Today I said goodbye to Kerala and hello to Tamil Nadu. I flew on IC511, a decrepit Indian Airlines Airbus A320 that was a good candidate for an episode of “How Dirty is Your Plane?”. This thing needed a good scrub down from the inside out. Luckily the food on board was delicious enough to distract me from looking too hard at the dirt. It’s amazing that Indian Airlines can serve a delicious meal on board a quarter full, 1 hour flight, while US carriers will leave you starving or let you pay for a 3rd rate snack on a 5 hour flight right across the country.
As Captain Prashant Rajdev piloted us safely across India and I munched on Cholay Paneer, I reflected on my last few days-
On Wednesday, I was to catch a boat from Kollam to Allepy, to ferry me up through the backwaters of Kerala and help me continue my journey northwards to Kochi. Unfortunately I had left Varkala too late to catch the train, so I took a cab. Alas I still arrived too late to catch the boat from Kollam, (I’d like to blame traffic but it was actually because I had been too busy enjoying my breakfast of porridge, fruit salad and iced coffee at the Abba Café).
Luckily my cab driver had a plan of epic proportions. For another 300Rs, he drove me to a tiny village, where he knew of an even tinier jetty. From there he phoned a friend who had a line to the captain of the boat. The friend told the captain he needed to make a pit stop at the jetty to collect a lonely backpacker that would be waving him down. Luckily it all went to plan and I got a special pick up from the river side! I actually needn’t have waved so frantically. Nothing is frantic around here.
The backwaters are beautiful- especially around sunset. We passed by village life on the banks; kids bathing in the river, women washing clothes and dishes in the river, their heads lifting for a couple of seconds to see us waft by, sometimes waving back. More than once I actually felt a bit voyeuristic- after all you wouldn’t like it if someone passed by your kitchen window in a bus and peered in for a few seconds while you were doing the dishes!
By sunset we arrived into Allepy, and 8 hours of chatting with fellow passengers had paid off; I now had a travel companion (Hokkam from Sweden!), and a free lift to Kochi with 2 French couples who had a rented minibus. I was ready to say goodbye to the boat and looking forward to the next adventure.
We arrived into Fort Kochi late, and Hokam had the worse sense of direction ever (I knew it was bad when I had to tell him we had already walked through this intersection 3 times looking for a place to stay). We walked (and I sweated) our way around Fort Kochi for an hour or so, looking at rooms in homestays and B&Bs. After I had lost my day’s water intake in sweat I just needed a place to stay. The place to stay became a 1700s Dutch Colonial hotel called The Rosita Inn on Rose Street, with a lovely courtyard and just a few steps to the action. So for 1500Rs/night, it was a deal for the next 2 nights.
Hokam and I spent most of the next day exploring by foot- and what a delight Fort Kochi is! It was coveted, plundered and rebuilt by the Dutch, French and British and remnants of all these colonial powers remain. This was a smorgasbord of cultural remnants, to use a phrase from Hokam’s home country. It’s just bursting with color, character and life; from cantilevered Chinese fishing nets to a Portuguese Catholic Church built in 1505, to a whole area of antiques shops in ‘Jew Town’, and no shortage of restaurants and cafes to recuperate from the heat. There’s some beautiful colonial architecture to admire and myriad alleys where rickshaw drivers are awaiting to offer you a ride to your next destination, even if it’s a 3 minute walk away. (me: “It’s just around the corner, I’ll just walk thanks!”, Rickshaw walla: “but Only 10 Rupees!”).
Hokkam was one hungry Swede- so we asked a rickshaw driver for a lunch recommendation where locals go- and were pointed to Krishna’s Café. Now I can say I’ve had my cheapest meal out ever! Hokkam ordered 2 Vegetarian Thalis, I had one, along with 2 “Lahar Pepsis”… and the total bill (for 3 meals essentially) was 100 Rs. About 1 Pound 30p, or $2 US. And the meals were delicious and filling! Wow one could get used to eating good food for nearly free!
Other firsts today were 1) eating an Italian pizza for dinner in an Indian restaurant, and 2) eating an Italian style pizza in an Indian restaurant with no lights, as the electricity went out in the restaurant about 2 minutes into my meal!
And so we come back to this morning, when I had just enough time to pack up and catch the A/C bus to the airport for my flight. Next stop, Chennai!