Thursday, January 13, 2011

Alleppy Jan 12

Periyar to Kollam
We left Periyar about 10:30 after having breakfast at our usual place J Since Richard successfully ordered poached eggs the morning before, eggs that were not cooked to rocks, I decided to try my luck as well but needless to say, mine were rocks.  The best poached eggs are made by our friend Kim who somehow gets them perfect every time!  I will stick to omelettes in future since they seem to be foolproof.  Though we got to the restaurant on the bike, the rest of the journey to the coast and Kollam for me was by car with driver.  He even wore his seat belt – quite unusual and he drove well and I was very comfortable in the middle row of three rows of seats. 
The route was up and down hills green with terraces of tea bushes and on the lower slopes, forests of rubber trees scored to channel latex into cups tied to the trunks – a familiar sight for us from Malaysia.    Mostly the paved road was good and though it wound and wound around and up and down, there was not so much traffic that it made one’s heart stop and every bend.  Richard loved it and was sure he saw more of the scenery than I through the windows. 
Kerala has a very large Christian population and there are many churches and missions and on trucks we saw signs that one might see as optimistic “Jesus is coming soon”.  Such evidence of a Christian presence was tame, however, in comparison with the Hindu.  The particular route we were following, off the main road and through countless small villages, was also a pilgrim trail.  We passed hundreds of pilgrims, all men, all ages, barefoot and bare-chested, loins covered by a dhoti, each carrying a wad of bedding on his head and not much else that we could see.  They made a colourful and interesting procession.  Everyone’s forehead was marked with inscriptions that indicated the particular god to whom they pledged attachment.    As the line of pilgrims petered out and we approached a village, we heard chanting and loudspeakers.   We turned a corner and suddenly were in the midst of hundreds if not thousands of dancing, chanting pilgrims, crowding the streets and congregating at the steps to a temple.  Police were out trying to allow traffic to move through but it was slow going – fortunately, since then we were able to watch what was happening.  Not that we could understand it. Again it was all men of all ages.  They had painted their bodies as well as their faces and many wore paper or light card crown shaped hats – a little Christmassy! Lined three or four deep, one group paraded along the street away from the temple, shouting and dancing as they went.   It was a riot of colour, bodies, and noise.  My driver could only say the fairly obvious – he being a Christian – that it was a Hindu celebration at a major temple.     Alas, we were not on our bike and couldn’t stop – or couldn’t communicate to say ‘stop’ and watch for a while.   Richard was following behind but kept falling back into the crowd.    It was anyway not clear where we could have stopped or what we would have done in the midst of all this activity.
Once out of the town and away from the celebration, we were again on winding narrow roads passing the occasional group of pilgrims.   The villages, for the most part, were tidy and mostly free of the heaps of garbage we have been seeing everywhere we go where there are people and houses or shops – which is nearly everywhere.    Kerala seems to encourage methods of garbage disposal alternative to simply throwing it where you happen to be.  And we saw some collection trucks.  Also saw some packaged garbage on the street ready for pick up - laid down a few feet away from litter that obviously was not going to be picked up.   Some places, people appear to use garbage as means of separation between themselves and their neighbours.  They sweep it away from their immediate front steps off to the side but just short of a neighbour’s space.   The problem is huge and newspapers carry stories of projects to deal with it.  One I read today involved a delegation from Singapore who had come to consult and give advice – Singapore, where you would  probably be safe eating food off the sidewalks.   Houses in Kerala villages, we also noticed,  are often built right to the roadside without  front yards – which helps avoid mess and also makes them all look very neat and tidy. 
Padi fields were a sign we were back in the lowlands and the air was hot and clammy even when breezing in through the open car windows.  On the bike, of course, it is always breezy and pleasant and we only notice the moist heat when we stop.    After a 5 hour drive, we finally entered Kollam and began the search for the place where we were to stay.  

Varivilya Estae & the Goddess of Light

We had phoned to get directions to our room at Varivilya Estatet, and the driver eventually got on the right road, Richard close behind.   At a gas station, a young man waved us down.  It turned out he had been sent to meet us and make sure we found the way without any difficulty.  Help was highly desirable since there always seem to be choices of ways to go and the right one not obvious, but sending someone about 7 km from the actual hotel turned out to be typical of the service of this particular place.   The road was a narrow lane that ran down the centre of a spit with the hotel at its end, surrounded on 3 sides by water.
Goddess of Light (rear view)
Houseboat cruises by
We had a choice of rooms and chose the non-aircon with the more comfortable bed, thinking that fans and the sea breeze would suffice to keep us cool.  I needed extra pillows to prop up my leg while sleeping and extra bedding to increase the overall softness and the staff came along with armfuls of pillows and quilts and whatever they thought would help.  The manager’s services included (at no charge) spending about 2 hours helping us get train tickets, trying to organize shared trips for the guests and taking Richard’s glasses to our next hotel after he left them behind. 
While there, we met a couple from England, Andrew and Yolande, who were also on a two month trip.   Much younger than us – late 40’s and mid-50’s – and quite adventurous.    They were using busses and trains and were including ashrams in their stays.  They had been attached for about 4 years and were trying to establish businesses in well-being.  Both had retired from career jobs – she was a former nurse and he an IT exec in the Netherlands.  Now they were committed to educating and training people to cook and eat well, and generally live better more fulfilling lives.  They volunteer for a tree planting project in Scotland and will offer a week of workshops there on well-being.  They would fit into the Haven milieu very easily, I think.  They were fun to talk to and she, in particular, having come from a motorbike family, was very eager to try travel as we are doing it – my injuries notwithstanding.  
Elephant on the way to Varkala

We spent two nights at Valivariya and then moved into town since he had no vacancy for a third night.  In the late morning the day we left, we decided to go 50km south to a beach resort called Varkala and see what it was like.  I tried riding side-saddle for a bit – many of the Indian women ride as passengers like that, but I felt a bit insecure even though it meant I avoided the jarring on my foot  from bumps in the road.  I switched back to regular leg over and we had a good ride both down and back. 

Swimming at Varkala
Varkala is popular with visitors wanting sunshine and beaches so mostly white bodies made up the beach crowd. A few Indian families walked to the water’s edge and I watched one couple with a small boy stand there, perhaps paddling.   We have seen only one Indian woman in the water and she was fully dressed.  Enjoying swimming seems to be a boys’ and men only pleasure.   A group of five Hindu men went down to the water bearing flowers and greenery that they three on the water as an offering before submerging themselves .
Horray! - note healing flesh on Wendy's ankle

Loading bike on ferry to Alleppy

The man in the pink shirt was extremely enthusiastic about the bike.  Originally from Tanzania, he now lives in India. Apparently he had had an Enfield as a young man - others also interested - lots of help and questions and chat about it.  Once we learned that we could put the bike on the ferry, Richard rushed back to the hotel and rapidly packed and came back.  The crew all pitched in to get it off the dock and up the steps into the passageway between the rows of seats.  It wasn't really in anyone's way  and certainly provided some diversion as we waited to leave.

Comfortable seats and airy open window spaces, plus the breeze comng in from the open windows immediately in front of us, kept us pretty cool.  I don't know what the temperature or humidity levels are - but it must be close to 90 in both and perspiration starts as soon as one is stationary.
Alleppy ferry

Kerala backwaters

Having decided to take this ferry instead of lashing out on a much fancier houseboat trip, we were delighted to find ourselves floating slowly down narrow channels past small villages, houses often brightly painted in pinks and blues and yellows.  We saw lots of different birds and one in particular that I kept trying to catch in a photo - a raptor of some sort with white head and brilliant red underwings. Although we were not going fast, getting it in focus with the telephoto before we had gone by was next to impossible - hence this inadequate image.
Lots of birds - we think this one is a raptor

As we got nearer to Aleppy - only one of its several names but the easiest one to spell! - the fishing boats were more numerous and we happened to pass by the villages when they were off-loading and packing the fish into ice for transport on trucks.  The boats were laden as you can see and heaped also on shore and sometimes laid out on nets to dry.  Mostly very small fish, however.
Tons of fish from the sea
Kerala backwaters

All along this waterway, we saw a great vareity of foliage, trees, bushes and reeds and, on the water, a mantle of waterlilies. 

This was one of the less elaborate houseboats that passed us.  It seemed to be made with woven reeds of some kind, blending humbly into the habitat it was invading, despite its handsome architecture.

Still and calm as we move toward the dock at Aleppy.
Backwaters at nightfall


  1. Wendy, a wonderful description of your activities- thank you. Kerala is on my list of places I would like to see, if only pigs could fly. We are bleak, wet, cold, dim, grey with sodden snow and rain. Watched a very interesting DVD, Snow Cake. Can hardly tell you anything about it without giving away essential parts of the stories. Suffice it be to say, watch it when you come home. Regards, KHM. Hmmmm, lattes and poached eggs - good for some things, it seems.

  2. great pictures and description, sounds like alot of fun. Glad to see healing mum.

    love alex and sheri