Arriving in Alleppey early evening after short 6 hour bus ride we had already booked ourselves into a guesthouse which was renowned to attract local backpackers. We turned up to see possibly the largest collection of westerners I have seen on my travels since bumping into many large American tourists in Agra. Thankfully this was a younger crowd and after dumping our bags into our rooms we had a bite to eat and were eager to book our backwater trip.
This is one of Kerala’s more touristy experiences and is vast network of winding rivers, lakes, lagoons and canals. The idea is to hire out a traditional wooden houseboat (much like a rice barge) and spend around 12 hours cruising the backwaters slowing down a notch or two and kick back and unwind to true Kerala lifestyle. Along most of the canals are local settlements where you can stop off if required to pick up a prawn or bag of cashew nuts or simply glide on by taking in the sun and feel your body and mind relax!
We were inundated with offers of prospective tours as we head out of the guesthouse later that evening in search of our cruise, but after a walk around and a nice refreshing ice cream we returned to the guesthouse to book up with them. Slightly more expensive than other trips but at least we could (hopefully) trust these operators. We all returned to the guesthouse to find a North / South debate raging through the travelers. One of the Indian barmen / tour organizer had said that all Northern Indian’s were money grabbers, thieves and down right distrustful because of a few scams he had fallen foul of. A plucky statement to make in general but little did he know that one of the travelers was of Punjabi descent and another girl had lived and worked in the north for many years and defending the locals adamantly. He had dug a hole that even a Politian would find difficult to escape from! I tried to calm the situation down a little as one or two bad experiences cannot lead you to despise a whole area but the debate raged on with neither side giving in and the Indian guy only upset and annoyed the girls further. We enjoyed a few beers with the debate in full flow before heading to bed ready for our backwater adventures the following day.
The next morning a quick breakfast and then we jumped into our taxi and we were on our way to our waiting boat via a quick stop to the liquor shop. We greeted at the boast by our captain and the 2 other crew members. We were welcome aboard with a glass of lime cordial and once we dropped our bags into our luxury cabins we set adrift onto the backwaters. The boat was pristine and sheer luxury, with a small seating area with cushions at the front along with the helm and tiller, whilst the kitchen and bedrooms were along the middle of the boat. The first thing we noticed as we set off was how quiet the engine was which added to the tranquility of gliding through the backwaters.
We soon settled into the laidback affair as we headed out onto the palm and coconut fringed canals of the backwaters and left the hustle and bustle well and truly behind us. We cruised up the canal for around 3 hours passing through many small villages and shops before mooring up for lunch. We were treated to lovely fish steaks and varying veg accompliments and some naan’s. As ever most of the dishes were flavoured with coconut and were delicious, after a short nap (mainly for the crew as it had obviously been a tough couple of hours for them preparing lunch) we set off again further inland through the ever narrowing canals. We had the occasional stop to look as some shops and were offered a few king prawns (which were massive) but barring the occasional hawker we were left in peace to enjoy the surroundings.
The day progressed with a few rum and cokes, card games, back gammon and reading whilst sitting up front bathing in the afternoon sun only interrupted by a short shower around 5pm. We docked up for the night in a not too glamorous location and even our attempts at asking the captain to move were not heeded, but night fell pretty quick and when it is dark you could have been anywhere. For dinner we were treated to pretty much the same as lunch but with more coconut and bigger fish steaks, but it was still good. That evening we chilled out on the boat and a few drinks and watched a movie late into the night. Due to our undramtic location we were not treated to any spectacular sunset even after many a protest.
We all woke the next morning as the boat set off again and having breakfast at around 8am. The boat was due to dock again at around 10am and from here we heading on to Kochi and then on up to Goa on an overnight train. As the boat docked for the final time it was a sad farewell to the captain and his crew who had tended to our few needs very well. The only grudge was where we had parked up for the night as the location was less than glamorous but apart from that it was a great night’s stay and a great way to really relax.
Back on land we had a short hours taxi ride to the train station in Kochi in the hope that we could get hold of a ticket that night to Goa. The unhelpful and pretty rude and abrupt lady behind the counter in the train station told us there were no tickets left that night. We decided to ask travel agents as often enough Indians book online train tickets well in advance and then cancel their tickets a few days before departure for a small cancelation fee. Trains are always full in India but this added online dimension makes booking for a ticket much harder and often puts you on waiting lists. The travel agents however have an uncanny way of getting hold of these cancelled tickets. The travel agent of course had some spare tickets for the train leaving that night at 10.30pm.
The booking fee was around £4 for our tickets (a small price to pay than having to stay over night) and this time I was travelling AC sleeper class with the girls. This meant only 4 beds in one area we the addition of blankets and pillows, this was sheer luxury. We had the afternoon to explore the city of Kochi which is typical Kerala and on the eastern coast. Kochi main attraction is on the large island – Mattancherry which holds the majority of attractions. A short ferry ride across the harbour on a not so glamorous taxi boat we arrived at the quaint old town.
We had around 4 hours to explore the town which is famous for its canter levered Chinese fishing nets, 500 year old Portuguese houses and churches. The nets were stationary at our time of arrival and catching the fish in the nets relies pretty much on luck and on them actually being above the nets in the first place. The catches have been known to be a little sparse from time to time!! We also visited St Francis church, the internet cafe; the girls did some shopping / arguing / bartering with some locals who seemed intent on offering us American tourist rates. After much haggling they finally got the prices after I intervened (after much expertise from Indonesia) and got what they wanted. Haggling is so much more hard work in India!! Darkness fell and it was time to time to head to the train station and catch our over overnight train, the train was better than I expected and within 10 mins of boarding the train I was snuggled up underneath a few blankets and fast asleep on the chilly train to Goa for fun by the sea.