Monday, April 25, 2011

The Backwaters of Kerala

For two days, Katie and I drift along the backwaters of Kerala in our own private houseboat, which has been converted from a former trading boat. The boat is small but pretty. It has wicker chairs and faded cushioned benches on the front deck, wood panels carved into reliefs of wide-winged birds and bosomy women, a bedroom with tall windows that open onto the water and a mosquito net into which I manage to completely entwine myself both nights while I'm sleeping.

Woven rattan covers the boat's roof and walls. There is also an upper deck which the boat's captain tells me several times is "very beautiful, very beautiful. But so sad you cannot see it. Your leg." After the third time of his mentioning the beautiful upper deck I cannot see, I wait until his attention is focused on the river and then crawl on my knees up the ladder and onto the top deck. It is very much like the lower deck but without the shade, so I crawl back down again.

{if not for the courage of the fearless crew, the Minnow would be lost}

We also have a personal chef on board the boat. Just in case you read it too quickly the first time around – our own personal chef – such luxury! The chef prepares us three meals a day plus a snack. All the food is local. There are flat, disc-shaped fish caught from the river; fluffs of white rice harvested from nearby fields; various sweet-spiced curries; sun-yellow pineapple that drips down our chins when we bite into it; eggs offered before us in various incarnations; hot, handmade potato chips sprinkled with tiny green curry leaves. There is more food than I can remember, more than we can eat. Eating is pretty much our only activity on the houseboat -- unless napping also counts as an activity -- and this is some of the best food Katie and I have been served the entire trip, so we do our best to consume everything put on the table before us, though this admirable goal of gluttony proves impossible to meet meal after meal.

We pass by a number of houseboats in the main canals, but in the smaller ones, we are alone, the boat slowly putt-puttering down the waterways. At one point, the canal becomes clogged with glossy green lily pads. Our captain deadens the engine, pulls out a long oar, and poles his way through the thick vegetation.

We don't see very many people or many other boats until we get approach the towns, but sometimes a long, narrow canoe silently passes by and sometimes women in earth-toned sarees walk single-file down paths by the rivers. They smile at us as our boat passes by them.

Every once in a while, a church appears on the riverside. It surprises me to learn that the apostle Thomas came to Palyar in southern India, where he built the country's first church ages ago . (I can't recall the actual date but remember it struck me as having occurred a really, really long time ago in what can also be referred to as "the days of yore" if you're looking to plot it on a historical timeline.)

At one point as our boat languidly moves down the river, I notice two women on opposite sides of the river bank. They are both hanging laundry on their opposite sides of the canal and talking to each other across the blue divide. I wonder if their lives are always this way, a friendship separated by water, or if sometimes they take a boat or a swim to visit in person.

Children cup their hands around their mouths and call out “Halloooo!” as our boat passes. "Hello!" I call out in return, laughing and waving both my hands. The backwaters are beautiful, lovely, and lonely. The sunshine, an intense, pure blaze of white, brightens the sky and falls in streaks across the uncovered parts of the unvarnished boat deck. Kerala is a place which I dreamed of visiting years before I arrive. Nothing happens while I'm here. Nothing is supposed to happen. I simply am. This life is better than the movies, better even than books. It is. I am.


  1. I'm drooling..

    (while simultaneously popping your post amid my bazillion bookmarks for Southeast Asia - my plan is to move to that corner of the globe come Oct/Nov.)

  2. Kerala is a place with many good destinations to visit and enjoy the vacation. India Tourism provides many opportunities to see all the natural beauty in India. In Kerala Tourism tourist will get all the opportunities to see the Kerala destinations like backwaters, houseboats, temples, etc.

  3. Kerala with good hotels is good place to visit and enjoy the vacation. There are many budget hotels in Kerala with many good packages. Kerala Hotels also provide the packages for the houseboats and resorts. Avail the services for Munnar hotels, Alleppey hotels, Kovalam hotels etc.