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Wednesday, 7 April 2010

A 2-day glimpse of everyday life in Mararikulam & Alleppey

Impressions of India: 7

I’m currently travelling for 3 months in India, through Goa, Kerala and Rajasthan, with a pretty hot and hectic schedule of boutique hotel reviews. The galleries below are my online photojournalist diary of scenes caught, people met and things found along the way. I hope you enjoy the journey as much as I did and am still.

Please do take a moment to log and/or e-mail me your reactions and comments? Given the slow upload speed, each post takes around 3 hours straight to get online (not counting image-selection and -editing time), and knowing that lots of you are reading and enjoying it will add great fuel to my fire!

When I discovered that the (being updated) website of the online boutique hotel agency I'm working for out here had unexpectedly gone offline for '24-48 hours', it gave me the perfect excuse to have a little  rest from the hectic Kerala schedule for a couple of days, as I had multiple updates still to do & needed to be able to access their site to check what was currently up there. 

So I rescheduled my visits to the next 5 hotels, and moved to a humble homestay just down the road from the previous boutique hotel in Mararikulam. The home of Sebastian and Cecilia (who don't appear here as I don't feel the pictures I got of them are strong enough or do them justice), they'd named their homestay guesthouse after their eldest daughter Diana, below.
This lovely lady, whose name I've forgotten, was giving home tuition in physics to their younger daughter Nianna,
and this is the beautiful Nianna, also off school because of exams, who spent impressive hours conscientiously doing her school work.
This is her grandmother, who spent all her time sitting on the narrow tiled patch between the house and the courtyard bench square. She barely spoke to anyone, though she had a ready, broad smile, and had no English to talk to me. I only spotted, just before I left, that one of the poor soul's feet was hugely swollen and covered in big bulbous growths too, so maybe she was sitting in that position out of shyness, to hide it?
This is Nianna's best friend, Rajneesh, who lives just over the road and has the most adorable pixie ears and sharp-toothed smile, though I liked the calm self-confidence I found in this closed-mouth one.
And this Rajneesh's big sister, who's name was too long and complicated for me to catch despite several attempts, and whose signed communication was very enthusiastic but sadly also very hard to understand. 
Almost all the schoolgirls in Kerala wear bright bows in their hair, the colour changing according to the school. I took an number of shots of this feature, including several from the front where you can see the girls faces, but this shot from behind seems to me to throw the focus most firmly on the ribbons. 
And here is one of those 'Venetian' Alleppey canals, chock-full of Nile cabbage with its purple-blue flowers and a flame-tree leaning in for added zing.
The backwaters are home to many a light, low-lying wooden canoe being paddled around much as bicycles are peddled, and managing to avoid being mown down by the endless stream of big, palm-weave, chundering tourist houseboats that follow each other down the wider waterways like buses. They're too big to get down these narrower streams though, which makes them both safer and more peaceful to navigate. 
A typical tourist houseboat on the huge Vembanad(u) lake - which reminded me of the amazingly huge (and terracotta pink) Tong Le Sap lake in Cambodia. (There's a curious Indian habit of often leaving off the last letter of a name when you pronounce it. Hence Vembanadu lake is pronounced 'Vembanad', Panjim 'Panji', Cochin 'Cochi' etc.)

Taking a day-and-night backwater tour on one of these mod-con and aircon-fitted beasts is not cheap and, with so many tourists doing it in a long water-borne queue, could feel a little cheesy. Most houseboats also organise little snakeboat sallies down into the smaller channels too so that people can see some waterside village life. 
These houses were resting on their own little islands, with canoes lashed to the side. The water is this green because of all the floating algae - when looked at close up it looks like a watery pea soup with lots of small floating bits.
The way Indians really go for it with bold colours, on and in their houses, and in the clothes worn by women and, in Rajasthan particularly, the turbans worn by men, keeps making me smile. It might be one of the reasons for the habitual cheerfulness of so many - the endless rainbow of colour therapy around.
Much food-preparation, hair- and clothes-washing, bathing and teeth-brushing goes on beside and in the algae-filled water,
and the smack of wet laundry being slapped hard against stone is a frequent soundtrack.
I saw quite a few houseboat-loads of Indian tourists, who tend to cram on 20 or 30 at a time, where Westerners tend to just do it in 2s or 4s. This little boy was clearly loving the experience.
Some seemed shy about the frequent curious gazes of passing tourists, 
while a few others seemed (understandably) just bloody annoyed, though this particular man might well have been in a foul mood about something else.
Indian women so often have such grace, with their beautiful, flowing, jewel-coloured robes and garlands in their hair.
Maybe it's thought auspicious to dry stuff in front of a shrine, I don't know, but this guy had clearly chosen his spot carefully.
After my wonderful solo-in-an-awning-shaded-longboat backwater tour, I popped into this rather smart restaurant, 'Kream Korner',  for a bit of lunch. Recommended by my tuk tuk driver (though they call them 'auto-rickshaws' or '3-wheelers' here, 'tuk tuk is an English name), it was clearly popular with the locals, though a few other Western tourists had found it too. 
And this final one made the selection on the basis of colour, mood and shape alone.

Posts still to come: 

My serendipitous ladies-only-carriage train ride from Varkala to Trivandrum
Life and death in Trivandrum's big outdoor market
The seductive sea-sunsets of Kovalam
Varkala's grin-inspiring temple festival
A smelly train, 2 squeaky-clean planes and a comfy sleeper bus from Varkala, Kerala to Jaisalmer, Rajasthan
One musical, 1 contemporary, 1 suddenly-abandonned, and 2 living Stone Age-style thatched mud-hut villages in the Thar Desert
Magical carved-sandstone Jaisalmer Fort


  1. fantastic. leaving it up for my mrs, karin , to have alook at she will LOVE it! God i love the houses by the water and parts of tropical India remeind us so of our home in Trinidad. Really is a pleasant site and with that word i do not mean any mild read/view. I mean it is pleasant as in oddly reassuring and calming. Also I've never seen those ceiling fans in their trains in any other journophotos surprises await that your eye seems to find. thanks CT. X

    That's lovely & gratifying to hear, thankyou! Will you copy & paste the comment under the relevant post in the blog so other people can see it & be inspired to respond to? Only a little trickle of feedback so far, frustrating, tho the water's slowly, slowly increasing! xx

    will try

    17:18Cathy is offline. 00
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  2. liked this posting how you have combined the personal touch with the photos and insights of the characters you have meet, with a glimpse of the architecture. colour therapy indeed. px

  3. Nice travelogue. If you can please upload a photograph of the Diana Home Stay.