We met Meri & Yosef, a lovely couple from Israel, while waiting for the bus in Mysuru. They were also heading further south & like us were entertaining the idea of doing an overnight excursion on a houseboat on the Kerala backwaters. There are 900 km of waterways that fringe the coast & at one time provided the only transportation to the villagers along the way.
This is apparently the thing to do here, however after checking things out & speaking with a few folks, the value added for a short cruising experience vs. the cost didn’t add up for any of us. We had another thing in mind – visit Munroe Island, stay with an Indian family at their Homestay & have a real backwater experience via the network of canals of Ashtamundu Lake, about 15 km from Kollam. We all decided to take the local bus from Fort Cochin to Alleppey & catch the state ferry to Kollam, for several hundred rupees less. The 8-hour ferry ride would not only give us ample time to experience life along the main Kerala waterway but also provide transportation to Kollam, our jumping-off point to our island Homestay.
Well things don’t always go as planned – this is India after all! Catching the first bus of the day at 8:15 in Fort Cochi would give us ample time to reach Alleppey for the one ferry per day at 10:30, or so we thought. You guessed it, the bus took much longer than anticipated & we rolled into town just in time to see the ferry pulling away from the dock. We missed the #*%+=#$ boat!
What was that rule again….ah yes, rule #3, DON’T PANIC!!!!
Okay, time for a little Canadian ingenuity. With a scene directly out of the Amazing Race, we raced to the dock, backpacks flopping, made several inquiries & were finally able to communicate to the rickshaw drivers to take us to the next stop down river, about 30 km away, where we could possibly catch the ferry as it passed by. We all hopped into rickshaws & off we flew! The drivers were kind enough to call ahead to someone (?) in the little village where we were heading to hold the ferry if we didn’t get there on time. Needless to say, good karma intervened & we made it, with time to spare. We waited on the river bank since there was no dock available & chatted with the locals until the ferry arrived.
We finally made it to Munroe Island & settled in for our 2-day stay. This is real rural India, with full integration into the way of life. Our host Vijeesh, a young man in his late twenties started the business about 4-years ago. He along with his parents & sister run the Homestay, providing all meals & of course the backwater excursions.
The most enjoyable experience was a very early morning backwater tour in a long boat. We awoke at 5:30 am to music, chanting & singing along the river. Many inhabitants head to the temple early for morning prayer. The four of us & Vijeesh headed to the boat in the morning darkness. Peaceful & quiet, at one with nature, the singing in the temples echoing along both sides of the waterway provided such a serene, zen-like experience. This instrumental music known as Nadaswarakacery plays a key role in temples & ceremonies as a medium for prayer.
We glided through the canals for over 4-hours, stopping for a chai along the way. We both rose to the challenge & spent quite a bit of time maneuvering the boat in the man-made canals using only a long pole. The vegetation, various kinds of kingfisher & cormorant birds, shrimp farms & life along the backwaters is amazing. So fortunate we had a chance to experience this.