Saturday souvenir — 8 October 2016

Ten days in Kerala. Days 8-10 — Kovalam (lots of photos)

12th Oct (Wed) Alleppey – Kovalam (155 Km.) (4 Hrs)

Morning disembark from Houseboat and drive to Kovalam. Upon arrival check into hotel.

Kovalam is a beach town on the Arabian Sea in Kerala. Kovalam has three crescent shaped beaches separated by rocky outcroppings. The shallow waters stretching for hundreds of metres are ideal for swimming. The beaches have steep palm covered headlands and are lined with shops that offer all kinds of goods and services. Kovalam was among the most prominent tourist spots in India during the hippy era. It still has a high status among tourists, who arrive mostly from Europe and Israel. Kovalam is finding a new significance in the light of several Ayurvedic salons, and recuperation and regeneration resorts which provide a wide variety of Ayurvedic treatments for tourists.

Overnight at Hotel

13th Oct (Thu) Kovalam

Day is at leisure for independent activities.

Overnight at Hotel

14th Oct (Fri) Kovalam / Trivandrum / Departure

Day is at leisure. Check out from hotel and enjoy the beaches and services of hotel. Late night transfer to Trivandrum airport to the flight to onward destinations.

Rising the next morning, this is the scene that greeted us. Although a number of houseboats were berthed along the riverside, we might as well have been alone in the world. The sounds that awoke us were the sounds of nature. The smells that awoke us were the smells of breakfast and of coffee.
Having dealt with breakfast, our driver set off on the way back to the berthing centre we had left only the previous afternoon

The route was, of course, highly popular. Most trips are for a single night, and much of the route is common. If we were to do it again, I believe we would probably opt for two nights, which would allow us to go further; deeper into the backwaters and farther from other vesselsLest you run away with the idea that all local women spend their time doing the family laundry in the open waters, here is an image to disabuse you of that idea: two women washing their dishes in the open water.

while other folk picked something (too far away to see what, exactly) before the egrets snatched it all.Back on dry land, we were treated to the previously-seen stuff of life in Kerala but that we could never quite get used to The sight of women seated side-saddle on the back of a motor-cycle, while carrying a baby or toddler in one arm, was something I doubt I would ever find comfortable. But the colours, the sounds, the tastes, the smells – at once typically and uniquely Indian. Enjoy. Our last hotel was the Uday Samudra Leisure Beach Hotel and Spa, in Kovalam. After seven hectic days, we were booked in for three nights (although we’d have to leave halfway through the last one). Arriving in the afternoon of the first of these days, we immediately decided that the priority was to rest. For me, the decision was made immediately, for others, the rest was made immediately.The hotel was right on the beach. Behind a gated wall, this very large hotel was as private and as secure as one could want. At night, it is striking – particularly so when one’s favourite person is silhouetted in front of it.Fawlty Towers guest Mrs Richards would have been satisfied, maybe even pleased. There was most assuredly a sea view from our balcony.Birds were in abundance: mostly Brahminy Kites, Black Kites (pictured) and sea birds – cormorants, gulls and egrets.While we were on holiday, others were doing roofing work in temperatures well in excess of 30°C Did I say something about colours? This is the main view from our balcony.From here, we again saw a lot of dragonflies, which we captured on video. Again, our efforts to do anything by way of still photos was fruitless. This also gives a good view of the flora around our balcony.

The following morning, day two of our stay in Kovalam, we decided to make our way into the big city, Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum) to do some window-shopping. I asked the concierge which was the best way to get to the city. Auto-rickshaws (tuk-tuks) and air-conditioned taxis were parked outside the hotel. We had a hankering to try a tuk-tuk, purely for the experience, but if the hotel advised against it or offered a free shuttle bus, we would obviously take that into account.

“Tuk-tuk is the best way, Sir, but not today,” he said.
“Why not today?” I asked.
“Tuk-tuks all on strike today, Sir. They will start work again at 6pm, but I doubt whether many shops will be open in the city then.”

It seems that an incident had occurred somewhere – he did tell me but I can’t recall details except that it involved the death of a driver – that caused drivers to take action from, I believe, 8am – 6pm on that date. Tuk-tuks are so important in the area that many establishments wouldn’t open if they weren’t running. We want for a walk instead.

One of the first things we saw was a dog pretending to be Eos. This one had clearly worked out the best place to take shade from the sun.

Though he eventually turned up for a group scavenge with the crows.

Great Egret

One of Kovalam’s three beaches A closer look Back at the hotel, the pool area was well used Pretty, but noisy!The lady who looked after our floor made this superb elephant sculpture from our towels. It seemed almost disrespectful to destroy it just to dry ourselves.Later, there really is something special about birds and a setting sun. I am never quite sure about dressing hospitality staff in traditional forms of attire that are no longer normal or relevant, but this man seemed to take such a pride in his position and in his uniform, that I felt almost honoured to take his photograph with a pretty lady by his side.The next day, we took our tuk-tuk ride. I had read horror-stories of riding in these things, but had mostly dismissed them, simply through having seen so many of the things being driven, and people climbing out of them showing clear signs of being still alive, and even smiling. So we hailed one, negotiated a price and destination, recognising that we were going to be ripped off but not caring for two reasons:

  1. the exchange rate to the Rupee was about Rs85 : £1, so every Rs100 he charged was only about £1.20, and
  2. the fellow didn’t make any money the previous day, but still has to feed his wife and children (and although I couldn’t remember what the strike was about, it was not for pay or conditions). and he was a very nice man, and proud of his machine.

The hotel boasts a number of restaurants. The one we chose is partly open to the environment, and is permeated by the sounds of birdsong. I hunted down and located the culprits. Here is the main hotel foyer (taken on the rear camera of my phone)and here, in part to prove just how bad my phone’s front camera is, a selfie (the only time all holiday that I got the selfie stick out of its hiding place) showing, left to right, the hotel guest services manager, the public relations manager, me, Clare, and the lady who looked after our room and made that fabulous elephant. Time for some sunsets? Just before midnight that evening, Shafi turned up to take us to the airport for our flight back. That was quite a big thing for us. We had assumed that he had been reassigned, after we hadn’t seen him since we arrived in Kovalam. It turns out that he invented an excuse to avoid starting his next job for a couple of days. He wouldn’t tell us what excuse he used, but his real reason was that he wanted to be the one to take us to the airport. Thus, apart from the tuk-tuk trip that day, Shafi had been our driver, guide and friend for the whole trip.

My advice? If you want an Indian holiday (and why wouldn’t you?), Treetrunk Travel are very good people to talk to. If your plan is a visit to Kerala, insist on having Shafi, from South Tourism, for your driver.

Ten days in Kerala. Day 7 — Alleppey (more than 50 photos!)

11th Oct (Tue): Kumarakom – Alleppey / Houseboat

Morning visit to bird sanctuary. Later Drive to Alleppey to board the Houseboat.

Houseboat is the only medium to explore the scenic beauty of the backwaters, which are mesmerizing and offers you treat to the eyes. The houseboat in Alleppey slowly floating over the scenic backwater takes you to the world of wonderments passing through the scintillating natural beauty, terrific churches and emerald green paddy fields that offers sight that one can hardly forget.

Overnight at Houseboat

Another bird sanctuary miss – wrong time of year again. However, we did stop en route. As we were driving through one of the towns along the road, we saw a large group of people gathered around a temporary structure from which we would hear music and singing. We asked Shafi to stop, and we got out to see what was going on.

There was a small group producing what we assumed to be traditional music (there were similarities with what Shafi was playing in the car). We both seized the opportunity to take a few photographs, which need no caption.

One thing we did notice, was that the audience was entirely male (except for Clare, of course). Priding myself on being something of an equal opportunities photographer, I had, naturally, to photograph a couple of women.
Shallow? Moi? You may very well think that; I couldn’t possibly comment.

We journeyed on to Alleppey. You will recall that the last houseboat we saw was rather large, and we assumed this was typical. We therefore expected that ‘our’ houseboat would be a kind of floating hotel, with a number of bedrooms available to guests. This is what we saw on arrival.

Processed with Snapseed.

Shafi introduced us to the boat’s driver. We asked how many would be on the boat (which didn’t look all that large). The driver told us that there would be four. We believed that meant two couples. It didn’t. It meant the two of us, one driver and one cook.

Let’s take a look at the boat. First, looking rearward from the very front. This is the outside lounge, the dining room is behind the glass doors and the corridor that leads to the bedroom and the rear of the boat. This looking forward from the front lounge as our driver was preparing to reverse out of our berth,while we drank fresh coconut water

and relaxed. We really had no idea what to expect from the houseboat. Apart from a level of ecstatic astonishment; whose expression necessitated the repeated use of a phrase that I couldn’t even think of repeating here, but rhymed with clucking bell; Clare was overwhelmed and speechless,

especially when we got to the bedroom.

Beyond our bedroom was the kitchen, where our cook was preparing a fresh fish curry for our evening meal.

“There’s an upstairs,” the driver said whilst we were enjoying out fresh coconut water. We climbed the ladder and found another lounge.There, we were completely laid back (or forward, in some cases).

From the top deck, we saw much of local life: construction, canoeing and fishing

laundry,   water transport (in both senses of the term)more laundry,and sightseeing tours. This is another small houseboat; one without the benefit of an upper deck,while this is what we had been expecting. By this time, we had left the relatively congested waters of the river where the houseboats are moored and were moving into the open waters of Vembanado Lake, where numbers of fishermen worked in the waters from canoes.I’m not sure what this man was hunting, but you can just see the top of his head to the right of his canoe. Don’t worry, he did surface shortly after, with something in his hands, though I couldn’t see clearly what it was. These fishermen then approached passing houseboats, offering to sell their catch. That way, houseboat cooks can offer fresh seafood-based meals to their guests. Shame I don’t like seafood, isn’t it? The chicken curry we had instead was a bit of a killer!  Oh yes. There were birds. Cormorants, in this case.At lunchtime, our driver pulled in to the bank and secured the boat to a couple of trees.We didn’t get any pictures of the meal, so here’s some fresh fruit. Those small yellow bananas were absolutely delicious, by the way: sweet, full-flavoured and incredibly fresh.Our houseboat was surrounded by what looked like dragonflies. I tried; I really tried to get a decent photograph of the little blighters, but they were moving too fast. This was the best I managed.

But I got them on video!

Did I say there were birds? More cormorantsand one of my personal favourites, Brahminy KitesAfter lunch, we set off again, headed for our night stop. Cruising on the still waters of the area, the houseboats moved off aling the main river/canal prior to separateing into smaller streams for their night berths.On the way, we saw more life. Fishing and marketing,more birds (egrets – lots of them)more laundrychildren doing what children doand families packing their canoes. With what and to what end must remain a mystery.Sailing on, we saw some spectacular buildings. This one is a schoolwhose shade was clearly appreciated. Was this some parents waiting for the kids to come out of school?Cormorant. Technically, a Little Cormorant (Phalacrocorax niger) in non-breeding plumage – so Wikipedia tells me, anyhow.Is he drinking that? It looks like his friend wants a swig, while the girl seems to have spotted the camera, and is striking a suitable pose.I won’t go into too much detail about this grooming, for fear of being accused of nit-picking. On we sailed, into the setting sunspotting more birds – a kingfisher this time.We were colonised by pigeonsand crows.More splendid structures. This church was stunning.The sun started to sink toward the horizondown and down it wentuntil finally settingonly to be replaced by a stunning moon.A perfect end to what had to be the first day of the highlight of our Kerala holiday; the houseboats of Alleppey.

In the final episode, we leave Alleppey and travel down to the beach resort of Kovalam for a few days’ relaxation. Read on.