Category: South of India, 2012

Backwaters and elephants, Kerala, February 3

Breakfast outside on the water is very pleasant (and slow). Carol and I walk into town by the sea to watch fisherman raise and lower the large, counter-weighted Chinese fishing nets, hung on spider-like wooden arms, to pull in the the fish and sell them in stalls. A sign on a restaurant says, “You buy it, we cook it.”

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Driving to Alleppy, we pass some elephants, decorated for participation in one of the temple festivals going on. We are to visit one of the festivals tomorrow.

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After more than an hour, we arrive at Alleppy, where we board our houseboat to begin our tour of the famous Kerala backwaters, a leisurely journey through the Kuttanadu area of the backwaters. This is one of the few areas where farming is done below sea level, fields having been reclaimed from what once was a lake. We travel through the labyrinthine maze of canals and waters ways passing rice paddy fields, banana and coconut plantations, small villages and boats commuting between villages and ferrying children to school and farmers to the markets. We see coracles, small, round, bamboo boats from which a small family fishes and later uses the boat as shelter to sleep on the shore.

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Our houseboat has two bedrooms and baths, a comfortable, shaded deck area and a kitchen from which an excellent lunch is prepared for us. We are joined by Ashok Koshy, a charming fellow who has lived in England, travelled in the US and has a home in the backwaters. Ashok is a professional photographer and an avid flutist. As he and a colleague have collaborated on a book of photos and poems, he, Carol and I have a lot in common to talk about. Our four and a half hours on the boat are delightful and a very relaxing change of pace.

In the bus, Jay regales us with very amusing stories about large groups of Indians who he takes to Europe, who want nothing more than to sing and watch movies as their tour bus travels at high speeds on uncrowded highways. Anything they may see outside is incidental to the trip, the main thrust of which takes place on the bus. They will travel only in a group and are uneasy about venturing anywhere without his say-so. This is an interesting and astounding difference from the travel we do.

While Jay extolls the virtues of Kerala, he is also frank to admit the problems. One of the primary issues is a high alcoholism rate, which creates many attendant problems, including some periodic mass family suicides to avoid the debt collectors they cannot pay. The government has now made all liquor sales come from government-owned stores, and we see lines of men outside these stores, waiting to buy liquor.

On our way back to the hotel, we pass a procession of musicians and three elephants making their way to a temple for a festival, guided by mahouts, the elephant trainers who live with them. The elephants stop at homes along the way for offerings to the god, and we are offered bananas by a smiling 10-year old girl at one of the houses.

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After returning to the hotel, we have an excellent dinner at History restaurant, on the second floor of Brunton Boatyard.

Backwaters and elephants, Kerala, February 3

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