Wonderment and Delight in Kerala Backwaters Dec 2014

‎”To my wonderment and delight”

 Report of a trip to Allephi, Dec 2014

“To my wonderment and delight”

“To my wonderment and delight.”

Note to self:

If I ever forget my attitude of gratitude, If I ever fail to respect the friends who are reading this, if I am ever down, I want to close my eyes and recapture the sense of wonderment and delight at this little piece of my trip to India.

Mentally every person I love in the world was here with me, yesterday.

Krijo my driver took us down from the mountains yesterday through sprawling rubber plantations, and there was a place with what turned out to be a lot of tapioca plants. We passed what I now realize was the third “Catholic Shrine Pilgrimage Site for Marian Devotion,” in a busy town, and I could have stocked up on Roman Catholic paraphernalia, including life-sized statues of the Virgin Mary such as my Italian neighbors had in an upended bathtub, growing up in USA.

You could buy all the stuff to stock a home puja room with Catholic items. ‎People burn incense at roadside shrines to Saint George, here.


My driver from the tour company was Christian.

Not what I expected in India. If you see  the church is for Saint George it means they are Syrian Orthodox (same domination as the present authoritarian ruler of Syria, TTBOMK) They also have a‎ serious thing going on with the Sacred Heart of Jesus. My houseboat is run by Catholics, though somebody onshore is playing Hindu music on a kick-ass sound system, including nagaswaram music (Tamil).

Ahh, Nagaswaram – the loudest musical instrument ever invented. There are 84 ways to create a one-octave scale, on the nagaswaram…..

To be honest: it was so long ago that I booked my trip through India with the travel agency, that I forgot what I booked. I thought I was going on another boat ride. So when the driver Krijo told me  “Your hotel *is* the boat, it’s a houseboat,” I was surprised.


Kettuvalam. These were originally cargo boats for rice.

S‎o, In Alleppi India is a lake 28 km long,  not far from the ocean. ‎The surrounding area is extremely flat. The lake is extremely shallow. Somewhere in history, somebody began a massive project, now known as the “Kerala backwaters”


A) created a causeway to get here. Maybe ten miles. They built it by making a “carry pond” – i.e., dredging a canal alongside and piling the dirt to make a causeway. Ultimately the water on one side of the causeway is higher than the other side. By five feet.

B) ‎they created a system of dikes, of which the causeway is one.

C) they got the water out from ‎one side, sort of like the Dutch. Lock Dam in the Allagash comes to mind.

D) they started growing rice on the lower-than-lake-level land, which stretches for thousands of acres.

E) they extended the high-level part in a series of wide irrigation canals (thirty feet) that branch off like arterioles to flood or dry out the rice growing land, at will. People now live on the causeways that line both sides of these smaller  irrigation ‎canals. They are lined with little houses, Catholic  churches, temples, stores, a police station, and school. (today I saw a large canoe go by carrying two dozen schoolkids in uniform with backpacks, home from school, to my wonderment and delight.)


a school bus in Kuttenand.

We stopped and bought home-farmed king prawns for dinner, the most expensive meal I ever ate in South Asia. ‎These were like little lobsters or giant shrimp, being from Maine I had to try them once I saw them, and in USD it was $25. A princely sum.  (they were okay, but since these are freshwater they were cooked more thoroughly than a Maine lobster would be, a good practice because raw freshwater fish is more likely to harbor parasites.)


Prawns ala Kerala. Um, being from New England I am a shellfish snob – but there were okay.

the water level in this extensive system of canals is about five feet higher than the rice field on the other side. There’s a walking path on the causeway, and high bridges go over the junctions to the side canal.

They can grow a prodigious quantity of rice, year-round, here. ‎It was verdant as only new rice can be.

And at present I have no background on who built this thing. I do know one thing: it involved audacious vision, lots of planning, and backbreaking hand labor. ‎By tens of thousands of people. Amazing that soil geology does not create massive seepage.

The houseboats ply the main channel, but to my wonderment and delight we stopped, and you could pay to rent a canoe paddled by an old guy, and go down a side canal for an hour. ‎Hell yes, I’m going for a canoe ride!


a trip down the side channel. OMG!

In the canoe I took off my shirt and got some sun while I paddled. I thought of past canoe trips with my kids. This was a sort of canoe ride through an Indian Village – is Venice like this?

Three Indian ‎guys went by in a canoe and sure enough, the one in front was eating bonbons.

I’m sharing the boat with one honeymooning couples from Bangalore. The woman still has remnants of mendi on her feet and hands, freshly painted toenails and ‎silver anklets. It’s – The Love Boat!  (I chatted with the guy,  but not really with the woman.)


the crew of my “Ketuvallam” (houseboat). getting on the water was really fun.

Other boats had tour groupsful of westerners.

As the sun was setting behind the palm trees, boats began to tie up to spots on the shore. The houseboats don’t move very fast; there are also smaller day-trip boats and people-ferries. They go like turtles and somehow reminded me of giant cockroaches scuttling around in slo mo.

Two medium-sized  boats went by  in tandem: one with three dozen men and boys  in orange‎ skirts; the second with women and girls, singing and clapping.

Years ago on a late summer afternoon, I took the ferry through the San Juan islands going from Vancouver Island BC to Vancouver. On that long-ago trip my girlfriend and I were captivated by French-Canadian college girls singing Quebecois folk songs.  And then of course I lived in Down East Maine. The backwater rivals or surpasses those places at their best.

It’s like Celesteville. To my wonderment and delight.


Babar the elephant visited India and of course learned yoga while there – doesn’t everyone? I think Celesteville was the capital of his Kingdom in Africa…

In the evening we tied up near a sort of village where the causeway was wider than average and I got off and walked around by myself in the semi-darkness. It was a maze of alleyways, and I used an old Ranger trick to remember from whence  I came. (every fifty meters, say the name of a landmark – “The purple house, the bright light, the bent tree”)


Tied up along a causeway. In the background. How could I resist the urge to go ashore?

Today was Alleppi puja, a prayer festival to the local deity, and groups of people were doing various devotionals. A gaggle of old ladies chanting. A bunch of young guys in orange skirts with matching turbans, singing and shouting verses in unison. ‎Every little cottage had twin cotton-wicked lamps lit, and their doors open (it’s 94 degrees, here). Kids played, and more than one group seemed to freeze when they saw a pale apparition appear, wearing a Boston Red Sox hat.

“Your name! your name!”

“Barack Obama.”

“Hello Barack!”

Dinner was fine. My stateroom on the boat has A/C. Thunder and lightning in the distance.


My stateroom on the Kettuvalam was air conditioned. This is a major honeymoon destination, but alas – I was by myself 😦 The open air section of the deck was really wonderful in the early morning……

At seven in the morning, a guy paddled by in a canoe to pick up floating trash from the shoreline. Two boys played in a basket boat.


I want to make one of these,here in USA…. some day….

Today I have one day of sightseeing, then the driver leaves me at the train station. After Bangalore maybe I’ll come back here for the final leg before Kathmandu.

On the other hand, maybe nothing I could do  here would ever be as good. Today was my honeymoon with Kerala.

I also wrote an entry on how to get good maps. http://wp.me/p3b3md-5L



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