Thursday, January 29, 2015

India 2015 Kolorful Kerala : Day 5 - Of Kerala Backwater Houseboats

You are at - Jotaro's Blog / Footsteps / India 2015 Kolorful Kerala / Day 5 - Of Kerala Backwaters Houseboats    | Jump to Day 1&2 / Day 3 / Day 4 / Day 6Day 7
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India 2015 Kolorful Kerala : Day 5 - Of Kerala Backwaters Houseboats
Alleppey - 10th January 2015
Today we left the hills of Thekkady and went back down to the lowlands. We will miss the cool weather and the green tea plantations. But to make up for the warm, humid weather, we went onto one of those famed houseboats of which Kerala is renown for.

This is page 4 of a 6-page blog, click on the respective titles below to go to other pages :
 - Kolorful Kerala Day 1 & 2 - Of Spices, Tea Valleys & Cool Hills.
Kolorful Kerala Day 3 - Of Tahrs & Kalaripayattu.
Kolorful Kerala Day 4 - Of Elephants & Kathakali.
Kolorful Kerala Day 6 - Of Fishing Nets & Mosquitoes.
Kolorful Kerala Day 7 - A Dahl Shopping Day.

We had a long journey, driving 170km down hill through winding roads to the lowlands; our destination will be Allupuzha to take a cruise along their famed houseboats. Along the way we made a few unscheduled stops, one to visit a nice castle-looking church. The other stops were to buy tea and bananas. Bananas? Aren't there good bananas in Malaysia, why go all the way to India to buy bananas? 
Have we gone bananas? 

A short while after we left, Prakash our driver made a stop at this place. It's a tea shop selling tea produced by the nearby Connemara Tea Plantation. Thinking that a local could not be wrong, the girls, being girls, quickly went down too and bought a fair bit of Masala tea. We guys, being guys, just waited patiently in the van.

Later we saw this cheerful guys in a colourfully dressed up pick-up. According to Prakash, they are devotees on the way to the deity Ayyappan at his shrine at Sabarimala.

Somewhere at the hills of Pattumala, Prakash pulled over. He's a good driver cum tourist guide; knowing that we like to see unique buildings he will stop and let us visit them if we have the time.
This stop was at the Pattumala Matha Shrine, although termed a shrine it size is more like a church.

The church is unique as its architecture seems more European than Indian. Built with granite stonework it looked very majestic.

It even has a a dome over the altar section of the shrine, looking like a grand basilica. One would have thought that since India were once frequently visited by the Dutch, Portuguese and English, the architecture would be along that of those countries. But this church seems to have a more Italian influence. I wonder how that came to being, did Italians visit India in its past history?

A close-up view of the dome.

Inside the shrine is rather Spartan with a arched roof over the nave and a domed ceiling over the altar. There are no pew, I guess the congregation sits on the floor the local way as visitors have to take off their shows when going in.

The Pattumala Matha Shrine sits uniquely in a tea plantation, the tea bushes comes right up to its compound. So very convenient for the plantation workers, finished with work they can just pop into church and say their prayers.

Further along, the Ayyappan devotees had stopped and were happy to pose for a photograph with Kev.
High 5!

Along our way we saw even more devotees, mostly walking; some were bare-chested, almost all were bare-footed with a minimum of spare clothing carried in a bundle on top of their heads. Depending on where they started from, these pilgrims could have walked for hundreds of kilometres to the Ayyappan Shrine. That's real devotion.
Ah... so! Those darkly-clad guys whom I saw upon arrival at the Kochi's immigration were also Ayyappan devotees (... see Day 1 blog), flying all the way from Malaysia to make their pilgrimage too.

Along our drive, we saw this elephant transporting elephant grass. Some would say that putting this elephant in chains is cruel. I hesitate to make judgement; we have our way of life, they have theirs. Perhaps when their society becomes more matured, they will be kinder to the elephants.

At Kanjirappally, we stopped to buys bananas, but just not any bananas.
Lynn pointing to a bunch of red bananas, "Those are the bananas we want."

It was not easy looking for these red bananas, we had to stop at a few shops before we found some.

These are the Plantain bananas., available in only a handful of countries in the world, including Kerala. Of average length but quite thick, their red colour marks them out. Taste wise they are not sweet, but I understand that they are used for cooking as they provide many good vitamins.


After another 75 kilometres we reached Allupuzha. I was getting excited as we will be taking one of these thatched roofed house-boats for a cruise of the Backwaters here.
These house-boats are quite big, almost a hundred feet long. Within them are a living/dining area, a couple of bedrooms with en-suite bathrooms and even a kitchen
The four of us occupied in the house-boat and will be attended to by a pilot, a chef and a kitchen helper.
Wow! A big boat and almost a person to attend to each of us, that made us feel like maharajahs of old. Perhaps I should walk and sit in a regal manner while on board.... Naw.... I will just be plain old humble me!

Lunch was included in the cruise package and Chef Satain started cooking the moment we embarked. We were running about an hour and a half late, and they had to cook fast so that we wouldn't be having too late a lunch.

Along the way, we made a quick stop at a lake-side shop to buy these giant fresh-water prawns. We chose four of the biggest that came to about one kilogramme in total weight and paid 1,600 rupees for them.

As they were cooking, I took a peep out the kitchen window and saw a house-boat serenely sailing below swaying coconut palms. Man... I could get use to the slow, peaceful life here.

Fishermen in long sampans sailed passed us with their daily catch.

The Backwaters are calm and scenic, with padi fields on one side and villages on the other. Water hyacinth have propagated here and at certain areas they have become a nuisance as they covered almost whole canals and deprived sunlight from reaching to life deeper in the waters.

It was a good spread of deep-fried fish, prawns, a couple of vegtables, dahl and chicken curry.

Of the vegetables, I like this Malayalam style Cabbage Thoran. It's stir-fried finely cut cabbaged cooked with similarly finely cut carrots and onions. Some ginger and a sprinkling of spices are added in during frying.

Of course, the pièce de résistance were those giant freshwater prawns.
Wow! These prawns are huge, no wonder they have bedrooms here! With all the pep up libido after eating these prawns, those bedrooms could come in handy.... heh .... heh!
Slit in half along their bottoms and seasoned with spices, these were then deep-fried to perfection.

Oh.... my..... look at that delicious looking meet, beautifully topped by the spicy seasoning. It makes me salivate again just looking at this photo, damn!
I always like these giant prawns, almost as large as a small lobster but with their meat are nice - softer and sweeter than a lobster's. Although I think these prawns would be better if steamed or cooked in a curry; this Keralan style was tastefully good too.
(... read more of this lunch at Kerala Houseboat Feast @ Alleppey Backwaters blog).

With lunch over, we lounged at the living room taking in the surrounding sights as the cool late afternoon breeze blew onto our faces.
The crew allowed us to take turns in piloting the boat, even the girls had a go at it! But I must confess that the girls did better than me in controlling the boat.
"Err..... spin the wheel right..... too much... too much; spin it left now.... keep you eyes on the bow head that's the direction you will be heading!   Spin right, spin right...." were the hectic instructions the pilot had to keep on giving me.
Dang... I better stick to cycling.

The Backwaters although seemingly calm has much activities going on and around it:
The locals where oblivious to the many house-boats sailing the area, probably they are used to these larger vessels. In their narrow sampans they just criss-crossed the waterways and nonchalantly went on with their business.

A couple slowly rowing their bright orange boat, collecting reed grass from the canals to later feed their goats and cows.

A water taxi ferries locals to various points of the Backwaters, enabling them to carry out their day to day affairs.

An old bearded pilot steering his boat on a firm course; ... Hah! So unlike my amateur zig-zagging sailing style!

A family happily fishing together, while...

... an old lady did some washing at the riverside....

... while a man took a good snooze below shady trees next to the cool flowing water...
which brings us to...

The sun is setting, the day is coming to an end. 
The houseboats sail to berth for the night with their over-nighting passengers while our house-boat sailed back and let us off. We continued with our drive to the Maria Heritage & Spa where will be staying for the night.

Below is a map showing the route our house-boat took during our cruise of the Backwaters:

This is page 4 of a 6-page blog, click on the respective titles below to go to other pages :
 - Kolorful Kerala Day 1 & 2 - Of Spices, Tea Valleys & Cool Hills.
Kolorful Kerala Day 3 - Of Tahrs & Kalaripayattu.
Kolorful Kerala Day 4 - Of Elephants & Kathakali.
Kolorful Kerala Day 6 - Of Fishing Nets & Mosquitoes.
Kolorful Kerala Day 7 - A Dahl Shopping Day.

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