India 2009 Part 8

From the road from Periyar to Munnar, Kerala, India
From the road from Periyar to Munnar, Kerala, India

Up to the Hills of Periyar

India; October 20th; Day 29; Periyar

After breakfast with George he gets his driver to take us to the bus stop in Kottayam in his auto-rickshaw. We ask around and hop on the Kumily bus which is to take us away from the waterways and up into the hills. It’s a bumpy 4 hour ride and the road gradually rises. In the fields that we pass we first see rubber plantations, then coffee and then tea. The bus is busy but not too bad.

On arrival we cart our gear into the Tourist Office which actually has some information. Five minutes later we are in an auto-rickshaw to the Green View Hostel. The room is fine; we have hot water and we have a terrace. It’s a pity that there is a building site next door but never mind.

We wander back into the town to search out somewhere for lunch. Nothing looks interesting or even safe so we return to Chrissie’s which is just down the road from Green View and seems to be a refuge for travellers seeking normal, e.g. non-Indian, food. We have pasta.

In the afternoon we try to find some more information about the Periyar National Park which is just out of town. We can’t even find the office never mind the information. But after a while we do finally stumble upon it. No point though as it is next to useless. So we decide to walk into the park anyway and see what we can see. It about a 3 or 4km walk which is not too bad and the woods are quite interesting. However when we get down to the park buildings and the lake we find that really nothing is going on. A couple of weeks ago they had an accident here where a boat on the lake sank with the loss of twenty  lives. The park was closed for a while and now it’s re-opened. Nothing is happening however. No boat trips, no hikes and certainly no three day Tiger Trek which is what we were hoping to do. It’s all a bit disappointing.

The lake at the Tiger Reserve at Periyar, Kerala, India
The lake at the Tiger Reserve at Periyar, Kerala, India
Unknown primate at Kumily, Periyar, Kerala, India
Unknown primate at Kumily, Periyar, Kerala, India

We go in the park hotel for a cup of tea and watch the monkeys clambering about the place. Surprisingly quite a few Indian tourists are about but all they seem to want to do is get off the bus, look at the view and get back on the bus. Their is nothing to do here! We take a rickshaw back to town.

Unknown moth at Kumily, Periyar, Kerala, India
Unknown moth at Kumily, Periyar, Kerala, India

In the evening we have dinner at the Green View which is a major disappointment. We sit in a windowless dingy room and have boiled rice with boiled vegetables. We are too listless to do anything in the evening except to go for a desultory walk and confirm to ourselves that not a lot can be done in this town. You can buy spices if you want. The only sign of life is the effort the spice shops make to sell you some cardamon or something.

On the terrace we drink beer and look for football on the TV.

Night Walk in the Tiger Reserve

India; October 21st; Day 30; Periyar

We have breakfast at our hostel. It’s not very good. We idle away the day trying to figure out something to do around here. Not much is the answer. We can’t find anyone offering any trekking or hiking and the mountain bike place has stopped offering the 3 day bike ride we saw in a brochure. It was hoped that we could ride bikes to Munnar but we can’t so we decide that we’ll take a taxi instead. Ir’s only about 10 times the price of the bus but it’s quicker and we’ll be able to stop along the way where we want. In any case it means we are getting out of this place.

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The only thing we can find to do is a night walk through the Periyar Tiger Reserve it starts at 7pm tonight.

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Just down the road from where we are staying we find a good place for lunch. The Coconut Garden. The young boys that are running it seem to be keen and enthusiastic. They don’t even mind serving us beer. We idle away the afternoon reading on the terrace.

At the park gates at shortly before 7pm we watch a couple of boys kicking a football around. We hang around for half-an-hour before our Guide turns up and walks us into the park where we wait some more. Finally at 7.45 an armed guard turns up and we can go. Apparently we need the guard in case we come across tigers. We are given sackcloth bootees to put on underneath our boots. This is our protection against what? We don’t really know. As an added protection the guide puts tobacco dust on our boots too.

Eventually we stumble off into the darkness. We are out walking until about 10pm and see quite a few things; Sambar Deer, Barking Deer (Muntjac), some large Flying Fox Fruit Bats (Dog-faced), which are roosting, and a huge Indian Crested Porcupine. It’s a bit creepy shining our torches through the darkness and glimpsing the creatures of the night but it’s fun. We don’t see any tigers.

When we leave the park we make a half-hearted attempt to find somewhere to eat. But hardly a soul stirs in the sleepy town. So we just go to bed.

Taxi to Munnar

From the road from Periyar to Munnar, Kerala, India
From the road from Periyar to Munnar, Kerala, India

India; October 22nd; Day 31; Munnar

To avoid breakfast at the Green View we walk down the street to the Coconut Garden. The young boys had assured that they would be open ay 8. But no one was there. So we strolled back to Chrissie’s and ordered eggs and porridge. The eggs came first!

Our taxi arrives on time and we leave we se the lads from the Coconut Garden. They only laugh when we tell them that they missed our breakfast. The taxi ride takes about four hours as it winds over the hills through tea plantation country. Some of them look very smart with Poinsettia hedges and Tulip trees in flower amongst the tea. The reds and the greens are very striking together.

From the road from Periyar to Munnar, Kerala, India
From the road from Periyar to Munnar, Kerala, India

When the road rises over a pass we stop for a photo opportunity. The views are spectacular if a little hazy. We don’t realise it but we will be back here tomorrow morning for a sunrise hike.

From the road from Periyar to Munnar, Kerala, India
From the road from Periyar to Munnar, Kerala, India

On arriving in town we cross over the bridge and head for the old town which is separated by about a mile from the new town. We find ourselves a place to stay which is also called Green View. After checking in we wander into town and meander around the market. Because we have organised an early morning hike tomorrow and because Keith has no walking shoes (they were ruined after the Himalayas) we potter around and buy some cheap replacements. Our guide book mentions the High Range Club where you can get a drink. The only problem is you need to look smart. We don’t! In any case we decide to give it a go and take an auto-rickshaw out there. It’s a couple of miles out of town.

Frpm the road from Periyar to Munnar, Kerala, India
From the road from Periyar to Munnar, Kerala, India

When we get there we try and get in but the doorman is not convinced and when he gets the manager it becomes clear that we are not welcome. It’s ironic as this used to be a colonial place for the British only. Indian members have been allowed only since independence in 1947. We are sent on our way and walk back into town.

From the road from Periyar to Munnar, Kerala, India
From the road from Periyar to Munnar, Kerala, India

All is not lost however as our hostel is civilised enough to sell beer and we sit upstairs on the terrace reading and drinking the ubiquitous Kingfisher. We meet a couple of Aussies and later, in the evening, stroll down to the corner to a canteen style restaurant and have a good meal.

Dawn Hike

Dawn above Munnar, Kerala, India
Dawn above Munnar, Kerala, India

India; October 23rd; Day 32; Munnar

We are up at 5pm to set off on our early morning hike. It’s just me and Keith and a guide. It’s about a 13km jeep ride back to the pass where we came over yesterday and we are dropped off just as the sun begins to rise. I’m a bit disappointed as I would have liked to have been on the top when the sun began to rise. No matter it’s good to be about.

Trek: 4hrs 5mins starting at 6.10
Low: 1784 at 10.15
High: 2281 at 7.46
Descent: 6181m
Ascent: 498

Dawn above Munnar, Kerala, India
Dawn above Munnar, Kerala, India

It takes about 2 hours to reach the top as the sun comes over the ranges behind us. The path is quite clear though we have to scramble up some bare rock faces at times. They are not too steep. Although it’s hazy the views are good all round.

Me and Keith and guide above Munnar, Kerala, India
Me and Keith and guide above Munnar, Kerala, India

At the top our guide produces a flask of coffee, some egg sandwiches and some fruit and we sit in the sun having our breakfast. It’s unfortunate that we have to descend the way we had come but now that the sun is up I am diverted by the many butterflies and dragonflies about. There are also plenty of interesting wild flowers about and we are told that this is quite an unusual micro-climate and ecosystem up here. Whilst at the top we are surprised to see a troop of monkeys clambering over the rocks. We are also privileged to see the Nilgiri Tahr which is endemic to this area. It’s a type of mountain goat a bit like the European Ibex.

Above Munnar, Kerala India
Above Munnar, Kerala India

The descent is very pleasant in the warm sunshine and we take our time. When we reach our starting point our guide telephones for the jeep and whilst we are waiting we walk down the road towards Munnar and enjoy the views over the tea plantations. In retrospect I think we could have walked all the way home through the tea,. But we didn’t and arrived back at the hostel about 11.

We strolled into town to try and get a second breakfast but we didn’t have much luck and ended up having scrambled eggs in a fancy hotel.

Above Munnar, Kerala, India
Above Munnar, Kerala, India

As has become customary we spent the afternoon reading and tried not to start on the Kingfishers too early. We would be leaving Kerala tomorrow and entering Tamil Nadu. This meant that our Kerala Lonely Planet was useless. Fortunately Keith was able to lift an old guide book to South India from the hostels library!

We went to the same place for dinner as it didn’t seem worth the effort to try and find somewhere else. The food here is good anyway even if it’s always chicken.Dawn above Munnar, Kerala, IndiaDawn above Munnar, Kerala, IndiaAbove Munnar, Kerala India

Flower on our dawn walk above  Munnar, Kerala, Indiahouse_20091023_D_049997Flower on our dawn walk above  Munnar, Kerala, India

Flower on our dawn walk above Munnar, Kerala, India
Flower on our dawn walk above Munnar, Kerala, India
Glassy Tiger (Parantica aglea)  on our dawn walk above Munnar, Kerala, India
Glassy Tiger (Parantica aglea) on our dawn walk above Munnar, Kerala, India
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Common Lime Swallowtail (Papilio demoleus) on our dawn walk above Munnar, Kerala, India
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Queen of Spain Fritillary (Issoria lathonia) on our dawn walk above Munnar, Kerala, India

Into Tamil Nadu

India; October 24th; Day 33; Mettupalayam

Yesterday we had managed to figure out how to get to the Nilgiri Mountain Railway which runs from Mettupalayam to Ooty. We were aiming for Coonoor which is the stop before Ooty. It would take us two days.

We learnt that a bus left for Coimbatore at 6.30am from the end of the street so we got up early and waited. Sometimes it’s a bit difficult to figure out where a bus is going. The front sign is normally in Hindi or Malayam (around here) and the English is invariably on the side of the bus only. We waved down a couple of buses first and then waited some more. The locals who were opening up their stalls assured us we were in the right place. Our bus did arrive and we were treated to a five minute ride into the new town where it stopped and waited for half an hour! Time enough to get a cup of tea.

The six hour ride passed by quite quickly helped by intermittent dozing. The first four hours or so was quite picturesque as we again passed through tea country. More Poinsettias and flowering red Tulip Trees. The last two hours were spent driving along a main highway along a dry dusty valley with cactus and strange trees.

At Coimbatore we had to find another bus to Mettupalayam. This took some effort to figure but eventually we were assured that if we jumped on this local cross-town bus it would take us to the correct bus station. It did. We had a short cramped and dizzy run through the town. At the other end we locate the bus we need and an hour later we arrive in Mettupalayam. Outside the bus station we stagger across the street and find a place to stay. It’s a bit decrepit but the rooms are large and we have a TV. I’m convinced that we can watch Man Utd against Liverpool tonight but it turns out that that is tomorrow. We watch Spurs instead.

For lunch we find ourselves a place to eat which looks very much like a fast food place. Amazingly many of the dishes are served on a banana leaf and eaten with the fingers. We get something else and eat with a knife and fork. It’s not bad.

We do get ourselves outside and walk down to the Railway Station. This is a terminus for the mainline but also the starting point for the mountain railway. We manage to buy Reserve Tickets for 240 rupees for the two of us. The train leaves at 7.30 but we are advised to be there at 6. Its a bit confusing as I think these tickets merely allow us to queue up for the real tickets!

In the evening we wander around a bit. We are not so hungry so when we find that the local grocery store makes and sells pizzas we decide to sit down and stay. The pizza is about as big as a tea saucer. the fresh fruit drinks are good though.  The local wine shop (which is what the off-license is called even though they don’t sell wine) is just around the corner from the hotel. We get some beers and watch TV.

India 2009 Part 7

17 Hours on the road

India; October 14th; Day 23; New Delhi

Woke up at 4.30 this morning all packed and ready to go on our marathon trip to Delhi. We are attempting to do it in one fell swoop and avoid a night in Rishikesh. We say farewell to our porters who amazingly have got up this early to help us get the bus loaded. I presume they will make an early start to get home. The bus leaves promptly at 5.

For the first couple of hours the road is unmade and therefore slow and bumpy. At about 8 we stopped somewhere alongside the Tehri Reservoir for a breakfast of toast and omelette. after plenty of ascents and descents on the winding road, and plenty of napping too, we arrive at Rishikesh about midday. Halfway to Haridwar we stop at the Midway Resort for lunch. We know this place from our last trip to India in 2005. We have our first meat for three weeks; Chicken Marsala … what else. More importantly we have our first beer for three weeks too. Nectar. Of course we have two pints as the first one disappeared quickly!

Now we are on the dusty plains for the dreary ride to Delhi. The roads are pretty terrible and the journey goes on and on and on. Our driver goes slower and slower. Delhi slowly gets closer but I doubt that we are doing much more than 25 kph. We stop somewhere for tea.

As it gets dark the world seems to get madder and the last hours into the city seem to drag and drag.

It’s after 10pm when we finally arrive after having dropped off the Cook and Maneesh at Himalayan Run and Trek. We meet Heera here, our guide from the Trek in 2005 but we are far to tired to say much more than hello.

Everyone is completely exhausted and irascible when we get to the hotel, especially me and all we can do is have a couple of beers before crashing out. I’m shattered. It was a horribly horrible day.

Arrival in Kerala

India; October 15th; Day 24; Ernakulam

We were up early at about 7 and went downstairs for breakfast. The people from Himalayan Run and Trek were arriving at about 8 to discuss our trip and to help us with the arrangements for the next part of our journey. Keith and I were going to Kerala for a couple of weeks whilst Jim, Adriana, Jan and James were going home. We were in New Delhi a couple of days early so we needed to re-arrange our flights.

Keith and I use the hotels internet to find out the flight details to Kochi (Cochin). It looks like we will have to pay again. The others will have to stay another night here before they can get a flight home. I think they just have to pay a surcharge. The Connaught Hotel staff are very friendly and we manage to find a flight that is leaving today about midday. It doesn’t leave us much time. We also manage to arrange to leave a bag here at the hotel which contains all the camping gear we wont require on the next leg. On our return to New Delhi we will have to come back here to pick it up before returning to the airport. This is a much better option than dragging it all around with us.

The Himalayan Run and Track team offer us a lift to the airport and we leave in a rush after saying our goodbyes to the others. It’s decided that we will discuss the consequences of the trek re-arrangements at a later date.

At the airport we manage to pick up our tickets for the flight and get through the usual palaver of the check-in and security. Keith loses his knife as he’d left it in his hand-luggage!

After an initial delay we eventually leave for the first hop to Mumbai. We spend an hour on the tarmac and then take-off for Kochi where we arrive about 5.30. The sun is just going down, but it’s still pleasantly warm.

We take a pre-paid taxi into Ernakulam and find that our first two choices of hotel are full! The taxi has dumped us off at the first one so we have to manhandle our luggage through town to find another. The staff at the Sealord Hotel are friendly and apologetic that they can’t fit us in and get on the phone to a neighbouring hotel. We taxi around to the SAAS Tower and check-in. After a quick shower we go back to the Sealord as it is one of the few places in town with a bar selling beer! We have dinner at the rooftop restaurant. The beers are great and the food is good too.

We crash out tired after a mad two days. At least we are here. All we have to do now is figure where to go and what to do!

Daytrip to Fort Kochi (Cochin)

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India; October 16th; Day 25; Ernakulam

Another early start start and after a coldish shower we have breakfast downstairs in the empty and cavernous dining room. very sweet banana pancakes as I recall. In the lobby we arrange for a big pile of laundry to be done. almost everything we have is still dirty from the Himalayan trip.

We stroll out into the town and find a scruffy tourist information place in the a bus station. Apart from a few day trips they can’t help us much. Apparently all the backwater stuff is organised from Aleppey which is further down the coast. We search for and find anther Tourist Information place but it too has nothing much to offer. Their is no doubt that they are trying to be helpful it’s just that aside from a few brochures they know next to nothing. This will turn out to be a feature of our time in Kerala. We do however have a Lonely Planet Guide to Kerala with us so we will see how useful it turns out to be.

Back at the hotel we read through some info in the book and Keith phones a place near Kottayam and books us in for two nights. At least we are getting out of this town tomorrow now all we have to do is think about today. It’s easy really as only one place springs to mind. We will go over the water to Fort Kochi and do the tourist thing.

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The ferry terminal is back out through the old bus station and past the first tourist shack. The ferry building itself is not too bad but no infrastructure has been built to get to it! We walk over a pile of rubble and jump a couple of ditches to get to it. Inside we see a timetable on the wall and a line of people queuing. Their is a separate line for women! We clamber into the broken old boat and chug across the limpid water to Kochi. It takes about 40 minutes.

When we disembark we walk towards the main part of the old town. Almost at once we find a restaurant that serves beer and seeing as it’s still a novelty for us we sit down and have a couple. the weather is warm but the sky is hazy.  The restaurant has a stall out front where they sell fresh fish. two huge blue lobsters are moving slowly on a bed of ice. A huge fresh water fish is swimming gloomily around a small tank. I fancy those lobsters though.

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Continuing our walk down the street we come across a small dock where the fishermen are unloading their catch. Huge blocks of ice are being put through a crusher on the back of a truck and the fish is being packed into crates. Along the street a row of tiny vendors are selling fish too.

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Where the seafront building give way to a promenade we come across the famous Chinese Nets. Almost every photograph of Kochi features these nets against the unset. The legend goes that the design of these nets was brought to this coast of India by fleet of the Chines Imperial Navy during the 15th C. Some historians believe that this armada circumnavigated the globe and discovered the Americas long before Cook and Columbus.

We watched these fishermen lower the shallow nets into the water. They are balanced by boulders tied to ropes. But when they haul them out again after a few minutes the catch was of a few paltry little fish only. Keith got roped into helping out a team on one of the nets and they asked for money after I’d taken a few shots. It’s possible that they make more money from tourism now and who can blame them?

On walking further down the shore we passed some fish selling stalls. In places the boys merely had a rug on the floor with the fish spread out. the novelty here was that you bought the fish from them and then they carried it to a local cafe and they cooked it up for you! We walked further down the promenade and then back to through a children’s park to find a row of shacks selling fish lunches. We stopped and had freshly grilled prawns and kalamari on the little tables outside on the pavement. We expected this place to be heaving with tourists but we didn’t see that many at all.

Our guide book noted a few museums to visit so we duly attempted to find them. Down a long empty street past some dilapidated villas we came to the Maritime Museum. It had a boat outside! It was lunch time. It was closed. The guard at the door made no sign that we could go inside anyway and it didn’t re-open for another hour. We didn’t wait.

We retraced our steps toward the main part of town and come across a schoolyard full of screaming kids. Beyond them was the entrance to the Indo-Portuguese Museum which was open. This part of India was ‘discovered’ by Vasco de Gama when he sailed he with a fleet of four ships in 1497. We would later travel to Kappad which is where he first landed in Kerala. The museum here was merely a collection of early Christian artefacts and really quite dull. It is alleged that Christianity was first brought to this coast by St. Thomas in 52AD. Certainly the Christian churches in Kerala are called Syrian Churches. The stuff in the museum though is related to the churches that the Portuguese built in the tears after Vasco de Gama. They must have been surprised to find Christians here already.

In the same grounds of the museum was the Bishops Palace where the Cardinal of Kochi resides. A couple of weeks later whilst we were in Tamil Nadu we read in the paper that the Cardinal had died.  The curator at the Palace noticing that we were wandering about invited us in to look at some of the rooms in the Palace. This was interesting. On one wall was a long list of the Cardinals of Kochi spanning five centuries.

After this we wandered back to the narrow streets of the old town and nosed around the tourist shops. I spent five minutes in an Internet Cafe but couldn’t deal with the dingy light and crappy keyboard. It was time for another beer and it was not easy to find. On one street we saw a tiny written sign which pointed down a scruffy side-alley. At the end of that was a small cafe. Inside we enquired after beer and the man led us through the cafe to a small garden out the back, We sat down and waited and he re-appeared five minutes later carrying a tray of tea-cups and a teapot. We looked bemused, but the teapot was actually full of cold beer and we were expected to drink it from the cups! Beer, all alcohol,  is still largely frowned upon and licences to sell it for the locals are still hard to come by. Our search for beer will become another theme of our journey through the south of India! When we emptied the teapot we ordered another couple of Kingfishers and this time he just left the bottles though he asked us to put them on the floor under the table so they’d be out of sight. The ubiquitous Kingfisher beer. It tastes great now after our three week abstinence but it wont be long before we are sick of it! Not enough to stop us searching for it and drinking it though.

We’ve done a lot of aimless wandering about today but the mission now is to find that first place where we had beer and see if the lobster is still available. We do and it is. At the restaurant we settle down and then change tables. I can’t quite remember why. Maybe it had no air-conditioning. In any case the meal was great and we enjoyed a couple of beers. Marvellous.

It wasn’t far then to walk back down to the ferry dock to get a late boat back to Ernakulam and from there the short walk back to the hotel.

Canoeing on the waterways

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India; October 17th; Day 26; Kottayam

We got up early this morning, packed, skipped breakfast and took an auto-rickshaw to a bus station. In the usual maelstrom and scrum we managed to determine which bus would take us to Kottayam and piled on. This was the first of many bus rides and it had all the required features. The overhead racks are too small for your luggage, the seats are hard and the windows are non-existent. Who needs windows in this heat? We were early so we had plenty of room at first but it soon got full as we went along.

After pushing through the traffic of Ernakulum the bus drove south on the main highway taking many detours into several small towns along the way. We had arranged with George, the proprietor of GK’s Home-stay a few kilometers outside Kottayam that he would meet us in town at the bus station and take us to his place. After a few hours traveling we arrived at a Kottayam bus station but could see no sign of him. As is usual the towns here have a number of bus stations, one of which is the one used by the State Bus Company and the others used bi various other operators. Keith got on the phone and George eventually found us and the three of us piled into his auto-rickshaw with our luggage (a tight fit!) for the short ride. After careering through the traffic in town we headed out into the country eventually crossing a footbridge over a canal and down a rutted path to reach the home-stay.

George’s homestay was by the riverbank and the lodgings were just down a small track at the back. The place had four separate rooms all joined together with a common veranda with a small garden in front. It looked out over a rice-paddy which was at the moment just a brown muddy field.

After our introductions and the usual formalities we settled down. We arranged to have some lunch and George came back for us a while later to take us to his house. All our meals would be taken in his house and generally George would sit down with and chat. Though he didn’t eat with us. We stayed three nights in the end after originally just booking for two, and we were the only guests whilst we were there. George lived with his wife, his mother and his father-in-law. His wife did all the home cooking for us and we were treated to Keralan cuisine at all times. George’s daughter was there too, home from university. he has a son too.

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When we’d finished lunch George showed us his canoe which was tied up in the canal opposite the house. It was a tradition style wooden boat a good 20ft long and he claimed a 100 years old. It was held together by brass rivets. It was a smart looking vessel but spoiled by having poor paddles, one of which was plastic. George offered to paddle us around the local waterways but we assured him that we were experienced paddlers and that we would be safe on our own. Fortunately he handed us a map of the local network of backwaters which would help us in our meanderings. at that point we decided that we’d relax in the afternoon and go for a paddle later when it had cooled off a bit.

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We passed away the sultry afternoon by sitting on the veranda and reading our books. If an occasional butterfly or dragonfly appeared then I’d get myself to take a photograph or two. We were also keeping an eye on the birds which were flitting about. The highlight of the afternoon came when a huge Monitor Lizard made an appearance. Although quite a drab brown colour it was about a metre long. It stealthily moved about the grass in front of us it’s forked tongue flicking. It used it’s feet to scrub up the dirt in places and seemed to be eating small insects. It crept about quite slowly and we watched it for a good half an hour before it ambled off into the undergrowth. It came to within a yard or two of and appeared quite oblivious. I wondered quite how good it’s eyesight was! George’s wife brought down a pot of tea in the afternoon.

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At 4pm we got ourselves together and prepared to try the canoe. We grabbed the paddles from the side of George’s place and settled ourselves in. I took the bow and the plastic paddle and Keith took the stern and wooden paddle. There was quite a distance between us! There’s not much flow in these backwaters and it was difficult to work out if it was flowing at all but we went in the direction that we assumed was downstream.

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We paddled slowly down the canal for about half an hour until we slipped under a bridge and took the right fork. Eventually we reached another bridge and a much larger canal. On the corner was a char shop where a group of men were taking tea. As the light was failing we decided to turn around here and paddled back the way we had come. On our way we passed sights that would become familiar to us as we spent several days in and around the waterways. We saw women washing clothes on the bank, we saw children splashing and playing in the water, we saw men fishing and we passed several other canoes moseying along. It was quiet and peaceful apart from the occasional motor-bike bumping along the track beside the water.

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As we returned so George came out to help us tie up. He was probably relieved that we had not got lost. At dinner that evening he told us a few tales about having to rescue guests who had lost their way in the complex network of canals. After dinner we relaxed and read again. George had supplied us with a couple of beers to drink as we whiled away the evening.

Paddling about the Waterways

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India; October 18th; Day 27; Kottayam

As usual we were up early. On our way to breakfast at 8 we saw a kingfisher on a power line and a butterfly on a weird lacy mushroom. At breakfast we were given fresh fruit and a coconut rice dish. We also had fresh coffee which George makes from his own coffee plants.

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Today we decided to do a longer paddle and we got ourselves on the water about 10am and didn’t return until after 1pm. With the map that George had hand-drawn for us we managed to do a circular route. After following our original route of yesterday we continued along the major canal to reach another junction. We would find out later that this is where we would need to come tomorrow to catch the public ferry for our trip to Aleppey. Today though we turned up another wide canal until we found a very small and narrow canal which would cut us back through above George’s place. It was obvious that not many people travelled this way as we were met by smiling glances from the women working on the banks and washing clothes in the river and by the laughter of the children. “Hello”, “How are you?” they would ask and then say “I’m fine, thank you” in reply. As if they’d learnt it by rote. “Where are you from?” would inevitably come next. From time to time some of the children would run down the bank and ask us for pens. We didn’t have pens but it’s clear that some of the tourists that do come here must bring a pocketful. In actual fact we didn’t see any other tourists in this part of the water-ways and only saw them on the rice boats on the larger canals and lakes. Apart from the locals going about their business we were the only loafers about.

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We were looking out for any wild-life and saw several types of butterflies and dragonflies. Numerous birds were about too. Kingfishers mostly. In the water we were astonished to disturb plenty of snakes. Every five minutes or so we would see a small, foot long, snake, swimming in the water along the bank. On one occasion we saw a larger snake, may be a yard long, attempting to slither out of the water onto the bank. The presence of so many snakes didn’t seem to deter the children that we saw playing and bathing in the water.

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At one point we were amazed to see a huge flock of ducks on the water apparently being shepherded by a man in a boat. They seemed to know what they were doing as they arrived at a bank and proceeded to leave the water in a steady line. Only a few stragglers needed to be encouraged. Apparently these ducks are farmed for eggs and not meat so we wouldn’t be getting duck for dinner. We came across this duck husbandry twice whilst out canoeing. At dinner we asked George about it and he tried to get us a duck egg for breakfast the next day, but didn’t!

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In the afternoon we lazed around again and did some reading. We probably washed out some clothes too and hung them out on the line. The Monitor Lizard made another appearance but didn’t give quite the same show as yesterday. I can’t properly recall if we did another canoe trip later that afternoon. It’s possible. We did however go for a walk around the area thinking we would see things differently from footpaths. George advised us on a route so that we would do a circular route and not lose our way. We almost did though as we found ourselves on the wrong side of a canal and had to walk quite a way to find a bridge so that we could cross over and find our way back. We were almost tempted to ask a local boatman if he would ferry us at one point. It was this evening that we got a good view of the fruit bats. As the sun comes down they emerge from their roosting sites to feed. They are large bats with an almost cartoon like shape as you watch them silhouetted against the sky. These are the largest bats I’ve ever seen. Occasionally we saw a dead one tangled up on a power line. It was amazing to see small flocks of them flapping overhead.

On our return we washed up and went up to George’s place for dinner. He was always interesting to talk to and tonight we were discussing our plans for tomorrow. Keith and I had thought about going on one of those large rice boats that ply the Keralan waterways. They are like small floating hotels, very popular with visiting tourists and therefore expensive. George’s suggestion was that we would get exactly the same experience if we travelled on the local ferries. Of course this would be a lot cheaper too. He told us that we could catch a ferry from very close to here and this would take us out across the lake to a small town on the other side. From there we could catch a bus into Aleppey, spend a few hours there and then catch a public boat all the way back across the lake and through the waterways to Kottayam. From there we could catch a bus back to George’s place. So that was sorted then. That first boat leaves at 8.30. Obviously we have decided to stay another night.

That evening we drank beers and read as usual.

Public Ferry to Alleppey

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India; October 19th; Day ; Kottayam

After breakfast George walks us down to the corner to point us in the right direction for the ferry stop. We follow a small canal and say hello to a few villagers along the way and a couple of children preparing for school. Joining a larger canal we cross over a bridge pass a temple, cross another bridge and arrive at the ferry stop. No-one else seems to be around. Shortly however the ferry makes an appearance and we watch as it is turned around using poles. All the customers then arrive from the surrounding houses and shops. It’s full of people apparently going to work and children going to school.

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As we proceed the boat stops from time to time to pick up more passengers and it’s soon quite full. When the ferry reaches the end of the canal and before it starts across the lake most of the schoolchildren disembark.

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The lake is huge and the shores are barely discernible in the distance. Small rafts of water-hyacinth float around us. We see our first view of the rice boats used as tourist boats as we cross the lake. In the middle of the lake we see some small fishing boats and are surprised to see some fishermen in the water. It’s apparently only a yard deep.

After a journey of two and a half hours the boat pulls into Muhamma and we disembark and start walking into town. It’s not far and we try and photograph some attractive yellow dragonflies to no avail along the way. Once in town we ask around to find out where the bus to Alleppey stops. At the main cross-roads we find a lot of people milling around and after a while we decide to take an auto-rickshaw instead.. We try waving some down but they are all busy. Eventually a local man points us on the direction of a taxi-rank and we get in one. As we turn the corner we stop and pick this fellow up and he shares the ride into town with us.

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At Alleppey (Alapuzha) we get dropped off and walk through the scruffy little place down to the docks. We want to ascertain the time and departure point of a public ferry back to Kottayam. After figuring that out we walk back into town. It’s not very enticing so we decide that we’ll go out to the beach. We wait futilely at a bus-stop and then jump another rickshaw. It’s only a short ride. The beach is a disappointment too. The beach itself is not bad but their is nothing around and it’s all a bit empty. The guide book advises us not to even think about going in the water.  In fact the whole time we are in Kerala we dare not go in the sea. It’s a great pity because with a bit of effort this would be a great spot.

After wandering around a little we decide to get some lunch. Three places are mentioned in the book; one is closed down, another doesn’t seem to have much in the way of a lunch menu and the third is a bit westernised. We choose the latter as the least worst. Actually the food is fine and we get chatting to a couple from the UK who are spending a few days here. I can’t imagine why. Fortunately they sell beers so all is not lost.

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Another short ride in a rickshaw delivers us back to the dock and we get a boat that leaves at about 2pm. It’s crowded with people and their shopping. The ferry leads out to the lake down a short canal where we see a whole string of the tourist rice boats of all shapes and sizes and levels of comfort. We pass many more as we come into the lake and as we sail into and along the broad canals. On the open decks of these boats we can see the guests enjoying drinks and relaxing. We pass several examples of the Syrian churches as we go and small boats ferrying goods about. The canals get narrower as we approach Kottayam and we go under several bridges which have to be raised by a fellow pulling on a rope.

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On arrival at Kottayam we find ourselves quite a way out of town. Only one thing to do; so we grab yet another rickshaw and get driven home. It’s not so straightforward though as our driver doesn’t read and asks another fellow to read George’s card. He;s not sure of the address either and we have to stop many times whilst he asks for directions, shows the card, discusses for a bit and finally moves on. We do eventually get close. At which point we abandon our transport a walk the last bit home. George is glad to see that we’ve made it!

After washing up we return for dinner. It’s chicken again, for the third night running, but as usual it’s cooked in a different, and Keralan, manner. We read and drink beer on the terrace as usual before retiring.