Kerala

Kochi – Day II – The Backwater Tour Part 2

Bangalore –Kochi – 2 days – Aug 2012 – Day 2

Post-lunch we were taken to another point a few kilometers away and dropped off alongside the road. The guide introduced another gentleman who was in charge of the canal tour.  We turned into an almost invisible lane, wich in turn led us into the backyard of houses. The ladies here were all busy spinning coir.

Ladies spinning coir rope

We stopped awhile to watch them. It was quite interesting to watch the ladies work. There was a certain grace with which they worked the coir together, one winding the coir ropes, while the other worked the machine  to twist the coir into rope. The gentleman with us showed us why the coir seemed to come off the bunch on the ground without the lady have to work too hard. Apparently the fibers interlock with each other when being pulled. So one can hold a lot of coir in one hand and simple keep pulling and twisting to make the coir rope without having to work too hard to have the fibers join. He demonstrated this by rolling out a bit of rope in a few seconds.

We walked further on where a couple of long canoes were moored in a narrow canal. The canoe was divided into sections by narrow beams placed across. These beams also doubled up as seats. There were also plastic chairs place one behind another in between each section. That’s where we opted to sit.

Our canoe

We slowly started to make our way down the canal. It was an interesting experience. The canal ran along the backyards of houses on either side. Some houses grew nutmeg, others had coconut husks drying out for making coir. A couple of houses even had cocoa trees, while another grew vanilla. yet another section was completely a coconut plantation, with the space between trees used to dry out the husks.

Cocoa pods on a tree in someone’s backyard

Intermittently we passed under bridges, at one place with a couple of giggling school girls watching us. 🙂

The most interesting time, for me, was when the oarsman turned the canoe around in the narrow canal. I thought the guy might direct us to turn our chairs and simple walk across to the other side of the boat. Instead he pulled off a really neat u-turn. Good fun!

Blue, blue skies

ducks on the wayside

On the way back we stopped at one of the houses where we were served  more cardamom tea. We were also offered packets of pepper, cloves and nutmeg for purchase. The rates were quite low, as these had been harvested by the people here in their own backyards.
There were also gift items such as wall hangings and handbags made of coir that were put for sale.

From here we returned to the bus, and made our way back to Kochi. Everyone was feeling mellow after the busy day, and most of us dozed off until we got to the city, and our choice of drop-point.  Since we reached early, we decided to stop at Gokul for a light evening snack.

We dropped off our stuff in the hotel, and made our way back to the restaurant. After a nice, steaming cup of coffee, we noticed a batch of banana bajjis being taken to front section that stocked sweets and savouries. I went across to the lady manning the section and asked her if the bajjis were sweet, and got a blank look in return. I then asked if they were hot, meaning spicy, and got a beaming smile in reply. So I happily made my way back to the seat and asked the waiter to get us some. He came back with a plate of cold bajjis, which we promptly returned and demanded the hot, fresh ones. With a sceptical look, he got those for us. And guess what? They were SWEET! These bajjis had been made with ripe banana, and were definitely not the spicy raw plantain bajjis we were expecting.

We quickly wound up our bill, and went over to a nearby medical store for chocolates to take off the sweet taste of friend ripe bananas from the mouth. 😦

Later in the evening we decided to venture further out, and check some other vegetarian restaurants nearby. The driver of yesterday’s cab had told us about an Andhra restaurant about a kilometer away. I wasn’t keen on walking all the way there, not because I couldn’t but it would mean I would have to walk all the way back on a full stomach. Bad idea!!!

Anyway, we came by another restaurant on the way, I forget the name, but it was an Udupi restaurant. Normally the food in these places is good. But the dinner here was quite poor, and my dosa was slathered in chilli paste, making most of it inedible without copious amount of water on the side. After a dismal experience, we slowly made our way back. Then we decided its a good idea to have fruit salad with ice-cream at the place we were staying. A couple of bowls later, we were happy, and thus ended our Day 2.

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Kochi – Day II – The Backwater Tour Part 1

Bangalore –Kochi – 2 days – Aug 2012 – Day 2

The travel blog is finally in progress again. It got delayed because of focus on other stuff (crafts n such). It didn’t help matters when Hubby promised to cancel the internet subscription at home if this blog wasn’t up-to-date. So I’m homing to update this blog by the year-end. Good Luck to me!! 🙂

The previous day, we’d already booked ourselves a full day backwater and canal trip. The nice thing about this was that we didn’t have to make the trip all the way to the Kerala Tourism Office. Instead there was pick-up facility from our hotel itself.

Since the bus was to pick us up at around 8.30am, we got out of the place early and had breakfast at Hotel Gokul. The service was fast, and the coffee was refreshingly strong. 🙂

Once we came back to our hotel we had to wait a few minutes for the bus to arrive. There were very few seats for the picking, but we fitted ourselves into the last seat with another couple. A bit of a tight fit, but surprisingly comfortable! A scenic tour through Kochi later we reached the point where we boarded the houseboat.

The path to the houseboat passes through a family backyard, and we were greeted with pleasant smiles by the ladies working there. Once we reached the quay, which in this case was a narrow stone path, we hopped into the houseboat and set down our bags. Our tour guide introduced himself (in a very distinctly odd accent, not even Malayali) and offered us tea served by the families residing near the quay.

House next to quay

Now I’m not a fan of tea. In fact, I’m a hard-core coffee lover. So the cardamom tea served by the families wasn’t the most pleasant experience for me. However, Hubby enjoyed it.

The guide also described the houseboat structure, the history of houseboats in Kerala (meant to carry rice), and finally the different kinds of houseboats. This was a basic one, with a single bedroom and attached bathroom. The rear of the houseboat had the motors and kitchen. Most of us got lovely traditional wooden easy-chairs to sit on. People who walked in late were stuck with plastic chairs. The reason I mention the easy chairs is that the gentle movement of the boat on water coupled with the low height of the chairs and posture of the body, make the trip very pleasant and enjoyable without the wobbling sense in tall-seated plastic chairs.

Luxury houseboat meant for parties and groups of more than 10 people

The houseboat we used: the motors and luggage section at the back, covered bedroom space and the front section where we were seated.

We first set off towards Vembanad lake, and the various backwater channels nearby. Along the way we were pointed out various islands, some occupied with a few families and no facilities, some fully occupied with water and electricity, and social services available, and some completely unoccupied.

A few moments later we saw an odd bamboo structure in the middle of the water. The guide explained that this was a Chinese Fishing net, and the fishermen would come during low tide to set it up, just before high tide. Once the tide lowered again, the net would have the fish, and they would return to collect the net. In this method, it is not possible for a single fisherman to run the process. It requires a group of fisherman to manage the contraption.

Chinese fishing net contraption

Another section showed wooden pole stuck into the river bed a short distance from each other. This was a method of fishing where the fisherman would tie the net between 2 poles, and once the tide lowered the net would be filled with fish.  The net in question would however be about 30-40 ft in length. Also, this kind of fishing is managed by a single fisherman. This method, as well as the Chinese fishing nets, required permits for setting up.

Long net fishing poles

Further down, we passed by a boat where a fisherman seemed to be fishing with a pole pushed downward into the water. The guide explained that he was fishing for mussels, and that’s possible with a 10ft long pole sent directly down into the water.  A couple of moments later we waved to the fisherman, and friendly smiles later, we moved on. Since no permits were required for fishing for mussels, fishermen simply take their boats into the lake and get fishing!
We also manage to catch sight of some brahmani kites that are typical to this region along the way.

Fisherman pulling up the net

The net being dragged into the boat

Next, we stopped on a small island which hosted a closed-down factory that used to produce lime for construction purposes. The process was achieved through burning hundreds of kilogrammes of shells drawn from the lake. With the effect of the burning on the ecological system, as well as the reduction in quantity of shells available to local fisheries, the factory had close down. However, we could still see the pits where the burning took place, as well a coating of lime across all the surfaces of the factory. The premises are now used to produce toddy and arrack.

While we looked around the place, the guide started a hard-sell for toddy and mussels. A lot of people opted for mussels, and only the couple that sat behind us in the boat (and beside us on the bus) opted for the toddy. The guide kept telling us, so what if we were vegetarians, mussels are almost veg anyway! Ummm, oh ya!!?? How come we’ve never heard that one before? Anyway, we gave it a pass. 🙂

After walking around on the island for sometime taking pics, we were taken across to a family living nearby and shown some of the plants grown there.
Here we saw vanilla, bay leaves, cinnamon and arrowroot among others there. AFter that we made our way to the boat, where the cook on the houseboat had prepared mussels and served in small banana leave dishes. Once everyone enjoyed their share of the food, we set off again, and this time made it all the way back to the starting point.

lush greenery on either side

small unoccupied island

Waiting for a ferry

ferry between island and mainland

On docking, we were served a nice lunch prepared by the ladies in the houses near the quay. It was a simple fare, dominated by coconut and was mildly spicy (a nod to the foreigners travelling along with us).

We finally got off the boat, and made our way to the bus.

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Kochi – Day I – Athirapally

Bangalore –Kochi – 2 days – Aug 2012 – Day 1

The trip to Athirapally was overshadowed with the fact that we needed to find a nice veggie place to have lunch. That doesn’t mean the views weren’t beautiful! Actually we were ooh and aaah-ing all the way!

Lush greenery along the road

Pine Tree plantations

The actual arrival at Athirapally was, however, punctuated with heavy rainfall. We literally had to dive for cover the moment we got out of the car. The shopkeepers outside the gates made a killing in the sale of umbrellas, and we contributed to their day! Bought a nice umbrella, which could be used as a walking stick when not held over the head. This last bit was not shared with hubby before buying though! 😉

Once we started along the path though, the rain stopped. That was ok. I really am not much of a fan of rains… at least not while I’m exposed to it, umbrella notwithstanding. Down the path, there were some people in the water enjoying it. I couldn’t really see the waterfall, but seeing the people enjoying themselves made me want to go down there. The only problem was that there were no step on that direct path. The path was simple wide stone all the way down. That was so not something I wanted to try. Someone pointed out a stone path to the right, saying it led to the waterfall. So we took off down that path. We kept going down and down along a steep stone path. Finally we figured that the people up there were enjoying the water before the fall!

Athirapally Waterfalls

The majestic waterfalls

Once we came up to the waterfall however, all thoughts of how I dislike getting wet went right out of my mind. It was gorgeous. No wonder Mani Ratnam keeps coming back to shoot his movies and songs here. In fact I feel he doesn’t do the power and beauty of the waterfall justice!!!

After getting thoroughly soaked by the waterfall and the rain (which restarted),  we made the long trek back up. We hadn’t thought much about getting wet in the water (neither of us are water babies), so we hadn’t been prepared with spare clothes. So after a brief respite at one of the shelters along the way where we waited for the excess water to drip off our clothes, we stayed with wet clothes for the rest of the trip.

The next stop was the Vazhachal Falls. Along the way though we stopped at another small waterfall that lay just along the side of the road, providing a lovely view. The Charpa Waterfalls is part of the same Chalakudy River system as the Athirapally and the Vazhachal Falls. After a mini photo session, we were off to the Vazhachal range.

Charpa Waterfalls

It’s actually not correct to call them falls here. They are more a series of rapids, with a nice garden for picnics and a medicinal garden. The medicinal garden was closed, so we didn’t get a chance to see that. But the walk through the gardens with the rapids on the side was a nice experience.

Vazhachal Waterfalls

Bends in the river creates a lovely view

Finally we made our way back to the car and returned to Eranakulam. By this time we were really hungry. Here the driver was quite helpful, pointing out a choice of vegetarian hotels located near our hotel. So after a quick shower and change of clothes, we set off to the nearest one, Gokul. This was a mere 5 minutes walk from our hotel, and was definitely the best decision by far! The  food was hot and very tasty.

After a full stomach, we slowly made our way back to the hotel, and called it a day.

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