Sunday, 22 February 2009

Around the world in 15 mails - No.6 (Kerala)

Keralan Backwaters Overwhelm

Allepey, March 3 2005

Ahoy there m'hearties with a ho ho ho and one too many bottles of rum.

Firstly, thank you very much for your messages wishing me a happy birthday - all gratefully received and appreciated.

I've turned a corner, both literally and metaphorically.

If I couldn't spend the day itself in the bosom of my family and friends, then a days cruise through the backwaters of Kerala has to be a pretty decent alternative. I was very lucky to be looked after so well but with the firm belief that one makes one's own luck, we must pick up the story on the day before.

I'd booked myself into an idyllic guesthouse, surrounded by water on three sides and only accessible by boat. It had the feel of a family home, indeed that was exactly what it was - owed by Americans of Indian origin and used as a guesthouse when they're not in occupation. There were no other guests, so it was just me and the endless stream of staff. On the morning before my
birthday, I'd planned to take the speedboat into town to have a nose around and buy some basic supplies. Standing on the jetty of the guesthouse, I noticed a 40ft, two tier cruise ship approach and eventually dock. The caretaker of the guesthouse was going to use this vessel to take some fresh tourist shots of the place and asked whether I'd like to come along for the ride. You bet! It turned out that the boat was the same one I was planning to use for my birthday cruise the next day. The Captain (Anthony) and First Mate (Thomas) were made aware that it was going to be my birthday the next day (not by me), so they suggested we had a little celebration, could I give
them 300 rupees for some rum?! They also offered to pick me up the following morning straight from the hotel, rather than me having to get into town for the proper embarkation point.

Dawn came up with rosy fingers (thanks Homer) and the boat came into view. On being piped aboard I was garlanded and applauded and told I had a special seat up with the Skipper! I should point out at this wasn't a private cruise. There were 25 or so other customers and I felt a little embarrassed about the attention I was receiving (hey ho, what could be done!). It was an
amazing day, at the lunch break I was seated with the crew and my lunch was covered by them (the tourists were all at the other end of the room and having to fork our 200 rupees each!). The second bottle of rum went down better than the first and life was good. During the afternoon I was asked if I liked duck and whether I'd like to join the Captain and his family that
evening for dinner - it just got better and better.

After we'd docked in Allepey a guesthouse was found for me, I showered and was then taken to Anthony's house. I met his children and brothers (all of them boatmen); they'd got the ducks but thought some fish would be good with it. Out came the traditional net, it was cast into the river (we were eating on the boat) and a catch of little whitebait/anchovy style fish was netted,
dispatched, washed and cooked within minutes - it doesn't get fresher than that folks - delicious. Another bottle of rum was acquired and dispensed with pretty quickly and then it was back to the hotel. I felt very privileged to be given a glimpse of a society that hadn't changed its
rituals since God was a boy. They even speak a Indyc style language, separate from Hindi or indeed anything else I've ever heard. If you ever find yourself down this way, 'Nani' is their word for thank you - I used it a lot.

It was a great day, a real defining moment of the trip and a memory I'll treasure for years to come.

I better go now, this Internet place is charging an awful lot, it's hot and I don't want to short out the computer with my sweat.

Toodle pip.

Love to all.


p.s Karin - Keralan backwater truly are one of the 100 places to see before
you die!

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