This is the second post to wrap up our beautiful backwaters trip in Kerala, with a few more details about our trip and what we learned from the entire experience.
The Morning After
The next morning, we got up fresh and early. I had set an alarm for 6:30 am, as I didn’t want to miss an iota of the rising sun. Kerala is beautiful too in the morning, a morning haze covering the fields and hanging over the canals before the sun burnt it off. We enjoyed the quiet, watching fishermen who were wrapping up their night labors, paddle home with fish in their baskets. By a morning cup of tea, I made a few more watercolors, including one that I’m very proud of, featuring the sunrise. I had so much fun doing this landscape art and looking at them closely. They’re far from perfect, but I have a sense of accomplishment in that when I look at them again, I feel as though I am out there on the water again.
Written on a houseboat Alleppey, Backwaters of Kerala Evening, Friday, March 21
Close your eyes. This is the sound of summer in your ears. Different insects chirping and singing their song. Vague voices raised far off, traveling and echoing across the water. Wild dogs yip and howl. The rhythmic thunk of a paddle meeting the water. The faint and indecipherable rustle of the breeze over your ears. The night is quiet on the backwaters of Kerala.
We moored a scant hour before sunset and watched the sun, a glowering fireball, set on the horizon. In this part of the backwaters, vast squares and trapezoids of rice paddy fields lie divided by narrow walls and spacious freshwater canals. The fields are slightly lower than the canals and can be flooded by opening gates. Along the confluence of two narrow canal walls are a few rectangular houses clustered together. When we moored, a villager came by unspooling an armful of electrical cords to hook up our houseboat. Accompanied by two of the enthusiastic young dogs (one who took up his post outside our houseboat, thumping the window with his good natured tail), we took a brief walk along the canal walls, making the acquaintance of a rooster hidden in a tree and two cows, or more specifically, water buffalo (with curved horns) who stared unblinkingly at us, as though daring us to come closer. One of the villagers hailed us, and upon finding out where we were from, excitedly told us his daughter was in Atlanta, GA and that a cousin of his operated a boat in Chicago on Lake Michigan. A very small world, indeed.
Since we arrived in Kochi by the train last week, I have found it very easy to lose track of the days. We are here for nearly two weeks in Kerala, which is an exquisitely relaxing place, I am happy to report. Last Thursday, we stumbled off the train and took a tuk-tuk ride to our homestay (an Indian B&B) in Fort Kochi, on the tip of the island where it meets the Indian Ocean. Our room has a small balcony on one side, and on the other, a small sunny verandah that holds a few tables and shared as a communal breakfast space.
From where we like to sit, I can see the flower pots on the edge of the verandah, a few rooftops next door, lines of laundry, the green tops of coconut trees and a hazy blue sky. Our second day here, I sat out in the heat to do a brief watercolor of it, which I’m going to pass on making public for now. Truthfully, my photography skills still far exceed whatever I can do on paper, but it’s relaxing to work on mixing the right shade of green and drawing miniature palm leaves. Kerala is a jungle-like environment. A few nights ago, we shared drinks and a long conversation about India on the balcony. As we talked, we saw and heard bats flapping from palm to palm. There is a strange birdcall sometimes, like a whooperwill (or maybe just what I think a whooperwill sounds like). Steve scoffed and said it was fake at first – that’s how weird it sounded to us. And there are crows all over the place too.
Written largely on the Kerala Express (12626)
Departed from New Delhi Railway Station, New Delhi, Rajasthan
Headed to Ernakulum Junction (South), Kochi, Kerala
11:30 am, Tuesday, March 11
We are on our way! Our train just pulled out of New Delhi a few minutes ago, and we are picking up speed. My first impressions of the 2-tier AC class so far — it is mostly neat and clean, but not as fancy as Amtrak. The hard sleeper class in China is very similar. Across from us is a nice-seeming but quiet gentleman. He speaks a little English, but either we have trouble with his questions or he has trouble processing our reply. There seem to be no other foreign tourists on our car, but I have glimpsed a few monks in their orange garb. There are a few curious kids also shyly peering at us too.
Steve and I are both getting over a bad cold, and he has had some disagreements with Indian food, so he is less enthusiastic about this trip than I am. The conductor just came by to check our IDs, and our neighbor had to peel his sweater vest halfway up his chest and partially unbutton his shirt to extract his wallet which was on a chain. It reminds me of this underwear that my mother once showed me from China, which had a small zip pocket for cash in the front. Basically, all Asians are paranoid about theft and pickpockets, but probably for good reason. Men have come by hawking lunch, but I feel adequately prepared, with two liters of water, two footlong Subway sandwiches (oh the fresh veggies), chips, and two rolls of TP. Let’s hope this is enough.
New Delhi Railway Station
International Tourist Bureau, 1st Floor 5:15 pm
India is rough. I am trying not to be such a baby about it, but I thought I could handle it, and it is harder than I thought. There’s such a fine line between feeling okay (and possibly even happy or upbeat) and finding yourself extremely angry and ready to pull a punch at the next person who tries to open their mouth in front of you. When you’re trying to find something important, India just tries to make it hard. Finding a restaurant, a train station, making change… it’s like wading through pudding, every moment.
99 times out of 100, when someone tries to address you and offer advice, they are up to no good. Occasionally, they may be telling the truth, but unless someone in uniform or behind an official counter or desk says the same thing, you shouldn’t believe it. And yet, even knowing this and having been told this twenty seven times, it can be easy to be misled and confused by signs and a group of touts all saying the same thing and working together. They will coax and point and argue and corral you like cattle in the direction they want you to move, promising, lying, and separately corroborating each other. “The ticket office is this way, ma’am. This way.” It is enraging and tiring, and I’ve never been on the receiving end of this treatment in such an intense and thorough way. Scams happen in China all the time, but I don’t get explicitly targeted, and I understand the local language. Here, we are foreigners, doubly, clearly so, with my East Asian features and Steve’s pale skin and blue eyes.