Kerala

3 11 2012

My last days in India I spent in the state of Kerala in the south-west. In Kerala, everything is a bit more quiet, laid-back, and clean. Somebody told me it is the richest state of India and if you see suburban-like middle-class houses of Alleppey and Fort Cochin you won’t belive anyone telling something else. The streets are not exactly clean and still the Indians burn their waste on every corner, but in comparison to all the other places I’ve seen in India this is the closest you get. Like in Goa the weather is hot and humid.

River through Alleppey

River through Alleppey

Because my flight to Singapore is from Cochin I chose to go directly to Allepey, the hub for tours on Kerala’s backwaters. As always I preferred the local transport options and instead of paying a fortune for a tuk-tuk or taxi to Alleppey I had the fun of experiencing the fight with sturdy Indian grannys who wanted to jump the queue. Ha! not with the German… I’m long enough in India to have no restraint to use my elbows even against them. Otherwise one always ends up having to stand with a 15kg backpack in the aisle of a bus that is driven by somebody who must be convinced driving a Ferrari, having to give way to boarding and unboarding people every few seconds with no space to move at all.

 

In Alleppey all the touts seem to wait for foreigners at the bus station. They give you fancy business cards of guest houses resp. homestays (if every dump was a resort in Goa, every house with a free chamber is a homestay in Kerala) or backwater tour operators. I ended up in the KTC Guest House that offers rooms from 500 rupees. I think there are a lot of better options but I was too tired to search any longer. And the grandfather that lived in the premises as well seemed to be very nice and helpful. On request, the owners offered me backwater tours and other options as well, but to me they seemed a bit overpriced. I was really glad that I didn’t accepted any of their offers because a quick comparison with the tours other guest houses were offering confirmed my assumption. By chance I met some other Germans just in front of my guest house searching for a place to have dinner. I joined them and it turned out, that they just came back from a lovely backwater tour and so I booked my tour at their homestay. The group was on a gap year, working with children and disabled people in and around Banagalore for one year and they traveld a bit because of some school holidays. I’m not sure if I would have been prepared/strong enough to work for one year in an Indian village without water in the house at the age of 18 or 19.

Local ferry

Local ferry

Backwater houseboats... fortunately I had a small, manpowered kayak

Backwater houseboats… fortunately I had a small, manpowered kayak

The next day my backwater tour started at 8 in the morning. Somebody catched up with me to drive me with his Honda Hero the 300m to the ferry terminal. There I saw one guy that could have been a Berlin or Hamburg hipster, with a moustach that absolutely didn’t fit to the rest of his appearance: small and skinny, more like a 18-years old. It turned out that he and his girlfriend were going with the same operator as me and so I sat with them on the table at the family’s house of our boatsmen for breakfast half an hour later. It turned out that he only had a special kind of humor and he grew the moustache to look like 95% of the Indians. Seriously, „all“ Indians who are able to grow a moustache have one and they look like from the 80’s 🙂

My funny baotsman

My funny baotsman

I had my own boat and boatsman, who didn’t speak more than 20 word English and was missing his front teeth but still was so funny in his appearance and manner. The boat tour was at first very interesting, seeing all the other boats on the canals and lakes, the houses, some of them flooded, the people doing laundry in one or the other way, washing the cloths on a stone in front of their houses or washing themself fully dressed (at least the women), and observing their daily routine.

One of the many backwater laundries...

One of the many backwater laundries…

After a while, when I had seen the same routine in many houses, it got more and more relaxing 🙂 The highlight of the tour was the stop at a local bar for having a glass of coconut beer. I have to admit that it was really disgusting but the locals seemed to love it, having red eyes from the alcohol at 11AM…

Having a coconut beer

Having a coconut beer

After the beer, we all (Jonas, Celine and me) were brought to a strange catholic church were they build a big house around a small one that was the birthplace of some curch dude. In the canals we often saw boatsmen calling something that sounded like a longstreched „heeeeeyy“, sometimes in a high voice, other times in a low. They are selling fish and „heeeyyy“ in a high voice means that they offer small fish, in a low voice big fish 🙂

Delicious lunch at a local family's home

Delicious lunch at a local family’s home

The tour ended with lunch at around 3PM back at the family’s house. On the menu were roasted „heeeeyy“ (high voice), some curries and prickles and rice, served on a banana leaf. It was one of the most delicious meals I had in India, attesting that the locals and small stalls with their simple dishes are often better that the sophisticated and high priced restaurants.

Indian "Spice Girls" :-)

Indian „Spice Girls“ 🙂

After lunch we could also enjoy a performance of the family’s daughters, presenting several Indian-style group dances, giggeling all the time. Although we hardly did anything over the day we were all really tired on the ferry ride back to Alleppey but agreed to meet upon dinner in a small local food stall.

 

The next day I drove back to Cochin. This time everyone was already seated when I came to the bus, so I had to stand in the aisle all the way back. I had no time to complain about the weight of the backpack on my back, being busy to grab a hold and not showing any fear on my face. I was able to look out of the front window, seeing the maneuvers the bus driver made. Now I know why I have never seen a bus driver older than 45-50!

Chinese fishing nets at Fort Cochin

Chinese fishing nets at Fort Cochin

Fort Cochin is situated on a little island off the coast from Eranakulam, the city on the mainland. In Fort Cochin one can see several catholic churches (due to the portuguese era), a Dutch palace, and even a jewish district. The main attraction are the chinese fishing nets on the northern coast. I read somewhere that this is the last place were this kind of nets is still used for fishing. It takes 5 people to operate one net. Unfortunately there were a lot of plants in the water under the nets due to the tides so that nobody was able to fish. Another must-do in Cochin/Karala is the Kathakali theater. Ancient stories featuring Indian gods are told, using extensive makeup. The characters itself aren’t speaking or singing, everything is expressed via facial expressions, hand signs and a little bit of dance. Unfortunately the admission was so high that they can afford A/C and as always, the higher the temperatures outside, the more they freeze it inside.

Kathakali theater

Kathakali theater

On my last night in Cochin I took another cooking class, this time South Indian food: fresh, spicy, NOT fried 🙂 The family with whom I cooked was really friendly but also mostly distracted by TV shows like India’s got talent and various soaps 😦 The food was really delicious but the fun we had at our cooking class with Shashi in Udaipur would not come up. Now it’s time to say goodbye to India. Therefore I will go to Sri Krishna Cafe, a very laid-back, tasty, and cheap local canteen, with my favorite Cochin lassi man, Ramesh, only 100m away. Note: No lassi for me that day… it was closed 😦

 

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