Selasa, 30 Maret 2010

The Kerala Backwaters are a network of interconnected lakes, rivers, canals and inlets, a labyrinthine system of more than 900km of waterway, sometimes compared to the American Bayou. The Backwaters have a unique eco-system with fresh water from the rivers meeting seawater from the Arabian Sea.

A view from our houseboat

Apart from unique crabs, frogs and mudskippers, other animals such as otters and turtles, cormorants and huge colourful kingfishers live in and alongside the Backwaters. The best thing about the backwaters hoowever is the Kettuvallam, the traditional houseboats that ply all over the Backwaters.

This sideways-on view of a Kettuvallam was taken at midday  on a vast 
lake in a kind of hot 'whiteout', giving this strange bleached light.

Kettuvallam means 'boat with knots', so called because coir ropes tied in knots hold the entire structure together. Not a single nail or screw is used during construction. The hull is made of huge planks of Jack wood and joined with coir. This is then coated with a caustic black resin made from boiled cashew kernels.

 Two other Kettuvallam in front of us on a river 
[on the left a clothed man washing in the river]

The tourist Kettuvallams are modelled on traditional cargo boats that used to navigate these waters, shipping rice and spices (Kerala is the Malabar Spice Coast) between Kuttanad and Cochin port (where we boarded). The modern version maintains the look and structure of the originals, where the crew would cook and sleep on board. It was just the two of us on this huge boat with a crew of three; a steersman, an engineer and our own fantastic chef.

Pauline in the lounge area, before taking to the divan behind the steersman. 

Our chef who cooked wonderful meals for us 
(yes, curry for breakfast as well)

Apart from the lounge which had a dining area, we also had a modern air-conditioned en-suite cabin. 
In the afternoon we disembarked for a while to take a motorised canoe along the small canals that ran through villages. Fascinating and beautiful, but it did feel a little intrusive. I think the villagers get used to it and the kids all wave enthusiastically.

A barge laden with rice coming towards us in a canal

In the evening we moored alongside two other houseboats on an island. While all the crews had a game of football we watched the sun going down over the water and the lights of many fishermen on their canoes appearing. Dinner was two freshly caught prawns the size of crayfish, that we'd bought earlier in the day. We ate by candlelight beneath a starlit sky of tiny lights set into the houseboat's ceiling. The whole experience of the houseboat was magical and the highlight of our trip to India.

A fisherman

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