Getting to where I was going in Kerala, southern India, was just one short flight and one long, 1950s prison bus-looking ride that would be indicative of much of my transportation experience in India. I got into Alleppey late, which precluded getting a houseboat for the night, but my wallet thanked me for that anyway. Instead, I went to a small hostel, Alleppey 3 Palms not far from the bus station that had just opened for tourists recently, and which I had pretty much to myself. To kill the rest of the afternoon I got some grub and hiked out of town to a beach on the Arabian Sea, getting there right in time for sunset. There were only local people there, but it was fairly crowded, and it was interesting to see the kids taking camel rides and the young men (and only young men) frolicking in the waves nearby a dock that had seen better days… probably from the same era as the bus I came in on.
The next day I booked a smaller boat for about 20$, which was too much but not bad for what I got, and sailed through the famous Kerala Backwaters bordering the large, beautiful Lake Vembanattu. As we leisurely floated by, I saw a cross-section of local life, from women washing clothes, dishes, and hair in the river to fishermen and rice farmers at work or peddling their wares from their small boats. All around were lush green palms lining the embankments that separated water and rice paddies, and that held the colorful mud houses of the area.
One interesting wrinkle was the prevalence of communist imagery, from Che to the iconic hammer & sickle. It turns out there’s a pretty popular Communist Party down here, just one of the many varied parties that make up the mosaic of Indian political life.
While I didn’t end up taking advantage of a houseboat, I did see several, and they looked like something out of another era… as they were. Originally they were grain trading boats, but the resourceful locals re-purposed them for the tourist trade, putting bedrooms where grain once lay and adding observation decks to the strangely top-heavy, flat-bottomed reed boats that almost look like something out of the Bible.
On our way back from taking a look at the Lake, we stopped at a local toddy shack. The closest description to this fermented drink would be coconut beer, but it reminded me more of the chicha I loved from the Andes, with its crisp bite and strangely endearing funky aftertaste. After that, it was time for lunch at a local fish restaurant, which boasted it’s very own guard eagle. Touristy, yes, but of course I had to pet it.
The food was also excellent, with the fried karimeen (blackfish), daal, fish curry, mango chutney, yogurt, curried cabbage, potato curry, rice of course, and fermented banana chutney providing a dazzling array of flavors and a quite full stomach in the end.
Elsewhere foodwise, Alleypey had an interesting assortment, from streetside hoppers (palm milk pancakes served with an omelet covered in some coconut-based sauce and milk tea) to decadent fudges unlike any I’d ever had (I call it fudge, but it wasn’t chocolate… delicious nevertheless). You also can’t argue with the prices, as my first meal was a small bowl of curry, two pieces of flatbread, and a coffee all for under a buck… total.