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!).

Monday, 15 February 2016

A long coastal ride and a short swim

Up early for a ride out through the backwaters to the coast - stunning scenery in the early morning haze.

Finally reaching the coast

The first of two ferry rides onto an island north of Cochin.

Getting hot now so time to stop for lunch at this place called Bay Watch.

Before lunch a swim to cool off - either in the pool overlooking the lake or the Indian Ocean. We chose the sea - it was lovely, like a warm bath, but very few people were swimming, most were just walking along the sand.

After another twenty kilometres in the heat another ferry to Fort Cochin, completely crowded with people returning from work -standing room only.

Staying at a homestay (below) for the next two nights - a bit like a large B&B, but we have the day off tomorrow to explore Fort Cochin.

On Monday our guide Joseph had the day off but Rintu and Maneesh the driver offered to take us round the old town (Fort Cochin and Mattancherry) as it was their home town.

Past the Chinese fishing nets to the Jewish quarter - over the centuries Cochin has been lived in by Jews, Potuguese, Dutch and each have left their stamp. On to the Dutch Palace which is now a museum of life during the time of the Maharajas.

And of course, shopping! And Kerala seems to be in rivalry with Yorkshire for this title ...

 Wonderful local fish for dinner - choose your fish and they'll cook it for you.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

... and down the other side to Guruvayur

It was a chilly start at 6.30am in Ooty, and we were in for a long descent to sea level, through wonderful countryside.

a tea break before 9am!

with appropriately parked bikes.

Down through tea plantations where the workers were clipping the tea bushes using shears with a box on one blade to catch the leaves,

and through a forest of majestic eucalyptus trees 

and a huge traffic jam where they were resurfacing the road, one half at a time, leaving the other half covered in scattered gravel, so the effect was like riding on marbles. 

Finally we reached our lunch stop (delicious and well earned after 85km downhill) and boarded the bus for a 3.5hr transfer to Guruvayur - another temple town, finally in Kerala.

Next day we set out on our bikes to explore the back roads, looking at big, brightly painted houses, and Catholic Churches as well as Hindu temples, many of which were getting ready for festivals as it was Saturday, complete with the obligatory decorated elephant.

Next we cycled to the beach, where there was a party of children on a school trip eager to chat and have photos taken

and their teachers - looking much more colourful than your average geography teacher

The local fishmonger 

Round the corner the big fish at the wholesalers

Loads of colourful boats

And a great use for the ubiquitous plastic bottle and a picturesque pile of coconut shells

After out first glimpse of the backwaters

we cycled on to a Catholic Church founded by St Thomas in 54AD.

They had a museum full of interesting stuff including musical instruments, and the biggest cemetery in India (tiny by our standards)

Returning to Guruvayur we had a traditional Keralan meal on a banana leaf - eaten with the fingers - in the same restaurant as an important Indian politician - being in cycling gear we felt a bit under dressed!

In the evening we explored the town:

It was refreshing to be able to wander round the shops here with no pressure to buy at all. The town was in the middle of a festival weekend, and there were loads of Indian pilgrims, for whom the shops all catered. There was a lot of bling - brass bells and plastic charms which seemed very popular; one of the girls (Lorraine) bought us one each for our bikes - Ganesh (the elephant god) who seems to be a bit like St Christopher.

At the temple was a traditional Indian dance performance portraying the Durga story (again).

Fascinating to watch but quite long so we left before the end as we needed to get up early for a long ride the next day.