Backwaters of Kerala

After a couple weeks with my parents and their travel group in the North, we flew from Delhi to Cochin to the South Indian state of Kerala. Kerala seemed like a different country after the North: no honking horns on the roads, hardly any wandering cows and much less garbage on the streets. We immediately went further south to spend three nights on a small armada of houseboats. These boats were previously rice barges and have been converted for tourists to explore the Keralan backwaters - a complex of rivers connecting villages and rice fields. Compared to the fast-paced sight-seeing and the chaotic cities of the North, the backwaters were very relaxing. At Ramesh's farm outside Dharamsala, I had read Arundhati Roy's novel The God of Small Things and a book of short stories and essays edited by Anita Nair. These books gave me some insight into the state of Kerala, or God's Own Country, as it is called. In Kerala my small bit of Hindi proved useless as their language is Malayalam, but English was fairly widespread. Many of India's states, especially in the south, have their own languages and even their own film industries. Indian rupees have 14 official Indian languages on the notes. And these aren't like some small local languages. Since India is so huge, its states have large populations, so there are something like 65 million Malayalam-speaking Keralans - a larger population than many other countries. Kerala also has the highest literacy rate in India. A woman from Cochin told us that many Keralans become doctors and engineers and so they have to import laborers from other states of India because there aren't enough in Kerala .

We would dock our houseboats and go through strolls through river-side villages while our guide Cleetus explained stuff along the way. This is coir, or coconut fiber. It is produced in villages and used to make ropes, rugs, handicrafts and so on. Coconuts are everywhere in South India.

Kerala has had a democratically-elected Communist government since 1957. There are government shops selling inexpensive groceries to all and other shops that sell four items (sugar, rice, gram, propane?) at very cheap prices to those who are below poverty line. The roads and homes in Kerala seemed nicer and the prices also higher than North India. Sometime in the last 50? years, the government enacted land reforms in which rich land owners had to give some of their land to the poor (lower-caste) workers who had farmed for them for generations.

Keralan men traditionally wear man-skirts, called lunghis or mundus. All day, they re-tie them and hike them up or take them down. I think they're cool in the heat.

Interesting kid's t-shirt

Cleetus would point these rocks out as local washing machines...below some in action...

The only Malayalam I was able to recognize is here, the word for toddi or fermented coconut sap?, which gets stronger (more alcoholic) throughout the afternoon. Reminded me of coconut kefir.

Greg relaxing while some of the crew took care of us and the boat.  If you're new to Overseas Adventure Travel, mention customer # 946347 when calling, and they'll give each new traveler a $100 discount off their first trip.  That's in addition to any other savings that are available.

My parents with Cleetus

Rice grains

Rice field

Rice being cooked

Rice served on houseboat...

A catholic church. Kerala has a long history in the spice trade and has been receiving traders from the Middle East and Europe for um ever. Christians, Jews, Hindus and Muslims all co-exist here. Supposedly, Doubting Thomas, one of Jesus' disciples came to Kerala in AD 25 and converted lots of locals. They are called Orthodox Syrian Christians. Some of the more ancient Christian texts were found in Kerala, and they even had their Sabbath on Saturdays like the Jews (Jesus was Jewish, remember?) But when the Portugese Catholics came, they believed the brand of Keralan Christianity was heretical and so they tried to destroy its books and churches. Christianity was particularly attractive to Indians of lower-castes for converting was a way out of the caste system.

Village temple

Arabian Sea

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

hi. sorry i don't know you. my friend came across your blog through clicking boredly through another friend's links, and saw you went to kerala. i'm living in delhi, and we're trying to plan a nine-day trip down there and maybe get on a houseboat, but we're getting confused with stuff. if you have any advice of places we should go or anything, would you mind emailing me? my address is choogl23@yahoo.in. sorry if this is weird. -wes