I can remember sitting at my desk in rainy Exeter, dreaming of floating down the backwatersof Kerala in a houseboat. Well, that dream came true.
To get there, another long sleeper bus journey was in order. This was an ominous thought because, you’ve heard it here first, I’m the grumpiest person on earth when I haven’t had a solid 8 hours sleep. Let’s just say, on the ‘more pothole than surface’ roads of India, you don’t get a lot of sleep on a bus. As I mentioned last time, we got a bus without air conditioning this time, and a wave of stuffy hot air and regret was what we were met with when we got on. I struck gold as we got settled, when I realised there was a window. I can confirm my life is currently at the point that I get excited about a functioning window. I am sorry, past self. Anyway, this journey was a million miles better; with the aid of a local bakery we raided for provisions. I have forgotten to mention before but they have bakeries everywhere and you can buy delicious packs of biscuits, which, rest assured, we take full advantage of. The lady on the bunk below is (the buses are basically two layers of bunk double beds) had a bit of an accident on the bus (twice) so we heard a lot of comedy farting and hideous retching. A lovely lullaby. After 8 hours on the bus we had to get to Mangalore train station, which is completely out in the sticks.
We got swarmed by tuk tuk drivers as we got off the bus, who all went to Ollie and ignored me. This is the first time we have really seen that a lot of people presume the man will hold the money or be making decisions. This has happened a lot in Kerala – for instance in restaurants, where I am almost never given a menu. Safe to say I demand one and rant to Ollie about it, where he nods a lot and pretends to be concerned too when really he is just sussing out the food on offer. We had a 2 hour wait at the train station, where 4 misfit stray dogs befriended us and followed us everywhere. We were in the lowest “sleeper” class on the train, with no air con. It is much cheaper and was perfectly comfortable – there are still beds that pull out so I had a fabulous nap until a man shook me awake, asking for my tickets. I nearly rolled out of my middle bunk out of fear when I opened my eyes to see a man peering in my face shouting “tickets!”. We were sat with some lovely locals who helped direct us to the right place after the 7 hours was up.
We arrived into Kochi, which was pretty far from glamorous. Our hostel was in Fort Kochi, which is a big part of the town (it’s separated into about 4 sections). We had been advised that this was the only section worth visiting, and I have to second that. It definitely wouldn’t win any “pretty city” competitions. We found that there were very few places to eat, and ended up going to an indie hostel which only served breakfast, which was interesting! The next day we went out to explore Fort Kochi, which is sprinkled with amazing churches, temples, spice shops and is in general a sightseer’s paradise. A tuk tuk driver pulled over and offered us a 3 hour tour for 100 rupees (less than £1.50?!) so we were bemused and leapt into the rickshaw. We spent the time going to museums, Indian boutiques, spice markets and lots of churches. I got kicked out of one as I was wearing shorts – I had trousers with me but was pretty aggressively removed so decided to let Ollie enjoy the scenery inside alone with his bare legs. I felt like having a singalong to “If I Were a Boy” from outside. When we went to a temple they dressed me more appropriately in a sari, which saved me putting my trousers on over my shorts (major nappy looks).
The lovely thing about Kerala is that everyone seems to live in harmony. A Buddist temple, a Hindu temple, a mosque, a synagogue and multiple churches are within a 5 minute radius of each other in a peaceful area. We asked our driver about religious tension and he said that people in Kerala live together in peace despite their religious differences; which is something the whole world needs to follow! This is a message to you, Trump and Farage. Screw your nuclear weapons and pint-in-hand scaremongering.
Kochi was quite dirty and wasn’t really our thing, so after a day of exploring we took two local buses down to Allepey, to see the backwaters. On the first bus I sat behind Ollie (we had to hold our bags which took up a seat) and I was on the back row, which was otherwise empty. Two men came and sat right next to me and spent the journey moving as close to me as possible, touching my arms and then whispering to each other before both shoving right up to me. Ollie was glaring at them and we were talking, making it clear we were together, but it was making no difference. Eventually I had to move as they were so intimidating! I’ve said before and I’ll say it again, I HATE NOT BEING ABLE TO GET ANGRY AT THEM!!! It is completely against my nature to suck it up but I just have to – and, when you’re exhausted from a lot of travelling, it can just make you feel scared and upset instead of angry. The next bus was absolutely packed so I would definitely recommend not going in rush hour (it seems obvious in hindsight).
In my head I have always had the most picturesque visions of Allepey. In reality the town was pretty grotty if I’m honest, and in particular felt unsafe at night. There were amazing colourful markets in the day and we found an great place to eat for ridiculously cheap prices. Also, you can snack on insanely cheap bananas (little mini ones in bunches), if you’re happy with them being warm. You do feel a bit like you’re eating baby food but when my stomach was not having a fun time I welcomed the banana mush!
My one and only super important tip if you’re heading to Allepey is do NOT go on a weekend! We turned up on Friday night and prices for any boat trips – the main attraction – had doubled for the weekend. Avoid Saturday-Monday and you can treat yourself to a private houseboat trip at a reasonable price. As we had travelled to Kerala for the backwaters alone, we had to splash out. We spent the afternoon searching for the cheapest price as there are probably nearly a hundred separate businesses offering boat rides – from an hour in a canoe to a big group day tripper to houseboats for overnight. They basically look you up and down, drag out the pale-omitre and go for a high price. We thoroughly treated ourselves and booked a houseboat for overnight and absolutely lucked out. We were sharing a boat with another family from Bangalore, but we had a huge room featuring a private balcony – right on top of the boat so we could see the world (well, we could see a lot of water).
Our boat man massively messed us over, basically almost scamming us into paying an extra £80 when he “accidentally” got us settled on the wrong boat. They had a little (quite large) shouting match with Ollie, but we soon made it into our luxurious room. We ate amazing local grilled fish and fab curries cooked by our personal chef, and had the best experience. I sunbathed and read books all day whilst floating around; it was the day I had been looking forward to for so long and it far exceeded my expectations. It would have been better if Ollie had fulfilled my request to fan me with banana leaves but I guess he isn’t my dream man after all. It was a really happy day and we felt so lucky to be there – apart from when we spotted huge cockroaches (and I mean HUGE) crawling up the walls at night. Ollie stood on the bed screaming while I shooed them away. I am my own knight in shining armour.
There is also a lovely beach in Allepey, where we spotted multiple people taking sly pictures of us paddling and building sand holes (the desperate measure when you have no sand castle moulds to hand). It is blazingly hot and humid and we were bitten to smitherines! We had an amazing relaxing time and ate far too much ice cream from the conveniently placed supermarket next door. I think I had my expectations of the town set too high, but when you throw yourself into actually doing things, Kerala is beautiful and very relaxing. The train journey there is gorgeous and the backwaters are a huge break from the hustle and bustle of the cities. Make bug spray your best friend and don’t forget to only go on weekdays unless you’ve just won the lottery! If you have won the lottery, go on a Saturday to make you feel good about yourself.