Note to selves, we need to travel lighter! We were very aware our suitcases were heavy and cumbersome as we watched Sunil and Arron lug our suitcases off the houseboat and up and over the little bridge back onto the track where we would be collected by a tuk-tuk to take us to Alleppey boat station.
The tuk-tuk driver was very keen to take us all the way to Chennamkary for 400IR (£4.88) but that was not part of the travel plan. We needed to get on a ferry and to make sure we got on the correct water ferry going to Nedumundy via Chennamkary, an island in the backwaters. We were told the ferry would be leaving at 10am, but still a concern as to exactly which boat to get on as it all seemed very chaotic at the boat station. We finally found an official looking man who told us we needed ferry no.46 and who confirmed it was due at 10am.
Amazing, another example of how India uses its workforce……we had a man sitting at the front of the boat responsible for steering, a man sitting in the middle operating the engine, a ticket collector, and 2 men who gave brief help to people getting on and off the ferry. Something the RMT and Southern Rail can only ever dream of!!
One hour 15 minutes later we got off at St Joseph’s Church on the designated island, the cost of our trip was 20IR (24p). The trains and boats are heavily subsidised by the Indian government, even so this does seem ridiculously cheap. A 5 minute walk lugging our luggage along a rough track alongside the river and we were at Green Palm Homes. A wonderful place and the most expensive we have booked, but also definitely the grandest yet. It is full board and we have limited wifi, works well some of the time so I can at least post the blog entries of the past few days.
Maria is a wonderful host and speaks perfect English, as do her 2 daughters Mabel and Rachel. She runs her eco-community homestay from an old colonial style house. We have a lovely room with en-suite, shower water still lukewarm! The family home where she grew up is next door and is where her mother and younger sister and family live and is also run as a homestay; behind these 2 homes is her older brother, Thomas’, property. The food is amazing, typical Kerala dishes, and all food is cooked by Maria’s elderly mother. She starts cooking at 6am and finishes around 21.00 each day. Apparently she does have 2 helpers these days as her health is not so good……
Thomas arranged a walking tour and then canoe ride back for 4 of the guests from our house and 8 guests from the family home. A fascinating walk and talk giving the history of St Joseph’s Church – originally built in the 10th century as a Syrian Orthodox Christian church which then became Roman Catholic with the arrival of the Portuguese traders and their missionaries in the 16th century; the origins of Christianity in Kerala – the spice traders from Antioch (then in Syria, now in Turkey) in the 3rd century brought their new Christianity with them when they came to trade on the Malabar coast (Kerala); the backwaters are now 50% Hindu and 50% Christian. Chennamkary has no roads currently but there is agreement to build a bridge to the mainland, not popular with everyone here as it will without doubt change the old ways of living forever. The population of the island is 6,500 people with the land split up into 73 farms, all rice. Thomas and his family are one of the farm landholding families and farm fields of Kerala rice. He explained how they grow 2 crops of rice per year, and then the fields lie fallow for 4 months including during the monsoon months. They use sea salt water to clean the paddy fields and the backwaters by the opening of gates situated at the meeting of the Arabian Sea and the inland waters. Fish come in from the sea and eat the weeds in the rice fields. The rice fields are then washed and drained to remove all traces of salt before the next rice crop is grown. All completely organic rice growing.
Finally we all carefully climbed onto our waiting canoe and were paddled home under a starry moonlit sky to the sound of birds, Indian singing from Thomas and our canoe oarsman, and the experience completed with the presence of huge bats flying around overhead – magical!