India: Kerala Backwaters


We took the public service boat and rode the backwaters for more than four hours.
All for 70 pence.
For two.

The boatman tipped us out in a quiet village a few miles of short of Kottayam – the name on our ticket. No one told us the reason. Why this empty settlement just short of town?
Later, I read the bridge had fallen into the canal beyond the village.


We walked up Kanjiram jetty to the roundabout-shaped, jelly-coloured Hindu temple – Parenalpathil Divi. It would have looked at home in the fairground, not this backwater settlement. A lime-green bubble-car sat in front of it and the driver offered us a ride into town. We declined, and instead walked around the village, over the bridge, past shops, a church and mosque – returning to the boat after 20 minutes.
There was an hour to wait before its departure. We sat down to view the waterside activity with little expectation: the village was deserted in the build-up of afternoon heat.

But as the light dimmed a youth padded to the canal.
He washed his shirt;
scrubbed catering-sized pots;
removed his vest;
scrubbed it too.
He wrapped a cloth around his waist and slipped off his jeans;
and washed them from the steps.

As the light faded out
three more youths flip-flopped to the canal further downstream;
undressed and washed their clothes.

They lathered soap into their hair
and rubbed it in.
Then their bodies
until they were white with suds.
They scrubbed and scrubbed
then dived into the canal
to rinse off the foam,
and swam,
and left.


Women sashayed to the water to fill water containers.

A man fed his path-side fire with leaves and twigs,
the smell of smouldering vegetation filling the air with spices.

At last the boat sprang to life
and nosed along the canal
past trios of fishermen in canoes
and kids on over-sized bicycles.


Night fell
The sun bled the Aryad
Sea eagles surfed on a thermal.
Egrets shone in the water-weed like plastic bags.


The boat burped a foghorn
as it drunkenly weaved side to side across the lake.

Passengers waiting on landing stages flashed torch lights at the captain,
while houseboats shrank into the shadows of the shore.

Primary-colour lights leaked out across the water, along with a neon-green cross.
The thud of temple drum bounced off its surface.


The public service boat slipped us back unnoticed into Alleppey,
giving us up to the noisy town.

And all for 70p…
A four hour showing
of a backwater soap
For two.
Twice over,
Matinee and evening.


2 thoughts on “India: Kerala Backwaters

  1. Nicely poetic. The sparseness is not only evocative but sort of augments your status as THE Slow Travel writer. You may have invented a new genre (Suzy’s piece on canal travel notwithstanding). Sometimes less is more. And as usual, you’ve delivered a thoroughly enjoyable read, Helen. Thank you. It is kind of spooky how some of your photos are virtually identical to some of the ones I took there!


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