Our group of lads arrived in Alleppey early doors. We walked off the Government bus from Kochi straight into a houseboat parked in the famous backwaters of Kerela. An extravagant and highly expensive way to see very little of real life on the backwaters turned out to be a rather enjoyable affair, which involved lots of socialising and rum drinking rather than seeing anything cultural. There’s a time and place for everything.
The group of five I traveled with met another group of three English lads and we jumped on board our luxury houseboat which cost us a whopping 10,000R for a 24 hour trip. The boat was stunning, the bedrooms luxurious and the toilets were fitted with a western toilet, and even included complimentary towels, soap and toilet paper. That’s right, toilet paper. For just under 14 English Pounds Sterling, we were living it up. We had a driver, a cook and a young boy who didn’t seem to do anything apart from smile nervously at us. The food was OK, the service was nice-ish but we saw little of the beautiful backwaters. Luckily for me, the company was good and the rum was flowing.
We set sail and joined dozens of other luxury houseboats mostly filled with rich Indian families on holiday. We sailed past villages that were very close to Alleppey itself but we didn’t stop. The backwaters are gorgeously lush but I was left feeling that I didn’t experience real life on the waters. We were merely pretending to be rich tourists living it up where in reality we are poor backpackers living Indian life on a budget. Don’t get me wrong, I was extremely content to pretend I was a rich tourist for a day.
We ate, drank and relaxed as we waved to the rich Indian families who passed us by. We played chess and connect four. I beat Tim at connect four. ‘Winner’. A press up challenge gave us our daily dose of exercise. Drinking games took us into the early hours, Ben throwing up on my shoulder was a clear winner of moment of the night. Tim and Antons attempts at climbing a palm tree a close runner up. As the cook produced the goods with the Indian food, we helped him out with a little tipple from our ‘Old Munk’ rum supply.We watched the sunset and then the flies descended on us in mass. It was there turn to be fed.
This whole experience was an indulgence that left me thinking I was maybe wasting my last precious days in India getting drunk with some rather nice people from home. Don’t get me wrong, it was a great day but not exactly the real cultural exploits I love throwing myself into. I’m crazy. This was too shanti, it didn’t feed my thirst for adventure. I have plenty of friends in England who I can get drunk with. The next few days will be different, I’m splitting from the group and going my own way around Kerela. A wise decision. Traveling alone opens doors. I’ll meet up with these guys again, the back packing gods will see to that. Watch this space, the journey is about to pick up pace again.
The Local Boats bit
On returning to Alleppey, I put my bag into a locker at the bus station and jumped on board a local boat at the boat jetty down. The boat people think I’m mad. Why does a rich tourist want to get on a crap boat to go to the villages? They’ve got a point. In truth I had no idea where my 7R ticket would take me but I was pleased with my purchase. The boat took me through dozens of settlements on the backwaters, the real India yaar. This was the adventure I was looking for. Venturing into the unknown. I’m crazy me. The boat had the comfort of a local bus and the noise of a jet engine. I loved it. Sitting at the front took me away from the engine noise, slightly.
The journey took me out of Alleppey, away from the heavily advertised villages that surround it and away from the huge fleets of houseboats prowling the perimeter. Twenty minutes out and the boat was in fucking beautiful backwaters. With my limited vocabulary, I need to swear to emphasise the beauty of what I saw. I was a little hungover, extremely relaxed and enjoying the heat. The waters are calm and drizzled with greenery. Palm trees and lush greens line the backwaters as we gently and rather noisily drift past. There are houses and shacks lining the thin stretch of land in between the waters. Squeezing a home on these small pieces of land seems ridiculous but it looks great on camera. We stop at boat jetties on both sides of the water picking up adults, fishermen, school children, families and the odd old person. The smiles a white person like me induces from the locals is enough to keep me going all day. On my own, I feel the explorer in me come alive again. I’m on one of those adventures away from the other tourists. I like these adventures more. Bloody great stuff.
After 45 minutes of drifting I jump off at a village called Rajputi which consists of about eight houses/properties/shacks/homes. Not sure of what to do I decided to walk along the edge of the waters, talking to any local that could or attempted to converse in English with me. I met big smiles, a friendly man with one leg, women washing clothes, children playing and fishermen working hard to earn a living using small wooden boats and nets. The heat was intense. Sweat dripping from my forehead I realised that today was a far more interesting and mentally rewarding day than getting drunk was yesterday. Lesson learned. Hold on, I’m starting to sound like a pompous, up my own arse, explorer type back packer. I still like drinking with pals, just there needs to be a limit on it. Don’t ever not call me if you fancy a beer. I’m always in. Sometimes.
Returning to Alleppey, I pick up my bag and jump on my second local ferry of the day, going to Kottyam. This two hour journey local boat took me through further stretches of the backwaters. I could sit and drift all day. This would be an awesome place to take the Mrs on a holiday. Not that I have a Mrs, but if I did, and I actually liked her enough, then I’d take her here. The harsh lifestyle in Rajasthan seems like a distant memory now. The difficulty level has been decreased. Love it.
Mike’s Final Verdict
The dirty old local boat beats the luxury of a houseboat any day of the week. And it’s tonnes cheaper. No brainer really but glad I experienced both. I’m noticing that in India, if its more difficult, dirtier or just stupid, I enjoy it more.
Once in Kottyam, I decide to get on a local bus to Kumily. Cheap, basic and it has no windows. I reckon I may go on a pilgrimage to see the Ayappa Temple in Sabarimala. Not exactly what the guide books recommend but I like these little adventures. Have you picked up on that yet? There’s some tea and spice plantations up there too. Could be interesting.
A ridiculously drunk man sits next to me and proceeds to shout at me in Mayalam, the language spoke in Kerela. I nod, smile and head wiggle which keeps him at bay for a while. Luckily for me a local man sits on between us. The next half hour flies past as the two get into a full blown argument. At one point the pissed old guy was heading for a beating. The entire bus stared and smirked. The old moaning guy is clearly pissed and the local man was not approving of his drunken state. Classic stuff. I love the way Indians argue. It rarely gets violent but they love a heated debate. They like to stand up for their rights and are not afraid to voice their feelings. Bus and train journeys always produce the goods.