Life on the river was absolutely fascinating and as our boat sailed down the river and carefully picked its way down the narrow canals we were faced with a whole range of new visual experiences.
It’s a superb way to spot the birds of Kerala and although I’m not great at naming birds even I could not fail to recognise the bright flash of turquoise of the Kingfisher, the Great Egret, Little Heron, Bittern, Cormorants, Eagles, Hawks, Snipes, Plovers and Storks. There were a range of seabirds and at a couple of places we saw huge groups of ducks. It turned out that duck farming is quite an industry on the river and “the duck shepherd” was seen ushering the ducks out of the river by encircling them in his canoe. The ducks obligingly clambered the river bank an the “dry land shepherd” moved them towards their “grazing land. This was a fascinating sight and I was just amazed and how compliant these birds seemed to be.
The riverbanks were awash with bright colours - the vivid flowers of red, yellow and purple, and the vibrant clothing of the local inhabitants set alongside the dowdy flimsy wicker-walled dwellings. Excited school children waved at us from the riverbank and proud parents posed readily for photographs. From early morning to dusk the river openly displayed its micro-culture to us. We saw parents bathing their children in the river and tenderly washing and brushing their hair; women beating clothing against rocks (that’s a real aggressive washing machine!); shiny silvery cooking utensils were scrubbed clean at the water’s edge; adults washed in the river, cleaned their teeth; and we did see evidence of water being taken from the river and drunk. This is a multi purpose river – a working river.
Whilst all the activity happened around us we were being molly coddled on board the boat. There was five staff in total, a couple out front responsible for steering, a cook, a kitchen assistant and the “captain”. For lunch we dined on rice, beans and onion, a couple of delicately spiced curry dishes with additional red hot chilli (our host was horrified as I chomped on one of them), a scented dish with coconut and mustard seeds was a superb accompaniment. We were initially surprised to not see fish but within a few minutes of devouring our first few dishes a couple of large sea fish (the name escapes me) were presented to us. These were mighty fine and the bones were lifted easily from the flesh. Whenever it looked like we were about to finish the waiter ladled more food onto our plate. This was a great lunch – with the perfect setting and food admirably well cooked.
We then settled to being pampered on our river boat. Feeling like royalty as enjoyed the lush scenery with its proliferation of palm trees leaning over the watery route and surveyed the busy rural life around. This is the life!