Slow boats to nowhere.
16.12.2010 31 °C
Hundreds of these traditional houseboats, resembling mammoth floating haystacks, meander around the placid backwaters of Kerala and are a ‘must’ for every visitor.
But the tradition is only skin deep, and the elaborately woven bamboo superstructure is a mere frippery. Under each hood lies an amphibious, air-conditioned, tourist hotel complete with bedrooms, bathrooms, dining room and kitchen. We sought peace and solitude so we took a single-bedroom’d boat, with a crew of three, and spent a day trolling the myriad man-made canals and lakes that have turned these coastal wetlands into the Venice of India.
Riverside stores and restaurants dot the narrow banks which separate the canals from the surrounding rice paddies…
But this year has been disastrously rainy for the rice farmers. This season’s crop should have been planted months ago but many of the paddies are still knee deep in water. However, the fishermen are having a high time and this old guy was happy to take our ropes in the hope that we would buy his tiger prawns…
As night fell, our captain found a quiet mooring place and we ate under the stars …until the mosquitoes and midges caused us to retreat. And then we were lulled to a peaceful sleep by the gentlest of rocking, unaware that we were not alone on our seemingly serene stretch of riverbank and that a raucous morning awaited around the bend.
The day began at precisely 5am when the nearby temple turned up the volume and blasted us awake with discordant chants. Then, as the worshippers let off firecrackers to welcome the day, the dogs, cockerels and goats joined in the din. By 6am, as dawn broke, life on the riverbank was in full flood, with maritime hotshots revving up their outboards, and mothers dragging all the kids, the laundry and the dishes to the river to wash. We ate breakfast to the screeching of wet babies and the rhythmic slap of wet clothes on age-polished stones; then fifty canoeists and their coach, a motorized madman with a megaphone, sped by…
And then, as hundreds of houseboats all raced back to dock at precisely 9am, we found ourselves embroiled in a nautical melee reminiscent of the chaotic streets of Calcutta and Chennai.
“It’s the same every day,” our frustrated skipper informed us as he tried to blast his way home with his horn, but it would never occur to him, or the others, to stagger their departure and arrival times.