My travel report
A Bavarian in India and Sri Lanka – Part 3
Kerala – Wildlife, Spices and the Backwaters
By Ralph Kratzer
For Part 1 of my travelogue – Flying Emirates and Arrival in Kerala – click here
For Part 2 – Kochi – Traffic, Culture and History – click here
Note: By clicking on the bold underlined links you get more information!
After our days in Kochi, the bustling and most important port city of Kerala in southwestern India, the journey took us from the coast of the Arabian Sea inland to the mountain world of Thekkady, near the border to the big state of Tamil Nadu in the Southeast of the subcontinent.
Higher and higher the bus climbed up on the narrow winding mountain road, passing different vegetation zones and endless plantations of rubber trees, from which a milky juice is extracted, the so-called latex, raw material for the production of rubber.
In Thekkady, high up in the mountains, we learnt that it can also rain heavily in India outside the monsoon seasons which are in June/July and September/October. But summer rain over there only lasts for 1 or 2 hours and the temperature remains warm.
The visit to the famous Periyar National Park and the associated boat tour on the same named lake was an experience. Unfortunately we should not see a single elephant, not to mention one tail of a tiger on this day in the evergreen rain forest, although the wildlife sanctuary is notable as an elephant and tiger reserve. But we saw numerous herds of buffalo (Gaur), Sambar deer, rare water birds, otters and monkeys.
Next day we enjoyed an interesting visit to a spice plantation where I saw for the first time how well-known spices such as cardamom, vanilla, cocoa, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves look in in their natural state. I, for example, didn´t know before that cinnamon is obtained from the inner bark of a tree. And how many women who colour their hair with henna, know how unimpressive the shrub looks, from which the dye is produced?
After two nights in Thekkady we went back towards the coast, passing vast tea plantations, to get to a highlight of the holiday, the trip with and overnight stay on a houseboat on the so-called Backwaters of Kerala, a huge expanse of waterways alongside the coast of the Arabian Sea, consisting of countless lagoons , lakes, rivers and canals.
The converted rice transport boats, called Kettuvallams, most of them looking like Hobbit houses from “The Lord of the Rings” film series, have usually accommodation for four to six travelers and the crew, and are one of the most famous tourist attractions of Kerala. The comfort on board is of course not comparable to an upscale class hotel or a luxury cruise ship, but approximately 30 feet boat length is sufficient for spacious air-conditioned bedrooms with en-suite bathroom and toilet, a dining area and comfortable seating on deck to ensure guests on board a most comfortable boat trip. The crews are attentive and welcoming without being intrusive, and the food is, taking into account the tiny little caboose in which it is cooked, simple but surprisingly good.
Life in the Backwaters takes place in a peaceful and tranquile manner. People seem to adapt to the speed of the sluggishly flowing water. The Backwater residents are mostly living from fishing, cultivation of rice and other crops and transport of all kinds of goods and people on the water. And of course, tourism plays an increasingly important role nowadays.
For me personally it was a wonderful experience, those almost 2 days of deceleration.
The last days before flying to Sri Lanka we spent in The Zuri Kumarakom Hotel on the shore of Vembanad Lake, a large lake in the Backwaters.
The approach to the luxury resort turned out to be adventurous and our bus driver had, once again this week, to show all his driving skills to safely manoeuver the vehicle through some nasty bottlenecks.
The departure procedure at the airport turned out to be way more complicated than the entry into the country. And in one of the numerous passenger and luggage checks, my long-time companion, a travel corkscrew, was confiscated. I had accidentally packed it in my hand luggage! At least I was then not classified as a dangerous terrorist…
What other impressions had I got in the end from Kerala and Kochi?
1.) Wealth and relative poverty are close together, in the truest sense of the word. I saw luxurious villas in the immediate vicinity of miserable huts. 2.) In the city centre of Kochi I did not see one of these big supermarkets we are used to in Europe and North Cyprus. Instead there are tousands of small shops, one next to another. Everybody seems to deal with something. 3.) Indians love huge advertising billboards. On nearly every bigger building and alongside every road you see signs in sizes up to 10 x 30 metres. And, last but not least, 4.) the large number of Christian churches. Although just 19% of the population are Christian their churches are at every corner and in the smallest villages. Obviously the missionaries have done a good job…