My dad handed me a copy of '1001 things to see before you die' this Christmas and I had a quick browse. There were quite a few Indian spots including a recommendation for cruising on the Keralan backwaters.
So when we were planning our trip we hoped to hire a twenty four hour houseboat during which we heard included a chef for the duration of your private cruise on the waters. Why not? When I looked into the cost of this before booking it was a hundred pounds for the day and this was almost a quarter of our budget for the month!! Although it was not ridiculous by western measures, it was incredibly expensive by Indian so we thought again. We decided to take the cheaper option and booked a group day trip which included a cruise around in a houseboat with a guide and then a canoe ride through the manmade canals.
The group we were in included an annoyingly vocal and boastful Mexican guy, a quiet Argentinean couple, quite a few Americans, an English man and his Swiss wife and little girl and a few others. The Indian tour guide literally spoke in riddles. He would start a sentence and then start a new one before ending the one before. It was rather hard to follow! He pointed out a number of canoes on the water and told us the men hanging off the sides were all collecting fresh water mussels from the water bed. He said that we could later ask the fishermen's wives to cook us up a few steamed mussel snacks.
We docked the boat on a very green looking island and were led through the palm trees where we met a man carrying a cleaver strapped to his bottom. He climbed (or should I say ran) up a palm tree barefooted to demonstrate how he tapped the trunk with the massive knife at the top and collected the liquid to make 'toddy' (an alcoholic drink which is left to ferment for 3 days). It was really interesting the first time, but then the guide told us the same thing about the toddy tapping after every third palm tree so it kind of became a bit ridiculous how much I knew about the subject!
The guide also showed us lots of wild herbs and cashew trees and talked about any special uses they had. This was more interesting.
On the way to the smaller canoes, we were able to sample the steamed mussels as promised and they were delicious! Big chunk of ginger would usually scare me but in this banana leaf with tomato, garlic, fresh herbs and of course the mussels, it was absolutely amazing.
Tom and I shared one food parcel as we were back on the houseboat heading to lunch- a Keralan thali. This was much like the northern thali in that it involved little samples of a number of curried vegetables and soups. The entire thing was vegetarian and very rustic. There were dried carrot shavings, pumpkin and marrow vegetable curry, sweet potato soup, fresh home made chapatis, rice, yoghurt and a spicy sauce or two. It was the best thali we had the whole month and we ate it on the boat. :)
We made our way to the canoes where we sailed down the quiet and beautiful narrow canals, spotting cocoa plants, kingfishers and water snakes eating fish heads! The only thing spoiling this was the Mexican guy chatting very loudly as we passed him on another boat when we came to turn around and head back. He was explaining something to his (completely oblivious) new best friend. Luckily our boat driver pushed on quickly and got us back to tranquil waters. We drank chai at a little house on the canal bank and headed back to the car after a very satisfying afternoon!
Gorgeous experience. Would you believe we saw that Mexican man a week later some 500 miles away. I hid. ;)