Saturday, 12 September 2009

The Backwaters at Alleppey

Today I embarked on an epic six-hour laze on a canoe on the backwaters at Alleppey. Or rather, I lazed for five hours; for the last hour, my boatman, Raju, let me paddle the canoe. I crashed it only once. (I still maintain it was the other boat’s fault.)

There are three ways to cruise the backwaters at Alleppey. Houseboats are like floating five-star hotels, but they can only ply on the widest canals, and use motors which pollute the environment. Motorboats can enter relatively narrower canals, but also cause pollution, and look ugly to boot. Canoes have beautiful, slim frames, and with no more than a splash, can glide sleekly into canals scarcely wider than themselves, into a green universe of dappled sunshine, water-birds, coconut groves and villagers with winning smiles. Since they are propelled by paddling and punting, canoes have the carbon footprint of a housefly. They are also the only form of backwater transport I can afford.

Raju, the aforementioned boatman, told me that only foreign tourists choose canoes, and only the most hardcore backwater enthusiasts choose the six-hour tour. Rich Indians go in for houseboats, and the rest choose motorboats. I asked him why on earth anyone would choose a motorboat over a canoe. He said, “Indians very speedup.”

Indians in general are anything but speedup, but even if you are a chronic speedup, you have to be a strange kind of philistine to bluster through the backwaters spewing diesel fumes and scaring cormorants.

I asked Raju about houseboat tariffs, and almost fell off the boat at the figures he quoted. “When you marriage,” he told me, “you visit Kerala and choose houseboat.” “In that event,” I informed him gravely, “I will again choose a canoe.”

But this post is not solely about the relative merits and demerits of the various forms of backwater transport – a subject which, at best, is of limited interest to the general reader. The general reader (a notoriously demanding breed) wants to hear about the fabled scenery. Is it really as beautiful as they claim? Do they, perchance, enhance the colours and airbrush out the plastic litter in the tourist brochures? Do the Mallus really have forty-six different words for coconut oil?

While I am not (yet) in a position to answer Question 3, I admit this frankly: the scenery is stunning, and it is not fair that it has so far got only a passing mention in this post. It deserves much more than a passing mention. It deserves pictures.

I’d have to be crazy to try to describe this in words, wouldn’t I?


Pratiti said...

You write better when you travel. Also, just for your information(since you might feel responsible in some way), I think I am flunking even in statistics.

Pratiti said...

Which, of course, automatically implies that I'm also flunking in everything else.

Priyanka said...

if you canoed you also must have stopped at the little villages where they make funny things with coconut husk. i still have a prickly necklace from one of those.

oh, and chicken 65. and malabari mutton. i am counting on you providing evidence.

Sroyon said...

@Pratiti: No no don't flunk Stats.

@Priyanka: Tick off Chicken 65.

Shrabasti Banerjee said...

Yes yes, you write better when you travel. Photos, yay!

Shilpa Chandwani said...

Backwaters of alleppey is best thing to enjoy to kerala for the tourist during the days of vacation. The days i visited this place is the best place which have seen. If needed one can visit this place from jaipur through the packages. Hope one can enjoy the tour in the most romantic ways.