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Our world Travel On 10th May 2007 I fled the UK on a journey around the world with a long list of places to go. Got as far as the Philippines where I met my wife. We got married on 11th May 2010 and are now sharing the experiences of travelling the world together

Kumuli to Cochin

INDIA | Thursday, 19 August 2010 | Views [2329] | Comments [1]

Fri 13th August - After a short stay in Kumuli, we are moving on to Alleppey today. A little problem before we set off. We had to walk out of the restaurant at the Coffee Inn as the service was so slow, that breakfast was going to turn into dinner, and didn't arrive. Decided to head to the bus station earlier than planned. There is a single direct bus to Alleppey leaving about 1pm taking 5 1/2hours. It is just as easy to take any other bus going to Kottayam and change there. Same overall time. KSRTC Our bus left at 11:20 costing Rs69 for the 4hr journey. Managed to buy some Bananas and snacks for the journey to compensate for not having any breakfast yet. Surprisingly, there were other travellers on the same bus and others queing to take other bus. More than we had seen on our journey so far. Mainly French for some reason. The other foreigners at the Coffee Inn were mainly French too. Must be a good time of year for them to travel?
Kumily is a nice place to stay. Plenty of really good restaurants, activities to do and good places to stay. Had we not wanted to get to Alleppey for Saturday, we would have stayed longer. 
Leaving Kumuli westward is beautiful, lush valleys of spice plantations, Coffee and tea plantations. Rolling hills and some pretty cottages nestled in amongst it. A bit of a bumpy ride. Which added to the fun. A cool start to the day, which i am sure will heat up when we descend to the lowlands. We had plenty of rains as the trip progressed. Tea plantations fizzled out and became rubber. A noticeable spread of well cared for churches, an ocasional mosque and little sign of Hindu temples, indicates a very different religious balance in these parts than we saw in Tamil-Nadu.
With our driver progressing at breakneck speed and the occasional lunatic trying to overtake us in the most stuid of locations, Shiera wasn't feeling too well. The road snakes its way along for almost the whole journey and the road rough.
We arrived in Kottayam at 3:10pm and ran straight for the Alleppey bus (aka Allappuzha) which cost Rs27.5. After leaving the mayhem of the town, the bus entered the area that this place is famous for....the backwaters. Beautiful verdant rice paddies, dissected by mile after mile of  canal. Along the banks houses are separated by a path wide enough for a cycle or rickshaw. Occasionally a houseboat appears, until closer in to Alleppey when they appear more regularly. The houseboat originates from converted rice barges, which are no longer used for that purpose. Many offer plush 6 or 7 bedroom accommodation. They are fairly unique to this area of the world. i noticed that large areas of the canals had been choked by water hyacinth...and invasive weed. Pretty with its lilac flowers, but terrible in waterways. It does offer a habitat to snails, crabs and fish, which the locals live off though.
Reaching Alleppey is like a shock after the open space as it is a crazy congested town. Back to honking buses and rickshaws again. No sooner had we arrived at the bus station by the jetty, we were approached by a guy offering accommodation. Normally i wouldn't bother, but we hadn't booked anything and it is a busy time, and took a gamble. Turned out to be an excellent place...
The Vrindavana 180yr old Heritage home in Zachariya Bazar (www.vrundavanam.com), is within walking distance of the beach, and had a great restaurant, the avocado. To add to it, they laid on a special evening's entertainment of traditional dance and music Kerala style. It also came with free wi-fi. Good food and a nice beer accompanied by lively entertainment meant for a nice evening. They had placed hundreds of oil candles along the paths to create a lovely athmosphere. Full marks to them. I was also able to buy our tickets for tomorrows boat race, so that made things really easy.
Saturday 14th August - The Nehru Trophy Snake Boat race. Due to comence at 2:30pm. We had tikets for the finishing line stand referred to as the 'Victory Line'. Being busy we had to get there before noon to choose our location, so had to set off at 11:30am.
It had been heavy rain during the night and was still raining when we had breakfast.  The idea was to leave for the Snake boat race at 11:30am as it was all going to start around 2pm, and the tickets were for the finishing line, being the best place to see the action. We got a rickshaw to about 1/2 km from the entrance / Victory line and it was nuts. Totally crazy, and that was about 11:40. We got dropped off and walked the rest. Mayhem is one way to describe it. Thousands of locals battle through the entrance into a muddy track to get to the wooden platforms. Narrow tracks along the waters edge had to be negotiated slowly as it would be so easy to fall in. The more expensive tickets got a view opposite to the Grandstand, where the Lady President of India, Pratibha Patil was due. It took a while, but with some swinging from one place to another, and getting covered in mud up to the ankles, we managed to get a seat. Not a great location, but the alternative was to stand up for hours. What i had read was that the tickets were Rs75 to Rs500. We paid Rs700, and most foreigners in the better locations had paid Rs1000 or Rs1500. Now i cannot believe that the locals will pay any more than Rs75. I think we are scammed when it comes to tickets. There is no price marked on the tickets, so i think they hope you don't find out!
The whole Kerala Police force was there to swell the crowd. And anyone with a boat was jostling there position to get a view. The muddy mess was crazy, and everyone was so squashed in that it was a bit overpowering at times. Shiera wasn't well, and this made it worse. The race was done in stages as there was only a maximum of five lanes. At most there was only four boats at a time, each with upto maybe 100 oarsmen and beaters, who pounded out a rhythm, accompanied by others with whistles or just shouts to get them going. For the first couple of hours the boats went past on practice runs. At about 2:30 the actual stages began. The crowd errupted into frenzy as many had bets running. Screaming and exuberance from the winners, made a real hightened experience. One guy in front of us ust have had a big winning as he almost went hoarse with the excitement. 
We hadn't brought any food, but some snack sellers passed, so it wasn't too bad. After the first stage had finished Shiera wasn't feeling too good, so we made our exit. That was tricky! The crowds were so tightly packed, we had to scramble through the stands and muddy fields, across slimy mud to get out. Some people were climbing through the drains. It was discgusting.
A naval helicopter flew overhead with a frog-suited diver dangling underneath, but we couldn't see what else was going on, so carried on out. There was no other option but to walk most of the way out due to the volume of people. A big jewellers shop had put on a display outside to attract business. People with really good animal body paint and animal headwear were dancing outside.
Back to the Vrindavana Inn and after a freshen up, Shiera felt up to going out again, so we headed for the beach, about 1km away. What a surprise. Alleppuzha beach is really nice. Clean almost white sand. The sea was a bit rough, but good. There was a great opportunity not to be missed..a camel ride. Rs100 for the two of us for a short plod up and down the beach. Exciting for Shiera, as it was her first time on a camel. We had drawn a nice crowd who wanted photos with us, which was fun. The sun set behind a grey cloudy sky, so no sunset tonight.
There are a few ice-cream sellers along the beach and a couple of nice restaurants, one associated with a hotel. The other, the Harbour restaurant was full of foreign tourists, so we joined them. A nice beer and a great meal...Kerala curry again. This time Beef! Now you don't see beef in Tamil-Nadu, being predominantly Hindu. Here, it is more available. Many Muslim here and Christian/Catholic. In fact it is now Ramadam, the month of fasting for Muslims. Most of the staff of the Vrindavana Inn where we are staying are Muslim, and so night time is when they can eat and party.
A highlight of the day was a visit to see the movie Madharasa Pattinam at the Raiban Cine at the medical college. Before the film started i noticed what looked to two of the oldest cine cameras in the projection room behind us. Went to investigate and was invited in to meet Vijay, the cine operator. A great pice of film history was sitting there. Nowadays they had a new computerised projector sat next to it. The old ones were still there, but i guess never used.
The film, set in what is now Chennai, but used to be Madrasara Pattinam, and depicted a time of the Indian Independence from the grip of the British in August 1947. Today is Independence day, and will be celebrated at some places in India. Here it is low key. It showed the British as very brutish and disrespetful, and i felt really bad about some of the characters, especially the main army officer, who was both ignorant and hostile towards the Indian people. It was an emotional storyline and very well acted. There was some good performances by the English actors, but some terrible acting too. Very cheesy to say the least, but terrific to watch. 
The cinema had no aircon, just enorous fans on the walls. The power failed part way through and the film froze whilst it sat on backup battery until the power restored a few minutes later. As with the old days, they had an Intermission half way through. I remember that as a kid. Nowadays, they don't bother and run the film through to the end. Here they have a toilet break part way through.
The film was a typical musical with dancing at poignant points on the movie.
Earlier in the day we had dropped off at a random shopping area, and gone into a wedding saree store to get out of the rain. Left the store with a beautiful Saree. For under 2000 rupees, it was a superb material and Shiera looked gorgeous in it. The staff even put on a good demonstrtaion for her on how to wear it. So sweet of them, and very attentive. 
A great Biryani cafe served us up a super meal...fingers the only option. So good it hardly toughed the sides....yummeee...
 
Monday 16th August - Moving out of the Vrindavana Inn today. I have a friend from my last visit to India, who was and still is a tour guide. He has now extended his business with homestays and is also going into the houseboat business. Today i caught up with him and relocated to his home amongst the backwaters. A lovely location and peaceful. The home he shares with his mother and father on the riverbank. Great food and hospitality.
We had bought Shiera a couple of Sarees and wanted them tailored, so had to go to a local shop to buy some extra material before going to a lady tailor nearby. I went native too and bought a Lungi, which is like a Dhoti but less material and also coloured material instead of plain. 
There is a free boat service crossing the river which was interesting as the boat had a platform attached for motorcycles and overflow passengers. Shortly after the return crossing, the local school had finished and hundreds of children appeared. I didn't think it possible to fit so many bodies and bicycles on this small boat. The kids were wonderful. Bright shining faces and enormous smiles. All the girls had red bows in their hair and pink dresses, and the boys a smart uniform. Many must have been trained to ask for foreign currency or a pen, which was amusing.
The rains came on heavy later, but ceased by early evening, so we could sit outside and chat before anothe great dinner. A harmless snake slithered along near to the house, and the guys had to hook it and throw it over the wall. Mosquitos are a pain here, and the house had to be fumigated to avoid being drained of blood in the night.
Tuesday 17th August - It had rained all night, but still had good sleep. The electricity company switch the electricity off in case a tree was to collapse across a power line, so the water pumps weren't working, hence no running water either. Good that cooking is done with gas! An interesting breakfast of steamed Putt...made from rice flower mixed with coconut and steamed above a pressure cooker, using a Putt steamer. Had that with a curried chickpea mix and also mashed with banana, sugar and ghee, with nice Masala chai. Very tasty.
After breakfast we went on a lovely walk around the paddy fields and caught some nice scenes of local life. Some farmers were working in the paddies wearing umbrella hats. Apparently not available locally, but look cute. This area is also rich in birdlife and insects too. Kingfishers. Snake birds, Mondo and Herons abound. Numerous species of Dragon flies.
Shiera had a Saree dressing lesson from the mother of the house and we then had a photoshoot, with me in Lunghi. It had been a wonderful friendly place to stay and so friendly. 
We got dropped back at the KSRTC bus station in town and took the bus to our next destination of Fort Kochi, west of Ernakulam. Have to do it in two stages to save time. The first stage was to get a bus to Topumbaddy corner for Rs19 each. We were glad to get off that bus, as we had the most annoying guy sat next to us, who insisted on using his mobile and shouting at full volume in my right ear, plus he got his briefcase out, and was all elbows. I had to push his elbows out of the way a couple of times, and the conductor had to ask him to quieten down too. Plus he kept rambing on to me with no idea what he was saying. I think he was drunk too. The next bus from around the corner was only Rs 5.5 to Fort Kochi bus stop on the water front.
I had been here before and was looking forward to coming back and stopping longer. I remember it being a chilled place with good food options for foreigners....and English breakfast!
Made it before dark and managed to find a simple room at the Brisbane Lodge for Rs500 per night on Princess Street, warm shower and plenty of space. Plus it was right next door to an internet cafe with wi-fi. Princess street is the main road for accommodation and souvenir shopping. A quick check around some cooking schools before settling on the Salt & Pepper restaurant for some Non-Indian food for a change.

 

Comments

1

The Vrindavana 180yr old Heritage home in Zachariya Bazar (www.vrundavanam.com) staff cheated me in january 2011 in Allepy. They charged us exorbitantly high price for boat - riding in the back-waters. They continue to manipulate tourists. The staff told me that it's 150 years old, but they would change their words & tell it's 170 years and 180 years old.

  Ajai Jan 10, 2011 11:59 PM

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