Last September I posted an entry about the Kochi backwaters since I had learned from my daughter that this is a major business and tourist attraction of the area. In looking at the volume of pictures that she took I was impressed enough to find out what it was and give you an informational overview. My husband, son, in-laws and I took a five hour boat tour around the central part of the backwaters so I can now say that I have now seen it firsthand. Here are my impressions.
My first thought was the immense vastness of the backwaters. At the center it looks like a large harbor that has an active shipping port on one side that loads and unloads huge international freighters. Also around this area I saw many modern office buildings that comprise the downtown area and, in a different direction, a contrast in Old Kochi. (Blog entries about what I saw at Fort Kochi will be published in a few weeks.) From this harbor, many rivers flow to different parts of the state making it a natural highway.
Many boats of different types could be seen on the water. From fishing boats to ferries, the backwaters was a busy area. Looking at the calm water I could see thousands of clusters of small green plants that float along in the fresh water. (You can see them in the foreground of the above photo.) I don’t know their name but their numbers suggest that the water is not polluted. The biggest disappointment in the water was the amount of trash floating in it. People on the boat, mainly tourists from other parts of India, seemed to think it is acceptable to toss their empty drink bottles and other trash into the water. I was shocked by this behavior. (More on the trash epidemic in India in a future entry.)
The Chinese fishing nets, cheena vala, which are featured on the cover of my cookbook, are found next to Old Kochi at the entrance to the from the Arabian Sea. It is an amazing sight to see the mechanical principles at work that I learned in high school as the nets are lowered and raised using large rocks as the counter weights. Just behind the nets are stands where the fresh catch of the day is sold.
Toward the end of the boat ride I saw my first house boat, or kettuvallam. Since our visit to Kochi was in June during the monsoon season, it had its plastic rain screens lowered to keep the passengers dry. They slowly travel up and down the waterway as moving hotels that can accommodate many people among their many bedrooms. Originally built as grain barges that transported rice to market, most have been upgraded with generators to provide electricity and air conditioning. I hope to have the opportunity to check out one during my next trip to Kerala.
During the last 30 minutes of the trip, our luck ran out. Monsoon rain started pouring down on us. We couldn’t see the shore through the torrents of rain. The benefit the rain brought with it was a significant drop in temperature. Most of the small pleasure craft scurried for shore as quickly as possible. As the rain diminished, a bright yellow fishing boat chugged by us on its way to its berth; the captain of our boat had the same intention. The rain only lasted about 30 minutes and, by the time we reached the dock, it had ended.
The next thing we had to do was find a ride back to our hotel…
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