Alleppey “Backwaters” – The Ultimate Relaxation

India was hit by a massive internet connection shortage a few weeks ago with an underwater cable problem. Then, a few days ago just after we left Kovalam there was another problem somewhere else which caused even more widespread outages. I’m pretty sure that the government closed down most of all the country except major IT hubs like Mumbai and Delhi that service North America. We stayed one night in Alleppey (sp?) before embarking on a two day backwaters houseboat cruise. Thus we have no internet anyways and are just cruising around in complete relaxation, devouring books and absorbing the incredible scenery. Once we get done the cruise, we still might not have access to the internet for a few (or several?!) days.

The cruise has really been amazing! The city is relatively close to the ocean, but there was a rather large inland lake only a few kilometers in. About 35 years ago the government built earthen dams reinforced with “placed” and mortared rock on the outsides for erosion protection. These dams hold in about four meters of water back from vast plains of rice paddies that are about two meters vertically lower than the canal water levels. The system of dikes is comprehensive and truly amazing! They seemingly stretch forever in all different directions. There are “homesteads” built upon small patches of raised ground all along the place. Occasionally schools, stores and general ferry drop-off/pick-up piers crop up around different corners. There was even one Catholic church (& rectory presumably) in all it’s brightly painted glory out by itself with nothing else around it but the canal on one side and hectares of rice on the other side. Just now as I’m typing, we passed by a standard highway sign telling us that it’s 79km to Kollam. Very cool! For these waterways are indeed a true local highway system just as in Venice, or the blacktop snaking across the prairies at home. Many guidebooks (and other travelers we have spoken with) have described the experience as an absolute must when visiting India, right after seeing the Taj Mahal. We all completely agree.

The boat we settled on is $125/night including two bedrooms, three meals a day, losta bottled water and a friendly crew of three. This was the least expensive boat I came upon when checking the day before we wanted to cruise. Most were another $50-$75 more, but that was certainly for nicer quarters, plus air conditioning! There are attached bathrooms in each bedroom with a poor excuse for a shower, but we’re all gonna need a good wash after the sweat of the muggy days and a tiny (and noisy!) fan in our bedrooms. There were even a couple of boats that I looked at that were more than double this one’s price. They were opulently decked all out and I presume would serve even more delux meals. Our food was OK, nothing spectacular but hearty enough. The fish for lunch was really great, but the chicken had some very weird bones in it that I’ve NEVER seen before in a chicken. Claudette silenced me immediately so as not to freak out the kids and to not appear rude to the crew. Hah! Me rude to them??? They’re the ones that are serving my family mystery meat!! Claudette also saw a fair sized rat peak it’s head out. During our second night’s meal, I waited until everyone else was done their meat before show & tell. There were many pieces that certainly resembled chicken, but… I got this one little ever so cute side of a rib cage. The little ribs were only about 2.5cm long, and I figured they were just supplementing the chicken with “other” animals or rodents. After they were done their meat, I showed the rest of the family my little half a rib cage. Horror! Claudette quickly (and forcefully) theorized that Indian chickens were built just a little differently than North American ones. She also then quickly added that it was also a STRONG possibility that this was just a different part of the chicken that we don’t typically use. I’m pretty sure her semi-panicked reactions were almost more for her benefit of keeping her head in the sand than for the kid’s benefit. Anyways, Luke was a little worried about eating a possibly not normal part of a chicken before Alex filled him in on what I was REALLY suggesting. Claudette didn’t tell the kids about the rat she’d seen the previous day. The first morning I heard them scurrying around in the ceiling like crazy, but didn’t hear them otherwise. Maybe that was cause the cook had caught them later that day after I heard them??? 🙂

What I also didn’t mention to anyone else was that I went back to the kitchen for a moment on our second afternoon. The “kitchen” itself was a pretty poor excuse for cleanliness, let me tell ya! If you are booking a trip in the future, always go on the boat and check it before committing. Most people check the bedrooms and bathrooms, but I’d suggest skipping them and heading straight back to the kitchen. Naturally everything will be “tidy”, but open some cupboard doors and check the cutting board. That will really tell you a story. When I went back, the cook was outside a window on a ledge cleaning fish for supper in the canal waters. Hmmm, OK. Gross I guess but certainly not out of the norm. All day long the locals bath in the canal or swim in it as well as do laundry and catch fish to eat. I don’t even want to consider sanitation. There certainly was no capacity or infrastructure for sewage tank pump-outs in the many, many homes along the canals. That can leave only outhouses. That in a place where the water table is super saturated, and at only 0.5m below the ground level! Never mind the houseboats themselves. I would make a gross presumption that all sewage is in a holding tank and pumped out at the end of each trip, but ya just never know!

We are currently in a car driving from Alleppey to Kochin (or Kochi on some maps). This is only a distance of 65km, and we do reach speeds of 80kph, but… it will still be a 90 minute drive. That’s due to the constant braking, then abruptly speeding up again, before madly braking ten seconds later waiting to pass the next pothole/animal/bicycle/tuk tuk/car/truck/bus. I really need to write a whole seperate, (huge) post just on traffic in India. It realy does boggle the mind. We’re booked in to Kochin for three nights before our flight to Mumbai.There’s a fort here to check out, and hopefully an internet connection and maybe even a swimming pool! (That’d be nice!) In the back of my mind I kind of wanted to all go out and see a movie in India. Even if it was in Hindi with English subtitles, that would’ve been alright, but I’ve not had any luck finding one so far. I’m sure we will in Mumbai, (they likely have English “talkies” there) but it would have been cool to find one somewhere else.

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