on a houseboat, you’re naturally very close to water and that meant mosquitos!  One of my goals while traveling in India is to avoid getting Malaria.  I’m working hard at this – pills, sprays, creams, netting etc – but I still get bitten.  It’s impossible to avoid the #$%^& things.  But they don’t like air-conditioning. So right after dinner, I said good night to the boys and hightailed it to my room – closed the door, cranked the AC and spent a pretty relaxing evening before being lulled to sleep by the very gentle rocking of the boat and a glass (or two) of wine.

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