The Backwaters of Kerala The Backwaters of Kerala
31.01.2009 - 04.02.2009 35 °C
We came to Allepey by the state ferry boat - more or less the same route through meandering canals that the houseboats take (for about 100 – 200 times the cost and, of course at a far slower, more luxurious pace). It’s an amazing landscape of endless green where people live very close to nature. Yesterday, as we putzed through early in the morning on a much smaller, slower boat, people everywhere stood on the steps (ghats) leading down to the water in front of their homes, washing clothes, brushing teeth and/or chatting with neighbours. Vast paddy fields stretch out behind the narrow dykes where homes perch and, before the advent of a major tourist industry with the houseboats, most people made their living that way. Apparently now it’s hard to find people willing to work on the farms (anywhere in India.) According to more than one local, the average Santosh (or Joe) would rather open a small shop or work in someone else’s. At the same time, the media is full of articles about how to boost rice production in Kerala and elsewhere.
When we decided that we didn’t want to join the huge flotilla of houseboats, we were happy to find an agreeable guest house with a top floor constructed using the same palm leaf weave as is used on the boats. We took rooms there… and by the next morning we realized there were some disadvantages to the charm. There is a festival going on in one of the local temples… the drumming begins at 5 am and chanting or other music continues until about 8 am. At 5:30 am and again at about 8, the Muslim call to prayer adds a certain dissonance to the clamor, all of it being broadcast over loud speakers to help the sound carry for 100s of meters in all directions. The choirs of paradise!
But speaking of paradise, we’ve enjoyed a couple of very different beach experiences here. On Sunday afternoon, we took a city bus to the edge of town and the far end of the popular local beach. The fishing boats were beached, people were relaxing and so were we. As we walked, a man we’d been chatting with suddenly motioned for us to stop and watch. We soon realized the several people making a b-line for the water were there for funeral rites. We watched as ashes and bits of burnt wood were dumped out of a sack into the water… and then all the priests and one family member (presumably the brother or son of the deceased) dove into the water. Within about 5 minutes, everyone turned around and headed back to their cars. And we jumped to avoid bits of charcoal and ashes as the waves suddenly swept a little higher!
Later we moved to the end of the beach where the throngs were gathered. Sarah bought a small kite and we had fun watching it sail ever higher - after a couple of kind kite vendors rescued the kids’ rather unsuccessful start.
The next day, we hired a rickshaw driver to take us to a “secret” beach… and discovered yet another paradise of coconut palms and endless sand. We spent most of our few hours there in the water, which was pretty close to body temperature. What a tough life!
We visited a coir (coconut fibre) weaving workshop (in the weaver’s front yard) – very cool to see where the mats outside many of our doors come from and how they are made. Allepey also has umbrella factories and though we tried to visit one, it turned out the directions we were given lead us to a shop instead! We find that we always have to be prepared for misunderstanding in our communication with people!
Dillip, one of the hotel characters is happy to risk being misunderstood. His goal is to learn as many idioms as possible… and though I told him to “hang on to his horses” no sooner had we arrived than he had his notebook out ready to take notes. Another lovely employee at the hotel is Menon – who is incredibly knowledgeable of traditional Indian stories and poetry. We were delighted to listen to some of his tales and his wisdom. Emil hit it off so well with all the guys that by our third day, he was offered the job of manager and they were very sad that he declined!