February 2, 2015
See the previous post for information on finding a houseboat.
The boat left on time. If fact all the boats leave on time and just after 11:30AM the channel fills with rattan vessels of all sizes. After clearing the main channel near the harbor the boats scatter somewhat, however, there are still plenty on the water.
The boat chugs along rather slowly as we make our way through the palm tree-lined channel. The residents here live their life on the water. The small houses, some of them brightly painted and quite nice, have steps that lead down to the water where the women do laundry and other washing. Others bathe, swim or fish.
About an hour into the trip we stop next to a picturesque rice field for lunch. Senish puts out a spread large enough to feed six. We imagine the leftovers will be eaten and so are careful not to put more on our plates than we can eat. Two small pan fried fish are the main event. Sides included sautéed long beans; a pineapple, pepper cream sauce; a cabbage and coconut salad; and a creamy vegetable salad. All the food was thoughtfully prepared, although I would have liked a little more salt and some heat – a matter of taste rather than quality.
While we eat Senish heads out to buy our beer. He returns a bit later with two bottles discretely tucked away in his backpack.
After lunch we head to the market on the massive Vembanad Lake to buy fish for dinner and then start the leisurely motor down the canal. The scene doesn’t change much. Some areas are more picturesque than others, nonetheless it’s an interesting glimpse at local life and a relaxing way to pass an afternoon. Much more peaceful than driving or walking the streets of India.
Activities such as a massage or a ride in a small boat down the smaller back channels are also available for an additional fee.
Mid-afternoon Senish brings us a snack of fresh hot, batter-fried bananas. Later he brings us grape smoothies. You will certainly not go hungry and really don’t need additional snacks.
As the light starts to get low we near what looks like the other side of Vermbanad Lake. It’s a tranquil setting with fewer buildings and more rice fields. Sometimes with just a narrow strip of buildings and trees that separate the water from the rice field, which are actually at a lower elevation than the channel.
About 5:30PM the myriad boats tie up single file parallel to the bank of the lake. We are told we can walk along the pathway that runs along the water’s edge if we like. There is also a local offering a ride in his small boat. We opt for the walk and a chance to stretch our legs.
The path follows rice fields and then continues along a smaller channel that dead-ends with the path then looping around to the other side of the channel. We walk past the homes we’ve been seeing at a distance as women wash and prepare the evening meal and children sweep the pathway in front of their house. It’s a beautiful evening with the tranquil setting reflected in the still waters.
Back on the boat we watch as the light from the setting sun fades into darkness. The evening still warm, any lights on the boat attract beaucoup bugs.
Dinner includes more dishes similar to lunch but with the addition of our fish and prawns – chicken curry, green banana salad, sautéed okra, rice and chapatti, among others.
After dinner Senish shows how to fish. He places a small piece of chapatti on a tiny hook. The instant the hook sinks into the water a tiny fish, about an inch and half long hits the hook and he pulls it out. Don catches about 10 of the things that are placed in a bucket. Senish plans to fry them up for dinner or maybe breakfast.
Tired of fighting the bugs and droopy eyelids I go to bed early. It’s a comfortable night sleep – cool room, Asian-firm mattress, clean sheets.
The next morning we drink instant coffee on the upper deck as we watch the morning light change over the water.
Breakfast is served at about 8AM.
A Kerala breakfast of a rice ball filled with sugar, spice and coconut, and idiyappam – another rice based starch, served with a curry sauce.
We leave to go back to the dock shortly after 8AM. The boat moves much more quickly now covering in 45 minutes the same distance it took 1.5 hours to cover yesterday. More and more boats emerge from the side channels into the main channel, all reaching the Alleppey dock about 9AM as promised. We gather our belongings, meet our driver on the dock and within 10 minutes are heading out of town to our next destination.
Those who have done backwater trips in South East Asia, such as the Mekong River, will find Alleppey very familiar. It’s a great change of pace and a different side of India. Just remember, it is still India.