When I arrived in India, I really didn’t have any concrete plans. There was a vague idea of going south, then heading north. The more I read and asked around, the more I heard about Kerala. To be honest, I didn’t know if it was a city, a state, a region, a landmark… the mystical Kerala. As I soon discovered, Kerala runs along the south-western tip of India (similar to the shape of Chile in South America). A democratically-elected communist state, Kerala has the highest life expectancy and literacy rate is the country. The culture and landscape are amazingly diverse and the people are incredibly friendly – which might explain why the tourism industry proclaims Kerala as “God’s Own Country.”
So while I sat on the beach in Goa, I combed through my Lonely Planet trying to decide where to go next. I considered a side trip to Hampi but couldn’t find a train or bus that fit my schedule. [This is a big regret and in retrospect I would have spent less time in Goa and gone to Hampi.] I also considered stopping in Mangalore but was repeatedly told that it was better to go straight to Kerala. And so late one night, I said goodbye to Palolem and took a car to catch a midnight train from Margao to explore the mystical Kerala.
I spent nearly two weeks in Kerala. This is the first half: on the backwaters (aka the Venice of the East).
January 11, 2011
Arrived via sleeper class on the overnight train from Goa to Ernakulam which I actually really enjoyed and slept well. A little disappointed that the rickshaw driver ignored my request to go to the ferry and brought me directly to Kochi – first stopping to try and trick me into staying at another homestay hotel. I love it here. Really feels like India. Although touristy, more authentic. Spent the day walking around, past the Chinese fishing nets and through town. Curry for both lunch and dinner. Dinner at the chic Malabar House which was lovely with saffron colored walls, art, water fountains, and lighting fixtures. I’m staying next door at the Spencer Home, which is full of historic architectural details and a beautiful garden courtyard, but dismal rooms. Gorgeous woodwork; lots of mosquitoes!
January 12, 2011
Woke up and had masala dosa at the garden table outside my room and then walked and took pictures all day. Watched the Chinese fishing nets at high tide. A very cool process of repeatedly raising and lowering the nets to scoop all kinds of seafood. Visited the Mattancherry Palace (the interior was exquisite but no photos allowed) and strolled through Jew Town before heading back via Bazar Road (spices everywhere; so colorful and fragrant). Masala chai at Teapot and dinner at Savour. The rickshaw drivers here are relentless. I just want to walk!
January 13, 2011
While the garden at Spencer Home was wonderful, two nights in a windowless room and a squeaky fan had me ready to leave. That and all the rickshaw drivers knew me and were mad that I didn’t want a ride and wasn’t willing to go into shops just so they would get a commission. Kochi is lovely, but I think it’s better done upscale. I left via rickshaw to “New Bridge” to catch a bus to Alleppey. Bus travel is especially difficult to navigate because everything is written in Hindi and seemingly most of the people who take buses don’t speak English. But true to form, everyone is so helpful and when the right bus came along they practically picked me up and carried me on. Terrifying ride, even more than usual, so once I finally arrived at Keraleeyam Resort, I was happy to just sit on the porch and read and watch the houseboats pass. Saw my first elephant walking down the expressway today – working; carrying branches.
January 14, 2011
Walked the 2.5 km to town which was a mistake. Thought I must have missed something on the way in, but it’s not much. In frustration from all the honking and buses and motorbikes, I turned down a side street and was amazed by the oasis hidden back in the neighborhood. Problem was, it was a bit of a maze without many routes back to the main road. There’s a festival at a temple across the lake tonight so the background music is a drumbeat and from the front porch of the main building I watched the flicker of candles while women danced and I drank ginger tea.
January 15, 2011
Lazy day on the backwaters today sitting on the porch and watching houseboats float past. The only break was for an ayurvedic massage.
January 16, 2011
Left Alleppey this morning via the tourist ferry to Kollam – eight hours along the backwaters. It was a beautiful day and a fun trip with interesting people from around the world (Brazil, Israel, Switzerland) – until the boat got stuck in the middle of a canal about 1.5 hours from Kollam. We sat until dark when the staff hired a local with a canoe to take us two at a time to shore. Then we had to walk through fields (in the dark) to the road and hail a bus. These things always happen to me! But at least I had a nice hotel to arrive at (Nani Hotel) with hot showers, TV, and room service.
More of my India diaries: