Sunday, 21 November 2010

Messing about in boats

It's an earlyish start to have breakfast and get the taxi to Aleppey for our houseboat. The day is clear and it is already hot when we leave at 9.30am.

The drive is relatively short - only a couple of hours. On the way we see an elephant on the road carrying palms in its trunk!

In Aleppey it is a boaty mayhem with lads touting for business in front of many tourist day boats and ferries.

The houseboats are called Kettu Vallam and are converted rice barges - The backwaters are an area of many paddy fields - they are a wood hull and plaited palm canopy & sides with bamboo struts and coir rope knotting it all together. Each one is renovated annually, the palm, bamboo and coir last a maximum of 12 months.

Some girls we met at Leelu's have also booked a boat so we are in convoy with them and we arrive at a place where the taxi drivers phone the boat-fixer to meet us. He leads us down a narrow path and we emerge at a waterfront with many boats tied up, stacked alongside in columns.

We are second in so it's a short hop across one other to board, the girls are a couple further on and end up being first to leave.

We have a covered lower deck with table and comfy chairs, an upper deck and a bedroom & bathroom. The kitchen is big with many cupboards and a 2 burner stove.

We order some beers and eventually slip the painters and chug out into the waterway.

Most boats leave at 12ish so it is quite busy and even boats have horns!

But soon we are out in the main waterway and cruising the lake. There are many villages and settlements along the water's edge and palms fringe the shore lines. It's a beautiful spot and just idyllic floating along with nothing to do but sit and look or read, or chat or just be.
It's exactly as Ratty says, there is nothing so much fun as messing about in boats.

After an hour and a half we stop and I have the chance to buy some fish for supper. There are enormous freshwater prawns - more like small lobster really - and I buy 2 for 800rs. It's a gluttonous holiday luxury!

Shortly after we moor up and have lunch - 3 thorans of cabbage with ginger, carrot, which is quite spicy, and okra with what tastes like fennel. Also some lovely little flat fish spiced and fried, sambar, rice and pappadoms. Then we have fresh pineapple, warm and very sweet.

We set off again and slip along past more palms and watch the sun slowly sinking and the clouds gather for evening rain.

At 4ish we have tea and some potato fritters.

The sun sets behind the palms in picture-perfect style shortly after we have moored for the night and as it does the monsoon rains come down in earnest, pounding the lake, running all over the deck and splashing very loudly. One of our crew puts the side covers down as it gets heavier and heavier.

Thunder and lightning follow and it's a full-on storm for the next couple of hours. We retreat to our cabin and stay dry.

Meanwhile supper carries on being prepared. With only 2 burners and many dishes the cook seems to be on the go almost constantly. No sooner is one meal served than the next one begins.

After the rain clears a bit we are called to dinner and we have a feast. Prawns, dhal, chicken curry, a green bean thoran, potato curry, rice, chappatis - it's masses and we can't finish it even though it is delicious.

It is extremely peaceful where we are moored, the guidebooks recommend that you discuss in detail things like mooring and route, either Leelu did that for us or we are very lucky and they just did the right thing! It's a lovely spot. Occasionally little canoes paddle by, the occupants sheltered by umbrella or hats made from rice sack. The only sounds are birds and cicadas, no cars, no voices, no horns.

We drink some beer, squash a few Mosquitos and provide supper for the midges who bite even though I am following advice and wearing trousers and long sleeves, have sprayed cuffs and ankles in permethrin and am smothered in DEET.

I text my best friend and am reassured that S probably doesn't have malaria, just a sore throat!

We put the mozzie net up, tuck it in and settle down to sleep.


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