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Houseboating and Fish in Kerala, India, March 2017

We've done a number of trips around India, but haven't made it to the South very much. We had a long weekend available, so Heidi put together a trip to Kerala. Kerala is the southernmost state in the country. It includes the tip, as well as a lot of land on the west coast (e.g., Thiruvananthapuram, which has a great name, and is where Isro has some of its labs).

We spent three days, all near water: one on a lakefront, one on a houseboat, and one not far from the ocean. Kerala has much more -- tea plantations, mountains, wildlife refuges, elephants, temples -- but too much to see in a short time!


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   Orientation and Kumarakom
   Back to Kochi

Orientation and Kumarakom

We flew into Kochi (also called Cochin), the largest port city in Kerala. It's a two-hour drive to the far end of India's largest lake, which is surrounded by the blue line. This whole area is right at sea level, and there are canals going all over the place... mostly freshwater, driven by the rains in the Western Ghats (mountains bisecting the middle). We spent a night in Kumarakom (on the lake shore), then a night on the lake itself in a houseboat (red line), and then a night in Kochi.

If you want to walk across to Sri Lanka, please feel free. That chain of land is called Adam's Bridge, and was allegedly walkable up until it was washed out due to a storm in the 1500's. Now several km of it are in water around 10 meters deep.

Just outside of Kumarakom is a cool wildlife preserve, with a lot of birds. The attendant there tried to talk us out of going ('All of the boats are finished today. And the birds as well. They are much better in the morning.') but we walked through.

Found some birds -- this one eating a tasty fish.

And found a boat to take us around as well! This is a small pole boat, which the driver pushed up and down the channel.

It's a rural agricultural area. He's fishing for dinner. And check out that blue drop-net on the left -- a small version of the giant 'Chinese' fishing nets we saw in Kochi a few days later.

Our captain.

Back at our hotel, there's a bit of music. Photo by Piper.

Check out those birds that Piper has seen! Also, the sea otter ('water dog').


Around noon the next day, our houseboat pulls up to the dock. That's the lake behind it.

We load the luggage.

And here's our path! We started at the green point, and slept overnight at the yellow, stopping a few times on the way. The next morning it was about an hour to the takeout point. Total distance was about 50 km... some of that was on the 'open ocean' (which it looks like, though it's really a freshwater lake), and most was on wide canals through agricultural areas.

First stop: few km down, we get off at a fish market. They try to sell us prawns, but Finn prefers the kingfish, which he inspects carefully. The analog scales with steel weights are what's used across India -- it's pretty rare to see a digital scale in use.

Finn poses for Piper.

Astro: "Daddy, I want some chai. And here is how we are going to do it, OK? First, we take a sip. Then, we put in a little dash of sugar. Then we take a sip again. And then a little more sugar. And then over and over until we are done! Here, you drink first!"

We had a crew of three on our boat. They took turns driving, cooking, and navigating. One of my favorite snacks were the fried breaded bananas. They were soft, dipped in a dal flour batter, with a lot of cumin seeds.

And this is how we spent our day! A lot of driving through backwater canals like this. Though most of them had less vegetation -- I don't know what's going on here.

Our boat -- and this one here -- are advertised as 2 BR. It's true, but I'm sure if it came to it, you could probably fit 30 people on them just fine.

The boats are really nice -- handmade, stable, and distinctive. Ours apparently cost around 55 lakh rupees(*) -- that is, 5.5 million rupees, or $90,000.

* In the Sanskrit counting system, number units go up by a factor of 100 rather than 1000. Thus, 1 lakh = 105 and 1 crore = 107. Millions and billions are occasionally used in India, but lakh and crore are much more common units.

Sibu and Suresh. (Sibi must be driving.)

Pulling up to dock for the night!

Piper gets out the fishing rod.

We weren't that successful at catching anything, but we did get a lot of nibbling.

Heidi and Astro fish well into the evening.

Suresh, Sibu, and Sibi usually weren't wearing their lungis, but it's hot in that kitchen. On the right in the bowl are fried okra, which went with cabbage, rice, salad, chapati, potatoes, plus the kingfish, and a bit of chicken, and some noodles... quite a full ensemble.

We were parked next to this boat for the night.

Gecko get the bugs! Photo by Piper.

We had a lot of gecko friends.

Totally silent for the night! Unlike much of India (err -- Mumbai), there was no Bollywood music going on, no dance party, no rickshaws, no prayer calls, no goats... just a few crickets, and an occasional fish jumping.

Whoa! Check out that double-decker 18-wheeler houseboat. We saw one of them going by that had a wedding party on it -- lots of dancing.

Occasionally the boat density got like this, but not much more. It's like not the canals of Xochimilco in Mexico City.

And what was that white boat? It's the school bus!

This huge canoe is empty, except for those rolls of burlap bags. At the end of the day, those guys will come back with the boat completely filled with bags of rice, stacked high.

Back to Kochi

And we're back on the shore! We go into the town of Kochi and meet some goats. We're actually at the Kochi Dutch Palace, which was built by the Portuguese in the 1550's, before being taken over by the Dutch a century later.

Kerela is historically one of the hearts of the Indian spice trade. And still, our driver's father is a spice farmer -- he harvests black pepper and cardamon. Lots of anise, ginger, tumeric, and fenugreek around as well... and I don't know the others!

Fort Kochi is the area of Kochi on the waterfront. Kochi is in a pretty strategic area (a big river, port, spices, plus near the southern tip of India), so the Portuguese took it over in the 1500's as the first Euro settlement in India (!). It has a low-key beach with a lot of people and boats.

And, people selling boats! Here are those classic steam-powered tin putt-putt boats, which appear to go with just a flame and no moving parts.

There are lots of fishermen still fishing right on the bay. These are big circular nets that are unfurled kind of like an umbrella (or an octopus), and then closed as they are pulled in. They do this over and over -- the guys in the water are hauling back in their own nets.

Piper runs off to meet a puppy!

It's a really sweet dog.

The dead rat needs some loving, too.

A lot of dogs and a lot of kissing.

We pose by one of many fishing boats lined up on the beach.

Whoa! OK, here we are at the 'Chinese' fishing nets, which are almost certainly from Portugal and not China. They are huge nets -- certainly a couple hundred square feet. They're held open by huge wooden timbers, and lowered into the bay..

The setup weighs many tons, so to raise them back up, they are counterweighted with huge boulders.

Then, with just a few people tugging, you can raise the nets out of the water.

Then, this guy uses a small net to get the meagre catch of fish out of the large net.

Look what we caught -- a crab!

And what are the colored dots? It's Holi in India today (festival of colors). But, although Holi is big in the north (Delhi / Mumbai), they don't celebrate it at all in Kochi. We saw a few people with powder on their faces, but they all turned out to be tourists.

Cat gets the fish we caught! Our haul did include a couple of slightly larger fish, which the fishermen tossed in their cooler.

When we were there, these nets were making a lot more profit off of tourists 'going fishing' than actual fish. But, driving acount Kochi, we did see the same sort of nets all over (including right across the bay on the non-tourist side), so they still seem to be heavily used. Also, they're apparently best during high tide (when the big ocean fish are coming in), which we missed entirely.

The food of Kerala has a lot of fish! Here are some squid that just came in ('If you can see the stripes on them, it means they are just a few hours old.')

Love this pic. Those are fishermen coming in to drop off their catch at the market. They land on the beach for a few minutes, and then leave.

Finn would like to buy a model houseboat, but he can't find the one he's looking for. Finally, after a dozen stops, we find the boat of his dreams. Plus, we get to talk to John, who was born in Kerala, but moved soon to Bangalore, so he never learned Malayalam, the local language. We chatted with him about boats, languages, garbage, and newspaper, and what Finn thinks of India.

The next morning, we have a bit of time before we fly back. Astro watches the waves fill in a hole.

Fish in a rickshaw! (Fickshaw?)

Unbeknownst to us, Kerala this season is the site of a huge contemporary art fest, the Kochi-Muziris Biennale. We saw about 1% of it, but it was really neat. Here, Astro is leaving a pyramid, constructed of darkness, poetry, and cow dung.

And this was an installation related to the Syrian refugee crisis. It's all saltwater, and installed in a large former warehouse of the Aspinwall company, a large tumeric and pepper trader from the 19th century.

Astro has a plan to splash me.

Headed back to Mumbai...

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Henry Throop

Last modified Fri Apr 14 16:29:49 2017