#12 Alleppey Houseboat, India

I’m sitting in front of my room, watching the boats go by, a man across the river bathing, and some cormorants floating by in the current. Early morning, there are people sitting in, and rowing, shallow round woven baskets—big enough for two and some stuff.  One was a bit leaky, so as one man rowed, the other was holding a small child and splashing water out. Just now, a man rowed up in a small boat, to the dock a few feet from me, to check a trap. After posing for a photo, he wished me a Happy New Year, and rowed off.

We practiced on Ronni’s front porch then had our breakfast, scheduled for 8:30A delivered at 10A. It’s not a big deal, but we are totally at their mercy. There is no where else to go, no way to get there, and we have no snack food with us. Turns out Pradeep partied last night. He came by to apologize. I took the opportunity to ask if he would prepare a curry made from the inside of the purple banana fruit. He explained exactly how it is made. It’s something people make at home and would never serve in restaurants. So that will be dinner tonight—hoping we can go in the kitchen and help him prepare it. There is truly nothing fancy here. The mattress is foam wrapped straw, and not comfortable. Still, it is an experience not to be missed. We are far from anything resembling a hotel, and the isolation is perfect for a few days.

After breakfast, we taxied across the river and met our driver Suresh, who will be with us for the remainder of the trip. He took us to the riverboat office, where we again signed the ledger. And there are no shortage of computers here, they just love the ledger system! Then we boarded another water taxi to get to our houseboat. For the next four hours, we road the maize of waterways in Allepey. The boats come in all sizes, small enough for 2-3 and large enough to sleep a dozen. Ours has a lovely bedroom and bath with a shower—with hot water…. Should have washed my hair on the boat.

The afternoon was perfect. Our driver (do houseboats have captains?) VeeJay stayed close to the shore whenever possible, probably because of the boat traffic, but it gave us the opportunity to take great, and numerous, pictures. Saaji was our chef and guide. He also went over the menu with us, agreed on a time to eat, and later we had a terrific lunch on the boat. Saaji pointed out some of the local birds, herons, egrets, ducks, cormorants—I saw one lone pelican. There are huge clumps of water lilies everywhere. Women washing clothes and men washing themselves in front of most every house. In one area, by a Ramada Hotel, there was a traffic jam. We were happy to leave that area and enter the lake. Before the new bridges and hwys, people in Alleppey used waterways and crossed the lake to reach Cochin.

Moving back into the narrow waterways, we were one of the few houseboats that fit, so the boats were mostly local commerce and water taxis. Before we left the boat, Saaji brought us Chai Masala tea, fried plantain—better than anything in LA, as it was rice flour, cumin, salt, sugar, and water to make the batter, then fried.

We were sad to leave the boat, Vee Jay and Saaji, but our four hours was up and Suresh was waiting for us at the dock. We had some time to wait, so we asked how Suresh met his wife. They met on-line, wrote each other for a while, then spoke on the phone for a while. Then the arranged process took over. They finally met until a week before the wedding. Now they have an 18 month old daughter.

He took us back to the Aqua Bliss—don’t ask about the name, I have no idea. We asked for a very light dinner and had fresh fruit and the banana fruit dish. It was very good, and we probably won’t get a chance to have it again. We sat outside and battled the Mosquitos for a while, then gave up and sat inside under the fan. The power goes on and off, so if the fans are on, we are ahead, if they are off, the Mosquitos move in. I remembered to find Anthony this evening and ask for a top sheet. Last night, by the time I realized there wasn’t one, it was too late.

#11 Alleppey, Kerela, India

Ronni and I had been practicing on the roof of Saj Homestay. This morning, as I opened my door, Natasha was in the hallway and informed me it was her 11th birthday today. I told her we were going upstairs for yoga practice and invited her or join us. She was so much fun, joined in, chanted for us and did her first handstand ever. We recorded her singing and took pics of course. After breakfast, we said our goodbyes, and left with our driver Anil, for the day. We had a beautiful drive through the countryside arriving in Alleppey, and at the river, around noon. Suresh, the owner of Aqua Bliss, and Anthony, one of the staff, pulled up in a small boat and took us to our riverside, don’t really know what to call it—not at resort or hotel, just 3 rooms, a chef, and a gorgeous view—think National Geographic. I put my stuff down and found the hammock. Moments later, Anthony showed up with a perfect cup of chai masala tea.

Ronni and Pinchas are staying in a traditional Kerala home—all ebony wood huge porch, center room including a dining area, extra bed, hanging wooden platform the size of a single bed, a settee and TV. In the center of the room is a square basin, open to the sky; it catches the rain water and a mosquito net ostensibly keeps them out. We have all our meals there. My room is spacious, and also riverfront. The bathroom has a tub, but there is no hot water. I had toilet paper in my bathroom, but not much of a towel. Still, we don’t bath in the river clothed, as do the women here. We see them only at dawn and at dusk. We are off the grid here. Only the motors of the riverboats and the ubiquitous use of cell phones separate this place from 100 years ago.  The overwhelming sounds are bird calls, women chatting and the sharp sound as they slap the wet laundry on stones at the river. They call this place the Venice of the East. All transportation is on the river, kids going to and from school, water busses and fancy houseboats for the tourists.

Lunch was local Kerala fish in masala sauce, bindi (okra), a delicious yellow coconut based sauce, and two kinds of rice, oh and another kind of fish we did not really like. The Kerala fish is round, rather flat, about 7 inches cross. It’s a sweet firm whitefish, always cooked whole. Two rice dishes because Pradeep, our chef, wanted us to taste Kerela rice. It looks like puffed rice, but firmer. Dinner was more of a feast as it was New Years Eve. We had Kerela fish again, grilled this time, mixed veg curry and another coconut sauce and rice.  So far, every meal is preceded by a lively discussion with Pradeep and Anthony who help us plan our menu.