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Backwater wandering...

Alleppey, Kerala

semi-overcast 26 °C

Expecting a mammoth journey we set off from Kochi to Alleppey. Two hours later, surprised and amused, we arrived in the town which has one major claim to fame... the starting point of the Keralan backwaters; a maze of canals and lakes that stretch back from the coast for a mammoth area connecting villages throughout the state, inaccessible by means other than boat.

Now we have been a bit savvy when it comes to arriving in bus stations. Everyone who approaches you is a guesthouse owner/tout ready to say anything they think you want to hear in order to get you to their accommodation. When we arrived in Alleppey we were expecting the harassment of “Hotel? Hotel? Guesthouse? Rickshaw?”... what we were not prepared for was a friendly bloke politely approaching us and asking us if we would possibly like to visit his home which is a guesthouse and whether we might want to stay there? He assured us that the rickshaw there would be free and he would bring us back to the bus station if we changed our mind. We went with it which is against the grain and ended up in an absolutely lovely homestay near the lake which was absolutely amazingly clean, really cheap, ridiculously comfortable four poster beds, real pillows... with free wifi and a hilarious little pug dog called Jacko. The place was like an oasis after some of the rat pits we have ended up in. The owner and his wife were lovely, and Polish. This all goes to prove one thing which I have been told before and continue to prove true, I can locate the Polish community of literally anywhere we visit without even trying!

As soon as you arrive near the canals you cannot avoid seeing luxurious house boats floating down the river. When I saw luxurious I mean double glazing, LCD TVs, on-board cook and outside veranda. People we have met have told us that you can spend 24 hours cruising the backwaters to see the villages and wildlife from the water. Now as lovely as this sounds... it was a little out of our price range... so instead we opted for a canoe. Perhaps the canoe was not quite as luxurious... no TV, bit less leg room... no sides so no double glazing... but it was more our scene.

The canoe floated down tiny canals flanked by palm trees and the occasional isolated village. Snakes swam in the water around us and Kingfishers perched on trees and lines over the water. Women were washing clothes and pots in the canal water every ten meters and every so often a local lad would pop up from under the water next to the boat to shout boo and giggle at your surprise. We stopped off a couple of times at villages where we accidentally crashed both a funeral (we kept our distance although I think we may have been invited in) and a christening (to which we were warmly welcomed to meet all the guests). We then stopped for dinner at the home of a relative of our boatman. We were served delicious food, fish, spicy potato, rice and papaya... all served up on a palm tree leaf rather than a plate.... saved on the washing up perhaps but pretty entertaining. Ignoring the rain storm which soaked us through it was the most relaxing experience. In fact Andy was so relaxed with the sway of the tiny boat he fell asleep on the return journey...

The experience on the backwaters has given me and Andy a new business plan to put in place if we ever return home, Leeds Liverpool Canal backwater canoe trips for American and Japanese Tourists. Imagine, a canoe down the canal driven by a local resident who knows the water like the back of his hand (Steve Thornton, if the post office doesn't take off...), getting up close to the wildlife (the amazing Armley water rat which has reached a size incomparable to the rest of the UK) and taking in local fishermen and local sites. A stop over at Armley Mills is the historical element before stopping off for a traditional meal with a local family (Aunty Andrea? You fancy boat loads of international tourists paying over the odds?) before being dropped off at the Granary Wharf for a traditional ale in easy transfer distance from the train station. For the adventurous groups we would take a two day tour with night stop over in a traditional Yorkshire/Lancashire home further afield into the lands of Barnoldswick, otherwise inaccessible but by canal. A night in the Green Street with James Lancashire as local tour guide will bring the tourists into contact with a community who has never seen outsiders before (I'm not sure about this quote Annie!- Andy). The highlight of this section of the trip would be the trip to Fouldridge where Annice Brown will meet the group to show them the location of the internationally renowned cow that swam the mile tunnel and survived to be worshipped by the local community (this will have particular resonance with the Indian tourists). The rest of our family and friends should not fear, we have jobs for all... we need touts to jump on moving buses as they pull into Leeds National Express Station to spot tourists and provide them with flyers of our service etc... commission is offered. So at least we have a plan b if Australia doesn't work for us...

Back on dry land and with another amazing sleep behind us we decided to head to the Alleppey Beach, 2km from town. Wandering down the beach was a simple but relaxing day which swiftly became entertainment for the locals. When on the sands we slipped very easily into gender stereotypes. I relaxed on the sand soaking up a few rays. Andrew took up tools and began to construct a sand replica of Jaisalmer Fort just in reach of the waves. Searching back to Geography GCSE he decided to construct comprehensive sea defences for his prize building. Andy's seemingly simple activity swiftly became beach entertainment and proved to us two points;

a) We can attract a crowd of Indian men by doing actually anything. 'White man building sandcastles' initially attracted a crowd of two men. At its peak there were 15 spectators.

b) Indian men will do absolutely anything to have their picture taken with us. This includes becoming a labour force for Andrew's constructive vision. I am sure that a meagre photograph is below minimum wage levels even in India.

Returning back for a swift shower we departed our little sanctuary of a homestay for the lights of Bangalore...

Posted by Annie Thornton 22:16 Archived in India Tagged elephants kerala alleppey bawaters

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