31st December – 3rd January 2017 – Kerala and The Backwaters

WARNING – this post is rather long, I could ramble on and on and on about Kochi J

If you’ve heard of Kerala you’ll know that it is famous for its backwaters, a 1500km network of lakes, rivers and canals – some natural, some man-made – it makes this state a wonderful place to visit. We booked ourselves a 7-hour boat journey on New Year’s Eve. I had my reservations about the trip simply because it’s considered a ‘must’ thing to do for tourists, i.e. after Taj Mahal, Lonely Planet vote it the second thing-to-do in India, a pretty heavy statement… I was worried that we would be on a motorised boat shipped around like cattle just for the tour guide to get as much money from us as he can. Thankfully I was proved very wrong indeed!

Neither words or photos will do this day trip justice, its likely to be thee highlight of our entire trip. Firstly, the boat was not motorised, it was pushed along by two men, one at either end, both using long bamboo sticks to move us across the water. As the guide told us, this is the traditional and environmentally friendly way of seeing the backwaters >> *big tick from Nessa*

Not having a motor meant that we moved at a gentle pace and we heard everything around us. It would have been better if there weren’t other people on the boat (!) but everyone was respectable and enjoyed the quaintness too luckily. At £30 for both of us, transport and lunch thrown in too, it was very reasonable, and just spotting six Kingfishers in one afternoon was worth the money alone. Let’s hope the level of tourism to the region doesn’t end up ruining it for future generations. There are heavy signs of pollution/litter (more of that in the next post) already, I just hope the Keralan people recognise this and help protect such a unique landscape.

I can’t remember the last time we stayed in for NYE, we were so tired after the backwater trip that we fell asleep around 10pm and only woke when the fireworks went off. Fort Kochi had a ban on the sale of alcohol after 9pm so we didn’t really have any choice I guess!  Again, the amount of English and Europeans visiting the area is so noticeable, we didn’t realise that Fort Kochi was ‘the place to be’, even the hipsters are here! Mostly downing bottles of Kingfisher and walking out of the bar to the next, good one lads *rolls eyes*

On to New Year’s Day, where Kochi celebrate the arrival of 2017 by having a carnival, which (compared to London’s at least) was nothing of the sort, just local schools on the back of a truck! The highlight, however, was a beautiful elephant leading the parade. There’s something so majestic and peaceful about a creature that weighs several tons and could kill you in an instant. As much as I respect the Hindu faith and their idolism of elephants, Ganesh springs to mind, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the animal. It’s likely dosed up on drugs to keep calm and chained up day after day. I would argue with anyone if they thought that this was a way of respecting an animal you apparently idolise! Anyway, that’s my opinion, which is unlikely to change an entire religion from thinking otherwise.

The carnival/parade meant no selling of booze until it had finished, and pretty much all restaurants were closed too. When we tried to get home from the crowds it took us almost an hour (a 5-10-minute journey usually), so put a slight downer on the evening. We were hangry! However, we finished the evening under ‘India’s Largest Christmas Tree’ in a park near our homestay. The locals were dancing the night away to Bollywood classics (I think they were anyway, the roar from the crowd when certain songs came on said it all). It was a lot of fun to see and a nice way to finish off the NY celebrations. Something we would have missed if we were in a bar somewhere, so a fun ending!

Safe to say we have fallen in love with Kerala already and we are only a third way through our time here. It’s the first place where I have seen women actually visible and not just at home. They’re working in shops, managing market stalls, serving food, so good to see. The people are genuinely happy, incredibly friendly (okay, except for the tuk tuk driver who wasn’t so keen on my name, the cheek of him!). Also, there appears to be better distribution of wealth compared to other states we have visited. Now, I’m not suggesting the exact reason for this is down to Kerala being an elected communist state between the 60s and 00s, BUT it certainly is likely to be a strong factor. There are signs of communist support dotted everywhere round here, along with the Democratic Youth Federation of India, which suggests that the people of Kochi are heavily politicised, or at least politically aware. They are unlikely to be huge fans of Modi and his BJP Party. Another thing I noticed is that there are no ridiculous HUVs or grotesque mansions here. The average house is just that, nothing too grand and nothing too shabby. This is just from what we saw walking and driving through Fort Kochi, the main district of Kochi, Ernakulam might be different.

Another reason why Kerala stands out is that it boasts the highest literacy rates in the country, currently at 93%. The average rate for India is 74%, quite a difference.

Viva Kerala!

Places

Bethany Homestay – our home for the six nights. If you ever come to Fort Kochi I wholly recommend you stay here. The family are the nicest and most homely people you could ever ask for. We adored Geen and her fantastic home cooking, she always greeted us with a smile. When we left, they gave us a little handmade Keralan-style boat as a leaving present, which we will endeavour to bring back with us to the UK in one piece. Very sad to say goodbye to them, but likely to return I think.

Lily Rose – a restaurant which was part of a boutique hotel. Superb curry! Fish for the man, prawns for Nessa. There wasn’t anything we didn’t like, good price too. Ended up visiting three times J

Mattancherry Palace, aka Dutch Palace – quite an interesting museum, lots of details on the Royal Family of Kerala who basically disintegrated after Independence, the British kept them in power to sweeten things up no doubt! For 5 rupees this was a bargain of a price.

Lulu Mall – supposedly the fourth largest mall in India! In the end, we bought the stuff we needed from M&S at twice as much as what we would in the UK, still have our Western standards!

Annabel’s Spa & Beauty – bit of pampering for moi. Kerala is renowned for its Ayurveda medicine so couldn’t resist doing the typical tourist thing and try an Abhyanga Massage followed by Shirodhara (which is basically hot oil poured over your forehead for 20 mins!) On returning Steve said that I ‘smelt like a chip shop’, not sure that was the idea! A very much recommended treatment, bit costly but a treat occasionally is allowed, also there was nothing ‘fake’ about it, the room was basic, it had no ‘atmospheric’ music being played, just the beeping of the cars outside and the occasional mooing of a cow. Authentic and very Indian!

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