Our trip took us more to the South where we decided to explore another region of India, to see Kerala. It is said to be the greenest area of India and I must tell you – it surely is. You just have to avoid big cities, get a ride on Alleppey backwaters canoes or lose yourself in Western Ghats – beautiful mountains in the South. People in India say Kerala is “God’s own country” and there is a grain of truth in these words…
We’ve spent five days in Goa and then there was a high time to go further. We took an all night train to Alleppey (or Allapuzha, both names are used). We truly fell in love with these train trips! It’s the most comfortable way of traveling in India.
Allepey and backwaters
Alleppey is a small city by the coast. It is way less busy than the previous two, but still quite crowded. We took a walk among these dirty streets and suspicious booths, and weren’t we surprised to look up and see that:
A sense of style has simply no place in India.
We came to Alleppey during Diwali celebrations. Diwali is a holiday of light, of its fight with and victory over darkness. I have to say we were quite disappointed – in Goa people seem to prepare for this special night with lanterns and pretty lights, but here it was very quiet. We expected fireworks, dancing and singing, but the only thing we saw was a couple of candles on one house’s steps.
The next day we went for a trip on backwaters, to which we came by a ferry. It was really interesting to see ‘school ferries’ that were taking children to school. Buses would be useless there!
A “captain” of our boat, so our guide, prepared breakfast for us and four other participants (French guys) in his own hut. It was of course spicy, but very tasty. We got informed that guy’s family have their own cow, so milk used in chai was fresh and creamy, that’s why it was so incredibly delicious!
The time has come to jump on a canoe. The guide behind us was rowing and steering, we were admiring the views. Later on he asked Nick to help him row, which he was really happy to do.
On our way through backwaters we were observing people, their work and lifestyles. They were all busy, involved in ablution, laundry, stone-shore constructions…
Market trade on these waters was very common. It was the fastest way to get to places and to get to people. Locals were transporting food, beverages, grass, well, basically anything that could be sold. They were pretty fast, I tell you that!
Water was of course very dirty, full of trash and lost shoes. It’s amazing how these plants survived there and even managed to bloom with beautiful, pink flowers.
This beautiful and quiet picture of nature was only disturbed by abandoned boats and… boat houses.
One almost broke merchant from Alleppey got this idea of converting huge boats for transporting goods into houses that lazily drifted through backwaters of Kerala. The idea was great and soon money flew through the region. Unfortunately, people in India have absolutely no idea of environment protection. Huge boats with their diesel engines pollute water more and more every year. Fifteen years ago there were only approximately 15 boat houses on these waters, nowadays their number is over four hundred and increases every year. The government tries to regulate their number and their impact on the environment, however it’s just a drop in the sea. A thin layer of oil resides almost in every place where water isn’t flowing. Trash is thrown into the water as well as sewage and other waste. Knowing that, we were happy to use a simple canoe and skip a night on board of a boat house.
Nick fooled around as always, taking pictures everywhere.
Later on, we had a dinner scheduled at our guide’s place. It was served traditionally, on a banana leaf with local rice (his house was in the middle of rice fields) and thali style (small amounts of different sauces put on side). It was very tasty but poor Niki with her sensitive palate couldn’t eat too much – the amount of chili was too big and everything was like burning hell for her. Even the innocent salad had hot peppers inside and she was unlucky enough to have a bite of one. You can imagine her reaction.
During our meal we were accompanied by crows flying around. These bastards are smarter than you think. They steal food, make noise and hop on ropes with drying laundry making it all dirty. Just because they can. From our guides’ reactions we could see they were quite a nuisance and how much they were despised.
Oh, we forgot to mention that we stayed in a lovely guest house in Alleppey – Dream Nest. It was really nice place with pretty painted rooms, nice staff and good organization. Thanks to them we had this amazing trip to backwaters! Also, in the evening we listened to some of their friends playing guitar and smoking some pot. Thanks, guys!
Kochi – pretty city with great food
It was high time to change a place. There wasn’t much more to do in Alleppey so we packed our things and hopped on the train to the city of Kochi. This time we bought a general ticket so we had to squeeze in anywhere possible. We tried to find a door on a train with a bit fewer people to squeeze in but before we succeeded it started to move. Without hesitation we jumped in the first sleeper wagon and off we went, to Kochi!
We arrived and checked ourselves in Lilly’s Inn, one of the cheapest options in the city. Well, mistake no. 320. Always see the room first. The place was shabby, with mold on the walls, the windows didn’t open to outdoors and the amount of mosquitoes was incredible, even despite the screens. More, the staff was extremely loud not only during the day, but also, for example, at 5 o’clock AM. The breakfast we were served was a joke. Sad omelette, even sadder toasts with microscopic amount of butter on the side and a pot of the cheapest tea. The end. Yuk.
The city itself was quite charming. Definitely lazier than close-by Ernakulam had some nice streets and overpriced, but pretty shops. Since it is a touristic city, we had to go through all the tourist crap around, like cheap bad clothes, plastic souvenirs and constant nagging from the sellers. However, here we decided to buy some things for our families (mostly Niki’s) and for us. We hovered around the city in search of pretty fabrics and clothes. Unfortunately, with a sad conclusion, we realized that even though we could find some cool shirt for Nick, the fashion in India definitely wasn’t to Niki’s liking.
However we had this one moment when we decided to walk to a different part of the city. It was quite a long walk, Niki wasn’t feeling too well, but we wanted to walk anyway. Suddenly, we noticed a pretty shawl hanging on a display in a small shop, probably forgotten even by the owner. We went inside and there it was – beautiful fabrics for ridiculous prices. We spent so much time there, choosing, talking and Niki was on a cloud nine, I tell ya.
Cloud nine was spoiled a bit, though, when we had to get our tetanus shots in a hospital. Fortunately everything went smoothly and we were dealt with fast, efficient and cheap. The nurse, however, played dart with our arms, I swear. Niki got sore arm for two days.
Sadly, our moods were spoiled later on when a rickshaw driver tried to rip us off. His meter was obviously a scam and it was doubling the distance we had. After a short and heated discussion where Nick threatened the guy with the police we decided to walk the rest of our way. It was really unpleasant experience.
There was also this restaurant, Mary’s Kitchen. Family ran, with food prepared from the scratch it has the best food we’ve eaten in India. Niki was reluctant to try it at first, but the owner promised us that not spicy means not spicy there – if she found it hot we wouldn’t have to pay. We tried and it was amazing! Not spicy for Niki, spicy like Hell for Nick. It was actually so good that we decided to come back there for breakfast – delicious Keralan style pancakes. We felt really good there so if we come back to Kochi, we will visit the place again!
We’ve spent two nights in the dreaded Lilly’s Inn and on the last night we moved on to the next location – Nichoos Inn. And this one should be set as an example of every home stay in India. The room was cheap but clean and nice (freshly renovated), the owner was extremely friendly and the breakfast served was prepared with care.
In the meantime we were walking around Kochi and discovering its charm, beautiful Chinese fish nets, markets with dyes for Holi festival and goats using cars as their beds. :)
We also had a real downpour few times which Nick used as an excuse for not taking a shower.
After very nice stay here we’ve set our sail to Munnar where we could only get by bus. We used Uber for the very first time (oh yeah!)…
…and without bigger adventures we went to see this:
Thank gods there was a tourist information centre there! Oh, wait…
Lastly, our experience here wouldn’t be complete if we failed to mention Jithrin. We met him on Couch Surfing and even though he couldn’t host us, he certainly made our stay in Kochi better, more colourful and, most importantly, easier. He checked the buses for us, gave directions to different places, suggested using Uber and we’ve had quite good time with him. We hope in his travels he will be confident enough to lead longer conversations about his experiences and enquiries. He said we were the first Europeans he had ever met. Still, his dream is to travel so we keep fingers crossed! Thanks for your help and good luck, mate! :)
So, our next stop lies in Munnar, Thekkady and Varkala, but this is whole new story yet to be told…
Have you been to Kerala? What are your experiences? Share your knowledge and stay tuned!