Sunday, February 17, 2008
Life in the Backwater
We left the hilltop village of Periyar and started down the long, very windy and treacherous road towards the Back Waters of Kerala. We had no idea what the Back Waters were, but we were about to find out. On the way down the mountain we came across tea plantations. We had never seen them before. The tea leaves were being harvested and the entire hillsides for as far as you could see were a vivid green. The tea is planted in a neat pattern of rectangles and the whole terraced hillside is a delight to look at.
We then went to a tea processing plant. This plant was more than 100 years old, two stories tall and quite large. It was so noisy it was impossible to hear. The machinery, that looked like it was designed in Victorian England, was totally Rube Goldberg. Unfortunately they wouldn’t let us take pictures. Suffice to say damp green tea leaves go in one end and various grades of very dark tea come out the other. One interesting thing happened when our guide was from Tamil Nadu attempted to ask a question of one of the workers. They were unable to communicate. Each state has it its own language and Kerala’s is different from Tamil Nadu. Even the writing is different. She was finally able to communicate in English with someone else. English is the only common language in India and only the educated speak it.
Kerala, the richest state in India, is governed by the Communist Party. Everywhere re you see red flags with the Hammer and Sickle. An election is coming up and is banners everywhere. We will see if the Communist stay in power. The state is divided roughly 1/3 Hindu, 1/3 Muslim, 1/3 Christian. It was where the Portuguese and the Dutch ruled, bringing Christianity to the people.
We finally arrived at the Back Waters of Kerala. It is composed of a gigantic lake and a series of canals running off it. All the water is fresh water. The canals are named like streets and are lined with small houses. There are 1.2 million people that live in the Back Waters. They appear to be very poor and unbelievably nice. Think of Venice if it was set in the tropics surrounded by rice patties.
We are on one of many house boats that are on the lake. It was very hot and humid. We were drenched with sweat. We have a crew of 3 preparing breakfast, lunch and dinner. The boats all have a very tropical feeling to them. We cruised around then went to stall and bought giant shrimp for dinner.
We then took a long canoe ride (we were just sitting there others paddled) and we went down the canals to see how the people live here. There are all kinds of tropical fruit growing and one old man picked some fruit and threw it to us from the shore. The houses have no running water. In front of each house is a small landing. The people wash their clothes and dishes in the canal water from the landing. They also get into the river and bath. Interestingly they don’t take their clothes off when they bath. The Indians are very modest.
Since everyone is so accommodating, Cliff asked if he could get a massage. Low and behold, the house boat docked in front of a Ayurvedic massage place. These people take their massage seriously. Chalk up one more massage for Cliff. On the boat, dinner was starting to be prepared. Cliff and Cathy went to the galley and watched them cook dinner. It was extremely hot in the galley. Most of the men in the South wear a sarong like piece of clothing (as do all of the Hindu Priests we saw). Cliff took to the local sartorial style. Not having a sarong to wear the crew fashioned one for him out of a tablecloth. The men are constantly changing the sarong shape sometime wearing it long and other times wearing it hiked up as shorts. We had a very special treat because we arrived during harvest festival. A boat decorated with flaming torches, dancers, singers and drummers floated by. They would occasionally shoot off fireworks. You could hear people on the shore applauding and clapping. The dinner was great and we watched a Bollywood movie we brought from LA on the boat’s entertainment system before retiring to our bedroom on the boat.