Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Kerala, India 7/21 - 7/23

Our last stop in India was Kerala, which lies in the country's southwest.

See an even closer view of our interactive map.

We spent the first day at Fort Kochi, a fishing town that was once colonized by Portugal in the 1500s. As a result, the town today is mostly Christian, which surprised us as we had not previously seen Christan Indians. Another result is the high literacy rate of almost 95%, thanks to all the Christan missionaries.

We stayed at the Sajhome Guesthouse, which is similar to a bed and breakfast or homestay. The guesthouse is where the owner Saj lives and rents out a few rooms of his home. He took care of us and explained some of the area's history and culture.
Sajhome guesthouse.

Following Saj's advice, we visited the fish market, where fishermen sell the day's catches consisting of a large variety of fish including trouts, lobsters, and shrimps. The vendors were proud of their fish and wanted Quarup to smell them to prove that they were very fresh. At the time Quarup was perplexed because he knew very little about fish and could not smell anything. But we later learned that is exactly the sign that the fish was fresh and had never been frozen.
Traditional Chinese fishing nets still in use.
I want that one!
Note the fresh catch is not cooled or frozen.

After choosing a good selection of fish, we were escorted to a nearby restaurant where we paid a few bucks to grill our newly acquired fish. They skinned the fish, deveined the shrimp, and cooked everything with flavorful Creole-like spices. This turned out to be Quarup's favorite meal in India and definitely one of the best seafood dishes of his life.
Our newly acquired fish grilled at a nearby restaurant.
Grilled to perfection!

At night, we checked out a collection of performances at the cultural center. The main performance was Kathakali. It is a local form of acting where each thoroughly painted actor in elaborate costume makes a lot of funny faces and hand gestures. A few people play music using traditional instruments but there are no audible dialogues. All the communication is done through facial expressions and hand gestures. The other performances included martial arts and traditional dancing.
Kathakali, the show of facial expressions and hand gestures.
Martial arts performance.
Quarup with a warrior that needed to shave.

We also spent some time in the cultural center museum, where they explained some of the traditional local crafts.
Quarup tried pottery.
It turned out to be very difficult.
Guess which one he made.

Next morning we took an hour long cab ride south to Allopey. It is the starting point of ours and many other backwater tours. We reserved a tour and overnight trip in the backwaters of Kerala in a traditional houseboat. We splurged and reserved a luxury boat. When we checked in at Lakes and Lagoon's Houseboat office, we were informed that they set aside their best houseboat for us - the honeymoon houseboat. When we arrived at our houseboat just before 11AM and were amazed by how beautiful it was.
Our houseboat.
Check out the video of our houseboat's interior.

Each houseboat has a crew of at least three people: a driver, a cook, and someone to help with anything else needed. We were greeted by our crew with fresh coconut water, local snacks, and a flower lay. We felt like glamorous honeymooners. We set off right away, heading away from town towards the small villages in the backwaters. We stopped occasionally to visit villages and saw along the shores rice fields, children playing, men building houseboats, fishing, and women washing laundry at the edge of the water.

The summer is their off season so there were not many boats in the backwaters. We occasionally passed boats and gave them friendly waves hello (especially if there were kids on-board). Laure would always ask the driver how many rooms each boat had. Every once in a while we would spot a two story houseboat with six rooms. We learned that a few boats even have pools!

Our tour package included an opportunity to explore the smaller rivers via a traditional canoe with a local guide. It was hard work but worth the extra effort to see. For lunch and dinner we were served freshly caught fish along with other local dishes on the boat. For breakfast the following morning, we had local breads and fresh fruits.

Enjoying coconut water on the boat.
Canoeing on the backwaters.
Villages along the shore.
A local family invited us to visit their home.
Sunset from the boat.

Our boat returned to its dock at 9AM and we were sad to leave the houseboat and our wonderful crew. We could not have planned a more relaxing and enjoyable final stop in India than staying in the backwaters. Here are a few more pictures from our stay in Kerala.

Because our long series of flights back to San Francisco would start at 10 in the evening, we hired a driver for the day to show us around. We relaxed at two different beaches, caught a showing of Batman The Dark Knight Rises, and filled our stomachs with as many local fish dishes as we could. Our flight back to SFO was quick and stress free - not counting a connecting flight in Mumbai, which nearly made our heads explode.

Alas, our amazing trip came to an end. We enjoyed visiting the different regions and people in India. We especially liked how each region feels like its own country with its own culture, language, and even religions. We were also honored that our Indian friends took care of us and motivated us to explore their country. We are already thinking of places to visit during our next trip to India.