Thursday, 18 February 2016

Inland waterways and houseboats

The next major excitement of the trip was an overnight stay on a traditional Keralan houseboat but before we could do that we had to cycle to Alleppey where we spent the night in lodges at an Ayurvedic health spa.

That all sounds very grand but actually boiled down to a step above camping. The lodges were built of wood and palm leaves (trying not to think about how many creepy crawlies we shared the night with) 

and our bathroom (cold shower) was unfinished and open to the air with a coconut tree overhead!

The setting was very peaceful though, and as we had the afternoon free it was easy to sit and watch the world drift by from the verandah.

On the way there we saw a boat builder's yard. These boats are used for fishing and generally getting about.

They are constructed by stitching the planks of wood together, then sealing with bitumen.

Next an impromptu tea break (shops were on strike about taxes today so no cafe) near a river with more Chinese fishing nets.

Here's Maneesh, ever smiling, with the bananas 

At the next stop along the way Rintu attracted a crowd of kids, all wanting to know about his bike, and as ever willing to pose for a picture.

Also saw these woven bike baskets in several places - aren't they wonderful?

Finally we found an open cafe for a coffee/ tea stop - just a shack by the side of the road really, but did the job!

Lunch and dinner were at the health spa - delicious home cooking, and table decorations, courtesy of Lorraine (maharani for the day) and designed by Joseph our guide

In the morning we set off into Alleppey itself to look for spices and supplies (ie alcohol) for the house boat.

Completely manic traffic, but some interesting sights on the way, including a seed seller (20 rupees per packet - approx 20p), and the local bike shop expertly discovered!

Spice (cinnamon, nutmeg, star anise, mace, turmeric, cumin, cloves, cardamom) and snuff stalls. The spice sellers all were equipped with a pair of pliers so they could crush individual spices for you to smell. Have you ever tried chewing hard cinnamon bark? It's wonderful! And crushing cloves produces an amazing amount of oil. The bottles at the front of the stall contain different spice mixes - for tea, different curry dishes, other infusions etc.

And this town had a very decorative temple - seems to be dedicated to Durga (again!). Don't much like the look of that demon!

So finally back to the lake to board the houseboats. We had two - one with five bedrooms and the other with two - that's the smaller one below. Despite looking very rural, they are quite sophisticated, with aircon and ensuite bathrooms (shame the showers didn't manage more than a trickle though!)

The local crew navigated through the lakes and canals

including duck farms (have never seen duck on a menu though) - we saw one lady 'herding' the ducks from a boat

somehow they produced wonderful food from the tiny galley - 

river fish for lunch, and an amazing selection of dishes, including beef curry with tapioca (who knew it was a vegetable, rather like a potato?), pineapple curry and banana flower curry for dinner.

In the evening we has a dhothi lesson from Joseph (there's even a place to store your mobile phone!) - everybody (male) wears them, young and old, and they seem to be constantly adjusting them from long to short and back again.

And a sari lesson from the cook's wife - 

four pleats on the shoulder and six at the waist, and enough safety pins to sink a ship! The lady was a tayloress and ran Hazel up a fitted blouse to go under her sari in the evening after we were all in bed (cost, including lining R250 = £2.50!).

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