The Sultry South

After a whirlwind four days of shopping in Pushkar and Jodhpur, our go go go pace afforded us a whole ten days off before having to be in Helli (as we not so affectionally call New Delhi) for a gift fair and our plane ride home. It seems we’re getting slightly better at navigating the murky shopping waters in India. Since ten days is a little long even for us for a beach stop in Goa, we decided to head farther south to the beckoning swaying-palm lined coastal state of Kerala.

We spent our first couple of days idling about historic Fort Kochi, wandering along the seashore and the charming lanes fronted with pleasing colonial tiled-roof buildings. We started each day with delicious Keralan treats prepared by our home stay host Diana, my favorite of which was a thin crepe with delectable coconut, cardamum and peanuts rolled inside. Kerala feels to me like a soothing balm to the intensity of Rajasthan. It appears more affluent, there’s considerably less obvious poverty, and the women wear the most strikingly beautiful silk saris (polyester is definitely not king in the south). Even rickshaw drivers are more friendly in their persistence. But most surprising to me is that it actually smells good here – and not good as in an occasional wafting chai or samosa frying scent masking the dirt and pee smells, but good as in warm sea salted air perfumed with sultry sweet spice and tropical flowers.

Alas along with the sublime comes the hoards of tourists, and with the hoards of tourists comes streets overtaken with tourist shops (filled with treasures from Rajasthan mostly), and expensive high season accommodation. Yet again, I feel a twinge of sadness for not being able to experience a place before it was ‘discovered’. Alas, despite the hoards we decided to spend the next afternoon and evening on a houseboat in the Keralan backwaters (with hundreds of other tourists, we estimated) around Alappuzha, which all guidebooks list as the one ‘must do’ experience in Kerala. This had me more skeptical than excited, as with the exception of the tour of Inle Lake in Burma, any boat tour we’ve been on in South East Asia has at best been moderately interesting and at worst been tediously boring and obnoxiously loud.

As it turns out, our experience on the “Angel Queen” houseboat with only us, our captain and a cook was one of the most relaxing and memorable tourist experiences we’ve ever had. No earplugs required, puttering quietly down narrow channels watching rice paddies gleam their dazzling green in the sun, while locals went about their daily business. The fish fry lunch and Keralan curry dinner were fantastic and the Kingfisher was cold. We finished off the tour with a sunset cruise through the smaller canals in a hand dug canoe paddled by two seventeen year old boys who occasionally quizzed Joe about his hobbies, which sport teams he liked and what he did back in Canada.

Happy times indeed.

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