Some say that you cannot visit Kerala without visiting the backwaters. The Kerala backwaters are a chain of brackish lagoons and lakes lying parallel to the Arabian Sea coast. A network of interconnected canals, rivers, lakes and inlets, backwaters are a labyrinthine system formed by more than 900 km of waterways, and sometimes compared to the American Bayou. We went to the town of Alleppy, which is crisscrossed with waterways that run alongside extensive paddy fields. The backwaters have a unique ecosystem – freshwater from the rivers meets the seawater from the Arabian Sea. In certain areas, a barrage has been built to prevent salt water from the sea from entering, keeping the fresh water intact. Such fresh water is extensively used for irrigation purposes.
We stayed at a homestay called Ayana’s which is operated by Vinit and his parents Gopal and Padma. Padma is an excellent cook and we had great authentic Kerala food while we were there. Vinit is a former Intrepid Travel tour guide. Apparently, Vinit was asked by Intrepid to open the homestay so that their groups had a nice place to go in the backwaters. Vinit is an interesting guy and we had many conversations with him about the tug between his dream of making Ayana’s a success and his American wife and child living in Arizona. Our first night there he gave a nice tour of the surrounding area, explaining how the paddy fields were created through land reclamation and the differences between and uses of the tender coconuts and mature coconuts.
One morning we kayaked with a local kayak group. Unfortunately, it was not ideal. The beginning of the outing was in a canal that was quite polluted and garbage floated around our kayaks like water lilies. One canal was so clogged with water hyacinths that we could barely get our paddles in and out of the water. Water hyacinth are a big problem for their out of control growth rate and mosquito attracting properties. It was introduced to the area by the British.
Our kayak trip ended at a homestay where they had an Ayurvedic clinic so I decided to get a consultation with their doctor for about $6. She asked me a bunch of questions and determined that my “dosha” was Kapha. Dosha consists of three bodily states that make up one’s constitution. Among the many recommendations, I found three of of them to be most compelling; wake up before 6am everday (!), cut out soybean, and do a liquid fast once a week.
We went to a temple where a giant elephant was chained up inside a four columned structure. He stood there in his own excrement, moving his front right leg up and down repeatedly. It made me feel so sad. Why are some elephants free and some are enslaved?
One of the other wonders at Ayana’s was the swimming lanes. These weren’t your everyday kind of swimming lanes. Indeed, it wasn’t even a pool. Vinit had set up lanes just at the bank of the river so that the neighbor kids could have proper swimming lessons. We would get up in the morning and watch the kids, first as they did their warm up which would include running and frog leaping. Just one girl among about 10 boys. So cute!