Tuesday, and we are on the houseboat Nest. Known locally as Kettuvallams, these boats were once the transport solution for cargo, usually coconut, rice, and spices. It’s difficult to know if we are on a converted barge, or a houseboat built to look like one. We have a crew of three looking after us, and following our lunch, we have stopped for the crew to have their lunch break. Kerry retires for the afternoon. The crew has difficulty untying the boat from our lunchtime mooring, but we’re underway eventually. In the pre-lunch session we set a cracking pace, now however we have slowed to a crawl. We’re not the only ones on the river, and we exchange friendly waves with tourists going in the other direction.
There is also a piece of earthmoving equipment on a barge of sorts, and whilst in theory it is part of a dredging operation, it looks rather more like the bucket is being used to pull the earthmover and its vessel through the water.
IndianInterlude is pleased to report that Marxism is not dead. Throughout India, and even in Bangladesh, we have seen the occasional hammer and sickle flag on display. In Mumbai we noted a ‘Workers and Peasants’ association. Here in the south, it seems nearly as popular as Christianity. There was even a hammer and sickle flying from a State Government Electricity Office. Maybe the local State Government has a Marxist flavour.
Have we mentioned global roaming? IndianInterlude would have been lost without it, and in some portions of this trip has had more providers inside 7 days than the previous seven years.
It is predictably warm and humid, however when the boat is cruising there is plenty of airflow, and even at rest, there seems to be a fair breeze off the water, making conditions pretty comfortable, particularly when the sun is covered by cloud.
We are cruising what are known as the backwaters of Kerala. Either side of the water are rice paddys, and we are told vegetables are grown here too. There is no shortage of coconut trees, and mangoes, the latter regrettably not in season. The waters continue to provide a transport system for villagers, there are jetties which look for all the world like very large bus shelters, we’ve seen workers transporting rock to repair and maintain the bank outside of village homes, we’ve seen a travelling salesman in his row boat, and other examples. We have passed one school on the bank, and I’m quietly confident all the children caught a boat to get there.
Wednesday, on Nest. We have spent the night in an air conditioned cabin, the heat and the humidity when we open the cabin door is like a sledgehammer. We see the local fishing technique. Two men working in a canoe distribute their fishing net in an indeterminate-to-me pattern, and then row in and around the net, as one man uses sticks to drum on the canoe, the other man uses a large pole to slap the water. And then the net is pulled in. I see only one fish caught, but I’m guessing the method is usually more productive.
After breakfast we are taken for a very short walk at our mooring point, and we are introduced to some of the local produce. We see banana palm, jackfruit, cashew fruit (we’re unclear if this also provides the nut), something we think is called goya fruit, and more besides. We taste some of these back onboard; I don’t see them taking over the Australian market anytime soon.
The boat moves a little before 9.30am, however we back track first to pick up fresh milk and some other supplies from a house owned by the tour company’s owner. Back to cruising we stop near a village called Champakulam. First we see a highly successful boat in the snake boat races. Imagine a really long dragon boat, about 40 metres with over 100 people on board. Extraordinary.
We motor on a little further to the village proper, to see St Mary’s Church. This was supposedly established in 427; although we don’t know to look in the cemetery for the small chapel which is supposedly the original. The church we do see is a more modest 250 years old. Quibbles aside, it is a highly decorated church. It seems to me the Indians have applied Hindu colour and iconography to Christianity. The church interior is a blaze of colour, and statues, and throughout the south we have seen any number of Christian shrines, which is surely straight out of the Hindu playbook. The village also provides another shopping opportunity.
(Too) many photographs here, but there is so much activity and life on the waters, we shot a lot of it.