Friday, April 11, 2008

Alleppey to Kollam backwater cruise

On the recommendation of one of the other residents, Julie (a herbal healer from the US, who was to be found meditating on the porch during a thunderstorm), I'd decided to take the full-day tourist cruise down to my next port of call, Kollam.

I took the public ferry back into Alleppey from Chennamkary, which quickly filled up and I found myself surrounded by bright colours and waist-length plaits. I was sandwiched between two matching little old ladies. They both wore cream saris with golden edging, in the traditional Keralan style, and their grey hair was oiled and pulled off their paint-daubed foreheads in matching tight buns.

I looked around, puzzled that every joining passenger squeezed onto one of the three benches around me when there was plenty of room at the front, then it clicked - although there was no sign, the front of the boat had obviously been unoficially designated the men's area, which was why I was being crowded out by the female majority of passengers. Eventually, when it was clearly getting silly, people started to take up the front of the boat as well.

On arrival in Alleppey I was sold a ticket for the cruise by a travel agent tout, who helped me with my luggage, then expected a tip (I refused - the commission he'll get for getting me into that travel agent will do him just fine - and anyway I never even asked for his help with my bag). I made it onto the ferry with barely five minutes to spare.

There was a guide on board - and I use the word guide in the loosest sense - who'd occasionally come out with some random commentary. Pointing out one of the traditional wide canoe-barges, he told us matter-of-factly, and I quote: "Country boat. Take many people take some goods some place to another place." Later he pointed out a duck farm. One lady, searching for a suitable response, asked if the ducks were for eating. "No, for eggs," he said, then added "and for meat".

We stopped for lunch at a luxurious-looking resort with a light, airy restaurant area with checked yellow tablecloths and white-painted wooden chairs. And led around the back to a dimly-lit bamboo shed behind it, and seated at worn folding tables with mismatched chairs. The Thali meal wasn't bad (served on the traditional banana leaf. With the number of restaurants using banana leaves as plates, I wonder that they don't run out of banana leaves... same way as they don't run out of bananas, I suppose!) but I'm growing bored of south Indian food.

After lunch we continued into wider waterways, passing fishing vessels and more of those Chinese cantilevered nets. The rows of nets lined up along the horizon creates a skyline of spindly X-shapes on triangular wooden frames, that strangely put me in mind of Rotterdam.


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