December 25, 2004

A Visit To Kerala's Backwaters

My last night at Kochi was spent watching an intriguing performance of Kathakali - a traditional style of theatre in Kerala. I will write further about it, at a later date, because it deserves more analysis than just a brief note. I would also like to share with you some photographs of the incredible make-up that is used to emphasise the moods of the piece performed.

The following day, I took a motor rickshaw to Alappuzha, which is an hour and a half south of Kochi. It was a pleasant journey, along palm-lined roads.

In Alappuzha, I went to a guesthouse recommended by my excellent hosts in Kochi. It is a pleasant place to stay, although I cannot help feel that some folks know how to swindle a few extra bucks out of people. I was immdiately hit upon for a Backwater cruise - a reason for which I am here. The Backwaters of Kerala are famous for their natural beauty, as well as the way of life that is found there.

Originally, I planned to take a ferry to Kolam in the south, but was masterfully talked out of this proposition by one of the workers at the guesthouse. He recommended that I do a morning canoe trip of the Backwaters, and then take the train south, as this will be faster. In fairness, that sounded like a good idea, due to my schedule, so I agreed.

I set my clock for seven this morning. As I dreamnt the night away, my alarm clock rang, and I jumped out of bed to get ready. Whilst I was brushing my teeth, it ocurred to me that it was still dark. I went to check my clock again, only to find that it was wrongly set at 4:30! Not necessarily a bad thing, because I had great pleasure in going back to sleep. For some strange reason, I had a vivid dream of Sharon Osbourne!!!

When seven correctly arrived, I rode on the back of a motorcycle to where my canoe was meant to be waiting for me. My driver seemed annoyed and was rattling away to local people. It seemed that my boat had not come. The motorcyclist quickly made some phonecalls, and I was whisked down bumpy back roads to another boat. The guys that owned the boat, did not seem overly keen about the impromtu arrangement, but at least I was off, and that I had a canoe just to myself, without saree-adorned foreigners.

The Backwaters are very beautiful, with wide rivers and narrow canals. Small abodes line the shores, and I was able to observe people going about their daily morning routines, such as washing clothes, bathing, fishing and preparing food. I must say, however, I felt horribly voyeuristic. People were very gracious and always waving and calling out, but this kind of tourism must be such an intrusion. Every other minute, a luxury houseboat, carrying another group of Western tourists would pass by. At one point, even Santa Claus sped off in a speed boat from one of the luxury cruisers! A surreal moment I shall never forget.

I have been to several places around the world to observe the lives of river people, such as on the Mekong in Vietnam and Laos, as well as the Amazon in Peru. Unfortunately, I felt the balance was all wrong here in Alappuzha.

Perhaps, my slight negativity really stems from the way my Backwater visit was organised. I felt like a tourist, rather than someone having a unique experience with the people here. I am actually very much looking forward to getting back on the road. Nothing very bad happened here, but I have been spoilt elsewhere, and I want to feel a genuine connection with the people again, rather than being just another foreigner to pull dollars from.

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