SARAH/MARK: The gentle throbbing of the old Cummings diesel engine was soporific as the lapping of the Kerala backwaters combined with the cool refreshing breeze from the Arabian Sea. Very soon the heads of the two weary travellers began to nod in unison, as totally relaxed, their eyes began to close. Welcome to paradise.
It had been a most memorable lunch. The old boat had stopped an hour in to the journey at the side of Lake Vembanad. Five Giant Tiger Prawns had quickly been purchased from a small fish shop, where box upon box had been packed with ice to carefully protect that mornings catch from the searing midday heat of what was a very hot Indian Summer.
“They’ll do for starters” said Sarah, her face beaming with excitement and the anticipation of enjoying one her favourite dishes, personally cooked by her onboard House Boat Chef.
The day had started fifty miles away as Mark and Sarah had waved good bye to Saj and his family through the back window of yet another beat up old white taxi after an enjoyable three days in Cochin. The couple, now nearing the end of their four weeks in India, had little real anticipation for what was to follow. They both shared the same sentiment and belief that when you really hope something will be great, it very rarely is. Conversely those spontaneous, last minute “let’s do it” moments often lead to great times – Alastair Black/Steve Elliott/John Hodson in AB’s back garden eating cheese. This though was one of those great memorables, up there with the Grand Canyon and the “Treasury” in Jordan.
Anyway enough of the Enid Blyton, Five Go to Smugglers Top writing style. No more lashings of “ginger pop” for Dick, Julian or indeed Mark for that matter.
But wow, the Kerala Backwaters. Absolutely brilliant. We loved every moment of the 21 hours we spent on-board our very own converted rice barge, plying the beautiful waterways of southern India.
We had heard from our good friends Lois and Keith Pope, and Ian and Ali Marr just how wonderful an experience it is to cruise effortlessly along. By gum they were right. Dear old Saj (from the Saj Homestay in Fort Cochi) had booked the boat. We’d paid our 8,500 Rupees (£82) in good faith, but had no real clue what we were going to get. The reality exceeded our expectations and wildest dreams. Our own chef and captain, a beautiful bedroom with A/C and excellent en-suite bathroom. A glass and mahogany dining table (for up to 6 guests) and four lovely relaxing chairs to sit and admire the countryside from as we chugged along at a sedate 5/6mph.
The incessant noise and peeping of horns from the crowded streets of Delhi and Mumbai a distant memory, the only noise we noticed was the bleeting of goats and the “slap, slap slap” of washday as locals washed their smalls (and larges) in the somewhat murky waters, no detergent in sight.
We loved waving to other boats – and watching the response which was enthusiastic and energetic. Random “Disco boats” of dancing men were amazed to see Mark strutting his stuff in time to their music. Kids thought it highly amusing to try and “bomb” us off the banks – but their splashes barely reached.
In any case we were so mellow after drinking illicit rum we had smuggled on board, we didn’t care. We also didn’t care that we couldn’t lay our hands (Debbie Barton) on any Bombay Saphire – a first.
‘Boro’ Boy Chris Rea was belting out tunes from “the Best Of” and mozzies were taking one whiff of our 95% deet and promptly doing a U Turn.
At 5.30pm, some five hours after leaving Alleppey, we moored for the evening as the sun went down. Stunning.
Dinner was served at 8.00pm sharp. The remaining three Tiger Prawns made a final appearance, this time cooked to perfection in ginger. We shared our Kingfisher beer with Chef and Captain and then sat back to watch the sound and light show which nature had kindly laid on for us. Forked lightening jagged across the sky in the distance, the rumble of thunder bouncing off the mountains. The perfect end to the perfect day.
But our trip wasn’t quite over. Sun up just 11 and a half hours after it went down. The golden circle rose over the Keralan rice fields, whilst behind us, with no wind or boats the perfect silhouette formed out of the gloom in a perfect mirror image of palm trees and water. Stunning again.
So, time to bid farewell to our boat and head now for three final days to the bottom pointy bit of India – Kovalam. Kerala the state describes itself as God’s own country. Now we all know, including Sarah that this simply can’t be true. But tell you what – it isn’t far behind.