Messing about on the water (part 2)

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by koshkha on April 10, 2012

When we'd finished eating the crew cast off and we set off again. The peace and emptiness of the backwaters are a pleasant relife in a country that's normally so noisy. It's not easy to get away from people in India, but in our boat we felt like we were in our own little private bubble. We saw a lot of birds - white ibis walking along the banks, black cormorants perched on floating rafts of water hyacinths sunning their wings, white and brown birds with long bills and even swimming snakes. People in the small houses on the banks didn't seem to mind us waving and calling out "hello" as the were washing their dishes or ding their laundry in the river. Communist party flags were hung above many of the houses and we were told later that most of the houses are built illegally but the local government which was communist for many decades, chose to look the other way. Some of the houses are perched on very narrow spits of land whilst others back onto reclaimed paddy fields.

Local people get around in small canoe-like boats as well as the motorised school boats and buses. Traders chug along on large unconverted rice barges powered by small stick engines.

For the first few hours we were pretty much on our own with just an occasional passing boat but as the afternoon progressed and the sun started to move lower in the sky, we found ourselves surrounded by other rice barges as all the captains seemed to be heading for their favourite overnight mooring spots. Day boats were heading back to their jetties to get rid of their passengers. It was fun to see the different ways that boat builders had individualised their structures according to how much space they had and how many passengers they wanted to take.

We tied up for the night at about 5.30 pm because it was November and the sun goes down not long after. The crew rushed to let the mosquito nets down so we wouldn't get eaten alive. When it finally got dark we could see the lights of only one other boat in the distance. Dinner was simpler than lunch with a chicken curry for my husband, veg curry for both of us, a tasty daal with rice and fresh chapattis. I have no idea if there was alcohol on board and we were too timid to ask though a nice cold beer would have been very welcome.

There's not too much you can really do once its gone dark and you've finished dinner. We understood from the captain that he and the two crew members would be sleeping on the deck in the area where we'd had dinner and we knew that they'd be up before first light to start making breakfast so we headed back to our cabin to give them some space and to escape the bugs which were bouncing off the mosquito nets. By eight o'clock we were in our cabin and by nine we were both fast asleep in the comfy bed. We left the fan on during the night as neither of us can stand air conditioning unless it's REALLY unavoidable and we slept like logs.

We woke with the sun around five in the morning, had cold showers, dressed and then set off again about 7.15 with the smell of breakfast cooking in the background. You'll never starve in Kerala and breakfast included omelette, toast, and the local Kerala pancakes stuffed with coconut and sugar. The cook had worked out that I didn't want sugar in my coffee by then and brought the coffee and sugar separately. It sounds like nothing, but it's a small victory every time you can get a coffee more or less the way you want it.

As we ate we headed back to base, taking photographs of fishermen casting their nets, dredgers diving and bringing up large scoops of sand for processing at a local factory, and of course lots more water birds going about their business too. When the little white church finally came back into view we were really sad to have to leave. We packed our bags, climbed across a couple of boats to reach the shore and left our crew with a hearty tip and our great thanks. The Backwaters were a magical place to visit and we'd loved our short visit. Most people who hire a rice barge only go out for less than 24 hours but if I went back again, I'd want to book longer. I love India with a passion, but the opportunity to get away from the world and soak up the beauty of the backwaters is one that's not to be missed.
The Kerala Backwaters
Malabar Coast
Kerala, India

© LP 2000-2009