26-27 January, Keralan Backwaters, Southern India

We’re currently on a house boat somewhere in the backwaters of Kerala and I’m not sure there could be a more relaxing place than this. The backwaters are formed by large open channels that feed into bigger lakes and are surrounded by palm trees and endless fields of rice paddies. The people who live off the land have built their homes on the narrow tract of stable land between the water channels and the rice paddies. The ‘land’ component is, from what our captain-slash-guide tells us, man-made. After constructing walls around large areas of water, all of the water was removed and rice paddies were established. The farmers control the level of water on the land through an elaborate system of pipes.

The backwaters of Kerala
The backwaters of Kerala

Although mostly pristine in appearance, this place is not undiscovered – the street signs proclaim it as ‘God’s own country’ and it’s a pretty prized destination in the region. Hiring a house boat seems to be a rather popular thing to do as there are a number of other boats in the vicinity as I write. Most people wave, some just stare and others are more intrigued, shouting out “You’re from?” as they chug on by.

The boats themselves are quite funny looking – I can only liken them to gigantic beehives with windows, turned on their sides floating along in the water. They range in size between one and ten bedrooms; some are two storeys and others have sun decks. We’re lucky enough to have a whole boat to ourselves with an upstairs deck to lounge around on.

There are three workers on board, which seems a little excessive and extravagant for just the two of us but you don’t really get a choice when booking and there doesn’t seem to be any other way of going about it. One is the captain, another is the chef and another assists the former two. The meals have been absolutely delicious, however, we both feel like we’re being fattened up for something as we’re served a spread of food that could feed a family of five at breakfast, lunch and dinner. This afternoon the chef announced “You eat with your hands” and served us up a range of spicy and sweet curries, breads and chicken on a giant banana leaf. We happily obeyed, all the while making a bit of a mess of ourselves and the table.

Children from the villageLast night we stopped in a little village and were welcomed by a group of kids. After the mandatory photos and introductions they asked if we had any chocolate to spare. We gave them a Kit Kat, which was followed by requests for pens, and finally, coins. It didn’t occur to us to bring pens, which would’ve been such a simple thing to do. After spending time in the cities and being asked for money, we were refreshingly surprised by the simplicity of their priorities. We promised to send them copies of the photos and set out this morning for another day of cruising.

© Richard Munckton