Tuesday, 1 July 2008

In the backwaters of God’s own country

I spent just the one night in Kottayam. Trust me, it was enough. One good thing going for the place was that it had a very good English language book shop. After browsing for a while I decided on two books. One was an introduction to the works of Herr Friedrich Nietzsche and the other one was Leo’s war and peace. Nice lightweight reading for lazy afternoons.

The ferry to Alleppey left at 11:30 but I was told by the misinformed hotel staff it was at 10am. The good news was that there was a greasy spoon café next to the jetty. This being an Indian greasy spoon café I just had a coffee. It was raining before the boat left and when it turned up 3 hours later in Alleppey it was still raining…I really don’t mind anymore! The ferry ride itself was great, after 30 minutes the loud belching diesel engine turned into background noise and as we left the narrow canal and entered onto the lake all you could see was water and palm trees. Back in amongst the canal system we berthed at Alleppey. Described in the guide as a little slice of Venice in India. Um…no quite! Perhaps it should have said a little slice of Birmingham instead. Although the local mayor of Alleppey might be a bit upset with the last sentence.

I used the guide to find a lovely little room in a new build two storey house for only R500 per night a short walk from the jetty. They do have cheaper rooms for R300 but I never got around to looking at them! It has marble tiled floors, a great shower, a quiet fan and most importantly a decent mosquito net. There’s lots of water around and the mosquitoes here are big bastards!

WOW…what a great night sleep! The mattress was just right and the net did its job 100% and also the fan worked well overnight gently wafting me as I slept. Breakfast came and it was the usual, yep a huge mug of black coffee, which then set me up for the day ahead.

The wander to the beach a mile or two away was along the canal for most of the time. This section really isn’t used by the boats and so it has become covered with floating plants. The “towpath” sadly didn’t go all the way but jumped from side to side and on several occasions stopped abruptly only to continue 10ft away. Once at the beach I realised immediately that it was not a place for swimming. The 5 foot breakers were crashing only yards from the shore line and the water wasn’t blue or even green! There was however a nice shady place to sit on the jumble of semi organised roughly shaped stone blocks that formed part of the sea defences. After spending an hour listening to the crash of the surf I slowly made my way back towards the town.

In the evening, just as I was about to leave for dinner and a very cold beer, the hotel manager came up to inform me that tomorrow there was a national strike and that all the shops and restaurant would be shut. How long for? I asked, might be 12 hours could be 24 was the reply. Bugger! So before settling down to some spicy chicken, I got me some provisions, well actually it was just a couple of packet of biscuits and a fruit juice!

The next morning all the shops were shut, so I went on a backwater cruise of my own. This one followed a meandering course switching left and right through coconuts, bananas and around houses. It was free but only because the meanderings took place on solid asphalt (and occasionally mud!).

Thankfully the strike was over by the evening and I was happily parked in a local bar sucking down on a cold beer. A local man sat down at my table opposite me, with a small glass of whiskey in his hand. I nodded a hello and watched open mouthed as he then proceeded to grab a hold of my beer bottle and fill his whiskey glass to the brim with my beer!!! This he quickly downed in one. Then he made a move to help himself to my fags!!! This was just too much! You never touch an Englishman’s beer especially if you’re going to try and nick one of his fags afterwards. My wrath knew no bounds and when he asked me for a fag in an annoyingly pleading way my reply left him without any confusion as to what the answer was.

On Friday morning I spent 57 minutes queuing at the train station so that I could have a chance of a seat on Sundays’ train journey…that’s right I’m on the waiting list!

Saturday was my last full day here in Alleppey and so I finally relented and went on a backwater cruise.

Not wanting to go on one of those “house boats” I instead got a small canoe powered by a 55 year old man called Anthony. He was only charging R100 an hour so I decided that as it was a slow way of getting around, 6 hours would be just enough time to relax and enjoy the experience before boredom set in. once we had crossed the lake we navigated a few large canals before heading into the smaller ones that most boats don’t go down. Top place, top choice! Fish eagles, weaver birds and kingfishers were seen.

In the late morning we left the boat behind and went for a walk around a small village. Some of the houses were built on their own little islands, with just a small bridge or a 25 second canoe paddle needed to gain access. Walking back to the canal we walked above the rice paddy fields that stretched on uninterrupted into the distance.

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