note: not my usual blog topic for The Sacrament of the Goddess, my novel of Nepal, but I am finishing up a trip to India
I just returned from a trip to the Kerala Backwaters and I was amazed by the place. I learned a few things I wish to share, that will help you with some challenges when you go.
Challenge #1 – It’s expensive
The typical thing is to rent a Kettuvallam (houseboat) for a day. This is going to cost 9,000 indian rupees (approx.). This is one of the top areas for a honeymoon, and newlyweds can do this – after all, how often do you get married? But for many travelers, the cost is more than they want to spend ( seeing as how you can get a budget hotel room with A/C for 1,500 rupees)
Challenge #2 – it’s confusing
“You could start in Allephuzha, cross Vembanad Lake, and get to Kottayam for lunch.”
The place names are unusual. They are spelled in Malayalam script. there is no side-by-side translation. When a local tells you in English where the ferry is going, the accent is also different than the usual accent that might be imparted by a Hindi-speaking person.
If this sentence made sense to you, you don’t need my help. For most people, the above sentence is incomprehensible. The traveler draws a blank when they ask themselves Why would anybody want to go there and do those things?
Note: a case could be made for simply not having a map or a plan, and going there as if longitude, latitude, directions, etc do not matter. Even a seasoned adventure traveler, though, uses a map.
Challenge #3 – there is no map
or at least, not a good one. Above is one of the government ferries. the people who use them know where they go. But – the challenge is for you to figure it out.
Actually, there are maps, you just don’t know where to get them!
Go to this site, run by the government. It tells where each ferry goes: Www.swtd.gov.in I recommend that you bookmark it.
I was looking for a good map. Down by the boat jetty in Allephi are about a dozen storefronts, each of which advertises itself as the Tourist Information Office. these can behelpful, but the only official tourist information office is the one across from the big jewelry store. I went there and got the last copy of this one brochure from the Tourist Office. I am posting the two key sections of the brochure as a public service. I will scan them and post a better, higher-resolution copy, when I get home.
first, more detail about the actual “backwaters” the area known as Kuttenand.
The region is huge, covering 100 km. The big focus is at Allapuzha. Here is a map that shows the canals around Allapuzha:
Notice – it’s a fine map, and gives place names of some of the harder-to-get-to-places, but it doesn’t combine the ferry routes, with those same names.
To find the ferry routes, you get the other map, from the Government tourist agency, and superimpose it on the one above. Then you would get the actual routes taken by each ferry, and gives the names of the connected towns in English. If you combine it with the schedule, you get a good idea as to what goes where.
here it is, with a key to symbols
Next the schematic of the routes and connectors. Again, i will get it scanned and post a better version later. In some cases, there is a roundabout bus going back to Allephi from a distant town. This is good to know and it will give you confidence not to get stranded
At one tourist place I saw a nice map, and asked the guy where I could get my own. He told me it was not available anywhere. I think he said that so that I would be forced to rely on him instead of looking for myself.
You can get a map atlas of every square inch of Kerala for about 400 rupees in some bookstores. Here is what the cover looks like, and next to it, the contact info for the company that publishes it:
This will get you started and give confidence.
it is a mystery to me why these are not more readily available. I guess it’s because the locals already know where they need to go!
When I was there, I also noticed the vast majority of tourists were people from India, who were looking for a pleasant they aren’t the type that is looking to map their own route. ( and it’s okay!) If you are type that wants to get off the path, you need this other set of tools.