17-18: Backwaters of Kerala

by - January 28, 2014

Day One: Afternoon on the Backwaters and Sunset on the Arabian Sea

Out on the Backwaters
We arrived in Kochi about half an hour late (which isn’t too bad really) and then decided to get a rickshaw for the hour journey south to the town of Alleppey in the backwaters of Kerala.  We didn’t know how long we would be staying in Alleppey, but had planned to spend four days in Kerala and to decide how to distribute this time as we went.  Our accommodation was to be in a homestay, in a house owned by a man called Motty who was the husband of the cousin of one of Sergei’s old professors.  As tenuous as this link may at first seem, this professor (Abey) had remained in contact with Sergei and urged him to stay at the homestay.  This turned out to be an excellent decision as Motty turned out to be just about the father of the Alleppey tourism industry and had been featured and recommended in numerous publications, from the Guardian newspaper to National Geographic.  Upon arrival we sat with Motty and his wife on the terrace outside their house and planned how we would split our four days in Kerala.  It appeared (as I suspected), that time would be too tight to see all of the major points of interest and that we would have to move at a reasonable pace to at least see the best bits.  We therefore decided to spend two nights in Alleppey to see the famous backwaters, then head up into the mountain tea plantations to a ‘hill station’ at a town called Munnar, before heading back to the coast to the city of Kochi where we would be leaving from for Goa.  It was going to be a bit hectic, but seemed like a good plan.

A rice paddy
A Backwater cafe
Rested and lunched, we decided to spend the rest of the day on the backwaters.  Having repeatedly mentioned these backwaters, I realise that I have yet to actually explain what they are.  The coastal area of Kerala is home to a massive network of irrigation canals, used for farming rice and catching fish and home to numerous villages.  This palm-fringed network is famous as a destination to hire a boat and lazily meander around from village to village along the canals.  We hired a motor boat for 400 rupees an hour and spent the rest of the day out on the water.  Tired from the overnight train, we headed out on a slow loop from Alleppey, lying in the shade on deck chairs in our boat and periodically falling asleep.  Half way round we stopped at a café which was sat on an island all by itself – a little shack with some cool drinks and plastic chairs surrounded by palm trees.  It was a place unlike anywhere that I had ever visited and was an ideal way to spend an afternoon of relaxation.  In the evening, having returned from our boat journey, we walked through the town to the west towards the Arabian coast where we ate at a small fish restaurant while the sun set.  All in all, a good start to our Keralan adventure.

Arabian Sea sunset

Day Two: Sunrise on the Backwaters and an Ayurvedic Massage

Sunrise on the Backwaters
With so much to see and not enough time to see it in, we got up at 6.00am to head out onto the backwaters before sunrise – so that we could be on a boat when the sun came up.  We started out on one of the numerous ‘buses’ that are used by locals to navigate the backwaters.  These can be hailed at any jetty and we used it to get from Alleppey to the house of our guide for the day where we had breakfast.  The two of us were sharing our tour with a young Irish couple – who were both doctors and were good conversation.  The curry-based breakfast was made by our guide’s wife and presented to us on banana leaves in their back garden beside a rice paddy – very pleasant and traditional.  From here we split into two long canoes which were navigated by two locals.  The plan for the day was much the same as we had done yesterday (meander around the backwaters without any clear location in mind), however today we had the added bonus of a silent, motor-less boat which further emphasised the laid back and relaxed atmosphere.

A houseboat
After what felt like a full day on the backwaters (that’s what happens when you start your sightseeing at 6am) we arrived back at our guide’s house for lunch, which was a broader version of breakfast, complete this time with a coconut each – a great experience.  Our guide (who had been arranged by the brilliant Motty) was unwilling to set a price for the day, leading ourselves and our Irish friends to confer about the most respectful amount to pay.  We decided upon 4000 rupees (about £40) between us, which I like to think was a fair amount.  From here we made our way back into town on a rickshaw – while boats are the preferred method of getting around the backwaters, some of the larger villages are connected by roads and bridges.  Once back at the hostel we showered and crashed on the beds, as the combination of the early start and the intense midday heat had knocked the stuffing out of us a bit.  Just as I was about to close my eyes, we got a knock on the door.  Sergei opened it (as I was sitting on my bed in my boxers watching Game of Thrones) and was surprised to find Abey (his old professor), who had not let on that he would be back in the area from his job in the USA.  Abey was holding a video camera to record Sergei’s reaction – and I slightly regret my undignified posture in the background of the video… After making myself look decent I joined Sergei, Abey and Motty’s wife as well as Abey’s wife and father in law for fresh lemonade and cake in the living room.  Abey was just passing through Alleppey to his house further south and had planned it all to make sure that we were in the house at the time – a well worked surprise.

Unfortunately Abey couldn’t stay around for longer and myself and Sergei headed off for our last Keralan adventure – a traditional local massage.  Having spoken to David and Kathryn (the Irish couple) earlier, who had had the same massage the day before, they refused to let on much about what the experience would be like.  Upon arrival at the pharmacy (the massage is deemed a medical process – though only with a sustained programme over several weeks), an English couple who were staying at Motty’s too, were just leaving and again, wouldn’t let on much about what we were about to experience.  Sergei went first as there was only one masseur available and I sat for about 45 minutes outside and contented myself that I couldn’t hear him screaming.  
Myself, Abey and Sergei
Soon it was my turn and I (slightly apprehensively) entered the massage room which was empty, bar a large wooden table – not too dissimilar from a snooker table with no felt and with a bowed ridge down the middle.  I got changed into the most unflattering of loin cloths and then the masseur got to work – spending about half an hour covering me in warm coconut oil and then working it into my skin.  It was quite pleasant, but at the same time it felt totally absurd – every time he asked me to move, it turned out to be a real challenge, as I was on a slippery wooden surface and covered in oil.  After the massage I entered something like a sauna, where my body was put in a wooden box and my head was left sticking out of the top – like a box that magicians use to saw people in half, except with me sitting upright.  The steam was, amusingly, created by a pressure cooker (powered by a gas bottle), from which a tube entered into my box.  I sat in the box for about ten minutes, sweating profusely, until the masseur decided I looked roasted enough and let me have a shower.  All in all, a great experience – unlike anything I have ever experienced before.  My half hour looking like a big, greased up baby on the massage table was probably just about the most undignified I have ever looked…

That evening, after the massage, we headed back to Motty’s house where Motty’s wife was cooking all of his guests dinner – myself and Sergei and the Irish and English couples.  The food was great and we all had a few beers while getting to know each other before retiring for an early night due to another early start in the morning.  We would feel sad to be leaving the homestay – Motty was a great help for our time in Alleppey and I would thoroughly recommend anybody who is planning to visit Kerala to look him up.

You May Also Like