Kerala: Kochi, Kumarakom & Kollam

Only in Kerala will you see a man in a canoe herding a flock of ducks down a canal

Enter Kerala and you step into a distinctly different, altogether more chilled, corner of the Indian sub-continent. Lush and green, hot and humid, with its locale and climate also reflected in the way people dress and by what they eat. Men all wear Mundus/Lungis, wearing them down to their ankles (which is more formal) or folded up to their knees (which is cooler). Although they are much more likely to be found in a constant fidgety flux between the two. And the food tastes fresher and zingier, with healthy quantities of coconut and fish ever present.

Mundu fiddling

We arrived in Kerala at Ernakulam rail station in Kochi (Cochin), after a long overnight train journey from Goa, and jumped straight into a cab to head the further 2 or so hours south to a lovely homestay in Kumarakom, taking in this fascinating new land and people-scape on the way. And while awaiting the arrival of the remaining members of our Goa gang - Nina, Amy, Grey, Vix and Liz - we were treated to our first taste of Keralan cuisine... about 9 seperate dishes, each a different colour of the rainbow, and delicious!

Us and our homestay hosts in Kumarakom

The following morning we set off on our overnight backwater tour, on a newish boat modelled on a traditional rice barge, and immediately found ourselves in the lap of luxury. Four en-suite bedrooms and staff to take care of our every need. Time to turn off our minds, relax and float downstream...

Not actually our houseboat but it looked a bit like this

Or at least that is what we thought would happen. Unfortunately it transpired that our boat was too big to go down most of the backwater canals so we spent most of our time traversing a large backwater lake. Which was pretty, but there was little opportunity to observe daily life on the canal banks as we had hoped. And, alas, our 'Eco Tours' company didn't turn out to be that eco, disappointingly slinging litter over the side into the water. Still, we had stocked up with sufficient levels of booze to ensure we were all happy, and we sat up chatting till the wee hours.

The following day we all headed by taxi to Fort Cochin (with a minor crash on the way), and spent 4 lovely days soaking up the sights and ambience of the old colonial area of Kochi. Bicycling around town, eating well, drinking where we could find it (it might have been humid, but Kerala can also be a bit 'dry') and enjoying an Ayurvedic massage. And then it was time for our friends to, very sadly, leave. Boo. Still, it was AMAZING to have them all out with us... a real highlight of our trip.

We weren't on our own for long though, my friend Dave Hinkly was lurking down in Varkala and we hit upon a plan to meet him half way in Kollam, a town on the southern approach to the backwaters and another chance to get up close to traditional Keralan life on the water. After another long and hairy taxi journey, we checked into the charming water-front Ashtamudi Villas and lazed in hammocks amid nodding palms awaiting Dave's arrival and a good catch-up.

But before we could relax for too long we were whisked off to see a hindu festival with a wonderful procession of elephants!

The following morning we all took a rickshaw across a slightly bizarre ferry to Munroe Island and hopped onto a canoe-boat for a very leisurely tour of the narrow backwater canals, with the odd stop to relinquish our thirsts on a freshly cropped coconut. We all thoroughly enjoyed it. The same probably couldn't be said for the Yorkshireman we met going the opposite direction who quipped that 'it doesn't get any more interesting I'm afraid', only for his wife to elbow him and say 'some people might like this sort of thing'.

In the afternoon we took a rickshaw tour around Kollam with a very knowledgeable local driver, Sudhi, who took us to see craft workshops, some small matchstick, candle, cashew nut and coconut oil factories, and the town's market. It was fascinating to see local life up close... although that chap from Yorkshire would have, no doubt, hated it.

Sudhi and some matchsticks

The next day Dave left us to head to northern Kerala... and we decided to head to the Andaman Islands!


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