Slow breakfast service
So today, a trip to the backwaters are on my program. But first, a hearty breakfast in the restaurant of the hotel; good food, but the service this morning happens at an incredible snail’s pace. If I had known this in advance, I would have ordered my breakfast already when I was still in Madras. After breakfast, I head to the boarding point of the boats, at least I think so. It soon turns out that I have to go 50 meters further, but fortunately, I am immediately notified.
Arranging my half-day trip to the backwaters
Yesterday I only booked a half-day trip to the backwaters; otherwise, you have to return by bus after seven pm or stay overnight in Kollam. As Kollam is not part of my itinerary, I want to return to Alleppey. I just sat down on the top deck of the boat when the manager of the booking agency comes to sit with me. They are going to sail a different route today so it will difficult for me to return by bus.
Need to switch boats to return to Alleppey
But there are two alternatives. Either they drop me in a village shortly before the lunch stop, or after lunch, I can transfer to the boat from Kollam towards Alleppey. That will cost 100 rupees. I agree with the second option. I even get a second booking, so it should be okay.
A small number of tourists on the boat
This time some tourists join the trip to the backwaters; a French lady, a Welshman, a Belgian couple, an Englishman, and also some Indian tourists. However, the boat is not yet filled to a third of its capacity. That is a positive thing; a full boat would make you feel like being jam-packed in a sardine can. The atmosphere on board is friendly and relaxed. At the start of the trip, it rains for a while, but luckily it stops after half an hour.
A series of lakes and connecting channels and rice fields in between
The backwaters consist of a series of lakes and connecting channels excavated by the English. Sometimes you have widely navigable sections. Other times you trudge through narrower corridors. An oasis of green everywhere surrounds the water; palm trees, mangroves, and other shrubs. Sometimes we also pass fairly extensive rice fields. In between all this greenery, you spot several houses, schools, and churches. A number of these houses (including huts occasionally) are built on such narrow areas of land that makes you wonder what happens to them when the water level rises.
Close view of seeing how people on and off the water
You can experience very closely how people live on and off the water. Now and then, you see women doing laundry in the river or people soaping themselves. Most children greet us spontaneously as we pass, often followed by the call for a pen – that is a classic. Everyone moves here by boat. You have them in all sizes and weights; almost all of them are a kind of prao driven by a long bamboo stick. The boats range from about three meters to copies of at least 15 meters long.
Expensive houseboats for rent
The larger boats have often been converted into so-called houseboats, which you can rent for a considerable sum to let you sail from place A to B. Everything is provided on the boat; bed, chairs and cushions, even a kitchen including a cook. If earlier on I had met some people to share this experience, it might have been worthwhile to travel over water a bit. However, for a solo traveler, it is too expensive.
A trip to the backwaters includes spotting a variety of animal species
We also encounter all kinds of animals, most bird species. One is terrific; a shiny blue tail, a yellow torso, and a dark red beak. But I fail to capture this on a picture, as it always flies off too fast. At some point, we pass a school of herded ducks and even see a swimming snake at least five feet. I enjoy watching the environment. To live here is something else; any form of luxury is absent, and the mosquitoes will suffocate you in the evenings.
Meal on a banana leaf with grilled sardines
Around one pm, we dock at a small settlement for lunch. We get a typical meal on a banana leaf; rice with dal and some vegetables in sauce. To me, this is not new anymore, but some tourists are not too comfortable in the beginning. Still, everyone eats, some leave the fish untouched though. Big grilled sardines, I really won’t let that pass me by; they are warm, we are close to ponds and lakes, so I grab my share. For 35 rupees, I had a tasty lunch.
Possible to stay on a prison-like resort island
As we sail on, we pass the resort that was proposed as a one night stay yesterday. Our supervisor onboard admits that the price for sleeping here is unreasonably high. And since it is located on an island, it is also a kind of prison. You can not leave the resort; in other words, you will end up paying the prices for food and drink that they want. I am glad I did not book a night over here.
Switching to the boat coming from Kollam to return to Alleppey
Once past this paradise, we end up in a large open water surface. I doze off quietly, say a short siesta after lunch. When I wake up again, I see another boat coming from Kollam approaching. The engines of both vessels shut down, and I switch to the other ship. This time the tourists, three English boys, two German girls, an Australian couple, and another couple, are only concerned with their acquaintances. On the previous boat, everyone was fraternizing since lunch, but the atmosphere here is entirely different, more distantly.
Red sun disappearing behind the palm trees
Animosity or not on my new boat, I continue to enjoy the view, under a burning sun; I was wise to apply sun milk today and also brought enough water. The return journey takes 4 hours, which means that we can also experience the sunset – a beautiful view, a red sun that disappears behind the palm trees. Just before 7 pm, we arrive back in Alleppey, which is only half an hour later than expected, an achievement by Indian standards.
Disappointing backwaters resort
When I arrive back at the hotel, the two German girls have already come there with their backpacks, their faces depressed. They had been persuaded to drop off at a backwaters resort about 15 kilometers before the endpoint. In my opinion, an unwise decision; you are too far from the city, despite the possibly idyllic location, where people naturally charge a high price for something that you have not been able to inspect first. After hearing their story, my concerns seemed correct.
Ticking off my trip to the backwaters
After a refreshing shower, I enjoy a nice meal again in the restaurant, this time with a smooth service. I can tick off Alleppey from my wish list, apart from the trip to the backwaters this town – also named the Venice of India – has not much to offer. The Indo-European Kochi beckons.