Alleppey to Kochi
Kerala Backwater Houseboat cruise (January 16 & 17
Paul's mother has talked about how much she enjoyed cruising the backwaters of Kerala for years, so we had been looking forward to this experience for a long time. The houseboats are now custom built, but were originally designed as rice boats. This is ours at anchor.
Our houseboat tied up for the night
They come in various shapes and sizes. Ours had two bedrooms, both had a private bathroom with a toilet, shower and hot and cold running water and the bedroom was air conditioned at night.
We had a crew of three to look after us. A captain, who drove the boat most of the time, a cook who also acted as our host because he spoke the best English and an engineer, who sometimes drove.
We took all our meals, which were very yummy, on the boat and when we weren't eating or sleeping, we would sit in the lounge area at the front of the boat. Kris liked to read - she was reading Anna Karenina by Tolstoy at the time which kept her busy.
The backwaters are actually man made canals, between which are huge rice fields which stretch as far as the eye can see.
Of course, people live and work on and around the canals which are used for transport, mostly by boat
All along the canals, people work, collecting firewood, threshing rice and just about anything they can to make a living.
They share the water with a huge variety of flora and fauna, especially birds, who also feed on the many fish.
Kingfisher sitting on a branch
We spent two nights and almost two full days on the houseboat, so we really saw a lot of the Kerala Backwaters, before leaving the houseboat at the dock of our next hotel, the Zuri Resort at Kumarakom
And some pretty flora as well, water lilies in this case.
Kumarakom (January 18 & 19)
We spent two nights at the Zuri Resort in Kumarakom, doing very little, although we did work on the blog, as we had reasonable WiFi access. The resort was very pleasant and our room was very nice, but otherwise not much of note happened.
The Zuri Resort
Periyar (January 20 & 21)
It was a three hour drive to Periyar, into the Western Ghats (or hills) of Kerala. We climbed slowly at first and then the roads got steeper and the air became quite cool. For the first time, we saw Tea Plantations, first a few and then many.
Tea Plantations in the Western Ghats
We eventually arrived at our hotel, The Spice Village, where we stayed for two nights.
The Spice Village Hotel was spread out in what looked like a park. We had an individual bungalow.
In the evening, after dinner, the hotel had a demonstration of the local dancing
The next day was Kristine's birthday, we started with an elephant "safari" which turned out to be an elephant ride through a spice plantation.
Kris with our guide for the morning
After the safari, our guide took us on a walk through the plantation to see how the various spices are grown
Pepper (black, white & green, depending on how it's processed
Lady Slipper - not a spice, but a pretty flower.
In the afternoon, we took a boat ride on Lake Periyar. The lake is surrounded by a nature reserve, so we were hoping to see some wildlife.
Boarding the sightseeing boat
The lake in the late afternoon sunshine
The highlight of the boat ride - three elephant browsing on the shore line
Munnar (January 22 & 23)
The next day, we left for Munnar and found ourselves driving through some exceptionally pretty scenery.
We stayed at the Ambady Estate, which was in the middle of nowhere.
The main house of the Ambady Estate
Our individual cottage (semi detached really)
Next day, we started by visiting the Erivukulam National Park, which involved a long bus ride up to the park, followed by a walk along the main road. The scenery was a little like Yosemite National Park, although not on such a grand scale.
The bus stop at the top
Erivukulam National Park
The only wildlife we saw were the Nilgiri Thar (goats) which are unique to this area. They seemed to be very tame.
In the afternoon, we went pedal boating on a man made lake.
We had to wear a lifejacket, which made pedaling quite difficult
On the way back to the hotel, we stopped several times to photograph the many tea plantations. We even managed to find a team of women picking the tea.
Tea pickers at work
Kochi (January 24 to 27)
Kochi (or Cochin as it was once known) is a major seaport. Indeed, we visited here last year on the QM2. Traders have been coming here for over two thousand years to buy spices. The old town where we stayed, is known as Fort Cochin. There was a fort here at one time, but it has long since disappeared .The new town is known as Ernakulam and has been built since Independence in 1947.
The Killians Boutique Hotel, Fort Cochin
On our second day, we took a tour of Fort Cochin. We visited The St Francis Church, built in 1503 by the Portuguese and said to be India's oldest European built church. Vasco da Gama died in Cochin and was buried here for several years, but his son took his remains back to Lisbon. His gravestone is still here and you can just about read his name at the top.
The Church interior still has the original "punkahs" hanging from the ceiling, which were pulled by the "punkah wallahs" who sat outside the church to give the congregation a little relief from the heat.
St Francis Church interior, with the original punkahs
The more recent Santa Cruz Basilica, built in 1902 has a striking pastel interior.
Santa Cruz Basilica
Santa Cruz Basilica interior
Some of the old streets have a distinctly European look about them, as Fort Kochi has been Portuguese, Dutch and British at one time and another. However, this was never an administrative center for any of the European nations, so the buildings are smaller and more personal.
A typical European street
In the evening, we went for a boat ride around the harbor. There wasn't a great to deal see, but the Chinese Fishing nets, which are a very unusual feature of this area made a great contrast with the modern surroundings. The fishing nets operate from the shore and use a complex series of weights and pullies to raise and lower the net into the sea.
Chinese fishing nets in use
The nets, introduced from China at the time of Kublai Khan in the 13th century, provide a dramatic contrast with a modern vessel entering the harbor.
The new city of Ernakulam (although "new" does NOT mean modern) from the estuary
Fishermen head out for an evening of fishing in boats which must date back hundreds if not thousands of years
Chinese fishing nets at sunset
On our last evening in Fort Kochi, we attended a demonstration of Kathkali dancing. The application of the make-up takes almost an hour and the performances can last all night. Fortunately, our demonstration lasted only about two hours !
And in full costume, dancing with his partner
And finally dinner at a very nice outdoor restaurant, with classical Indian music as an accompaniment