Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Paddling about the Waterways

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India; October 18th; Day 27; Kottayam

As usual we were up early. On our way to breakfast at 8 we saw a kingfisher on a power line and a butterfly on a weird lacy mushroom. At breakfast we were given fresh fruit and a coconut rice dish. We also had fresh coffee which George makes from his own coffee plants.

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Today we decided to do a longer paddle and we got ourselves on the water about 10am and didn’t return until after 1pm. With the map that George had hand-drawn for us we managed to do a circular route. After following our original route of yesterday we continued along the major canal to reach another junction. We would find out later that this is where we would need to come tomorrow to catch the public ferry for our trip to Aleppey. Today though we turned up another wide canal until we found a very small and narrow canal which would cut us back through above George’s place. It was obvious that not many people travelled this way as we were met by smiling glances from the women working on the banks and washing clothes in the river and by the laughter of the children. “Hello”, “How are you?” they would ask and then say “I’m fine, thank you” in reply. As if they’d learnt it by rote. “Where are you from?” would inevitably come next. From time to time some of the children would run down the bank and ask us for pens. We didn’t have pens but it’s clear that some of the tourists that do come here must bring a pocketful. In actual fact we didn’t see any other tourists in this part of the water-ways and only saw them on the rice boats on the larger canals and lakes. Apart from the locals going about their business we were the only loafers about.

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We were looking out for any wild-life and saw several types of butterflies and dragonflies. Numerous birds were about too. Kingfishers mostly. In the water we were astonished to disturb plenty of snakes. Every five minutes or so we would see a small, foot long, snake, swimming in the water along the bank. On one occasion we saw a larger snake, may be a yard long, attempting to slither out of the water onto the bank. The presence of so many snakes didn’t seem to deter the children that we saw playing and bathing in the water.

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At one point we were amazed to see a huge flock of ducks on the water apparently being shepherded by a man in a boat. They seemed to know what they were doing as they arrived at a bank and proceeded to leave the water in a steady line. Only a few stragglers needed to be encouraged. Apparently these ducks are farmed for eggs and not meat so we wouldn’t be getting duck for dinner. We came across this duck husbandry twice whilst out canoeing. At dinner we asked George about it and he tried to get us a duck egg for breakfast the next day, but didn’t!

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In the afternoon we lazed around again and did some reading. We probably washed out some clothes too and hung them out on the line. The Monitor Lizard made another appearance but didn’t give quite the same show as yesterday. I can’t properly recall if we did another canoe trip later that afternoon. It’s possible. We did however go for a walk around the area thinking we would see things differently from footpaths. George advised us on a route so that we would do a circular route and not lose our way. We almost did though as we found ourselves on the wrong side of a canal and had to walk quite a way to find a bridge so that we could cross over and find our way back. We were almost tempted to ask a local boatman if he would ferry us at one point. It was this evening that we got a good view of the fruit bats. As the sun comes down they emerge from their roosting sites to feed. They are large bats with an almost cartoon like shape as you watch them silhouetted against the sky. These are the largest bats I’ve ever seen. Occasionally we saw a dead one tangled up on a power line. It was amazing to see small flocks of them flapping overhead.

On our return we washed up and went up to George’s place for dinner. He was always interesting to talk to and tonight we were discussing our plans for tomorrow. Keith and I had thought about going on one of those large rice boats that ply the Keralan waterways. They are like small floating hotels, very popular with visiting tourists and therefore expensive. George’s suggestion was that we would get exactly the same experience if we travelled on the local ferries. Of course this would be a lot cheaper too. He told us that we could catch a ferry from very close to here and this would take us out across the lake to a small town on the other side. From there we could catch a bus into Aleppey, spend a few hours there and then catch a public boat all the way back across the lake and through the waterways to Kottayam. From there we could catch a bus back to George’s place. So that was sorted then. That first boat leaves at 8.30. Obviously we have decided to stay another night.

That evening we drank beers and read as usual.