Ok, so, whilst I was looking for somewhere to stay in Alappuzha, a friend recommended the amazing Alleppey 3 Palms Guest House which only cost me ₹350 per night and this included dinner and as much tea and coffee as my bladder could take before it went on strike in protest, and there wasn’t even a catch. I wan’t pressured into going on Saji, the owner’s, houseboat and he didn’t stab me to death in the shower on the orders of his long dead mother. His mother’s not even dead. She’s the one that cooks the amazing food he brings over in the evening so we can sit around together and stuff our faceholes with delicious Keralan nommage.
Saji collected me from the bus station and he did tell me about his houseboat and about the canoe trip he could arrange for me, but he mentioned it once. That’s it. The end. If you want to take him up on it, you have to ask him next time you see him. He won’t bring it up again. And you’ll want to do one or the other because there’s pretty much fuck all else to do in Alappuzha, or Alleppey as it’s also known, because many places in Kerala like to confuse the shit out of you by still using colonial names interchangeably with the new names.
But I’d ruled out an overnight houseboat because I’m on my own and I didn’t think that sitting alone in the dark on a posh water vessel whilst fending off mosquitoes would be any manner of fun, and it was only ₹1000 for the one day backwater cruise which included breakfast, lunch and chai. I like all of those things. I opted for that and the following day the rooster outside the guest house kindly made sure I was awake in time for my tour with two hours to spare as I contemplated starting my day with a rooster sandwich. The region had had a recent outbreak of bird flu though. Hmm. Eating in India can be a parasite lottery as it is, I don’t generally like my sustenance to come with a side of virus. I settled for glaring at it in a vaguely menacing way.
And I was a happy little fucker when I found I that I wouldn’t be gliding through the backwaters all on my jack, I was bundled onto the local ferry to the village we were starting from along with a German girl called Claudia and a Welsh couple, Scott and Beth. The ferry is the local bus service here, a lot of the “roads” are basically waterways so boat is the only real way to get around. Oh, and if you like your blood where it is, arm yourself with enough Odomos to melt a JCB. You can practically hear the mosquitoes licking their chops in Alappuzha. So our guide lead us off the boat once we were at our destination and we were sat down and fed some idli, a typical Keralan breakfast dish made from fermented black lentils and rice which is served as these white cake type thingies and a separate vegetable curry soupy thing called a sambhar.
Basically, what you do is, you stare at it for a few minutes before accosting the guide and asking him how the actual fuck you’re meant to eat it. Usually when I’m faced with a dry food/wet food combo I figure the most logical way to get it into your facehole would be by dunking the dry into the wet. This would be incorrect and Indians would stare at you and snigger. Actually they do that anyway, but at least this time they’d have a valid reason. You pour the sambhar over the idli then break bits off with your fingers and sort of massage it into the gravy so it absorbs it and becomes saturated. If you do it right it’s fucking lovely. If you don’t then it’s kinda like eating damp sponge. I love it, it’s like every breakfast I’ve ever had before has been a lie.
Another substance that you can put in your mouth, largely without dying, is toddy. This is an alcoholic beverage extracted from palm trees in a process they call toddy tapping. It literally involves them chopping bits off the tree where the sap then collects in these pots that they cover them with, then some poor bugger has to climb the tree and pour the milky liquid into a bottle every morning. A few hours later it’s fermented to alcohol. I mean, it’s not hugely alcoholic, it won’t have you dancing on tables and waving your underwear around your head whilst singing, “Don’t Stop Me Now.” You wouldn’t need to spend the following day sheepishly untagging photos on Facebook and hoping your mum hadn’t seen them yet. I fancied having a go at the tapping but I can climb trees about as well as I can dance the samba so I asked if it would be possible to just try some toddy later. Our guide said he’d get me some at lunch. Boom.
This cruise then. Me and Claudia were in one boat, Scott and Beth were in another. They’re only tiny boats and the tinier the boat, the more likely it is to capsize as I step in and shuffle my lard arse around to get comfy. This could have ended badly. We were paddled through the backwaters past locals just getting on with shit. They use the river for everything. Laundry, washing up, bathing, brushing their teeth. All of the things. You start off on the bigger canal where the houseboats go, and y’know, I didn’t realise how big those bad boys were. They’re huge, wooden things, they’re actually really pretty vessels.
The water is full of these floating plants that our guide called African Plants. On the well used rivers they’re more spread out but there’s water near where I’m staying which is jam packed with the fuckers. There’s so many of them so close together that you’d think it was solid ground you could walk on without drowning. You’d be sorely mistaken and more than a little bit soggy.
Eventually we turned into the narrower canals and I spent this part of the cruise taking stalker photos of women doing laundry and men wearing what look like skirts, though I think they’d appreciate you calling it a skirt about as much as a Scotsman would appreciate you calling his kilt a skirt. Most blokes wear these in Kerala, they look so fucking comfy. I have epic clothing envy. I thought they were lungis but I was talking to our guide about it, he was wearing one, and he told me it was called a mardani. An Aussie guy I met in Fort Cochin had bought one, he said he gets stopped by men at least twice a day and told he’s tied it wrong, which is then always followed by a brief lesson in how he should wear it. Everyone, it seems, has their own way but mainly it seems to vary from town to town. You can either wear it long, down to your ankles, but if they do then they seem to lift it up by the corners whilst they walk, or more commonly they fold it up into a shorter version. Some guys only wear one for weddings, Saji from the guest house only wears one when chilling at home in the evening. But a lot of fellas wear them all the time with a western style shirt.
After a visit to a weird little church which was built around a little house which was the birthplace of a dude called Kuriakose Elias Chavara, it was lunch time and today I learned to eat rice with my hands. Until now, when I’d gone to a local restaurant which didn’t serve the food with forks I’d panicked and either ordered chapati instead of rice, or in the places where you get what you’re given I’d used the serving spoon to mix everything together and shovel it into my gob as the staff exchanged glances with raised eyebrows. But not anymore, my lovelies! Now I can walk into a local restaurant with confidence, mix my rice and… other… stuff… whatever… with my finger tips then pick up the rice and use my thumb to push it into my trap. It takes fucking ages but it’s doable. Poor Scott, though. He wasn’t coping at all. He ended up leaving most of his food because he didn’t like the idea of having to put his fingers that close to his mouth, and there were flies cooked into his poppadom. Tis a very messy business though. I don’t think I’ll be completely renouncing cutlery any time soon.
And this toddy that our guide got for us, it was ₹50 for half a litre (I’m guessing it usually costs way less than that) and it was handed to me in an old water bottle at room temperature, and when you’re in Kerala you can forget all of your previous ideas of what constitutes room temperature. Add several degrees. Aaand a few more, don’t be shy. There you go, that’s Keralan room temperature. So it tastes a bit like cider. Only a bit though, and try not to sniff it ay. I reckon it’d be way nicer if it was cold but ice generally isn’t in abundance in bum fuck Alleppey and even if it was it’d probably have a river insect or three frozen into it. Call me old fashioned, but ice should never be a source of protein.
The second part of the cruise meant nap time for me as we were silently paddled back to the village we started in. I say silently… Beth and Scott’s boat driver was a bit of a singer. I say singer… I mean wailer… He’s a lot of fun though. Our guy just kept himself to himself as he paddled us along, me waking myself up occasionally because I was doing that open-gobbed, head lolling sleep that people do on the bus and my subconscious thought it was time to close my mouth before half the universe disappeared into the blackhole that is my laughing tackle.
Anyway, there are pros and cons to staying in a lesser known guest house. On one hand I had no one to play with and this made me sad. On the other, I could play the whole Frozen soundtrack and no one would judge me. I would love to see Alleppey 3 Palms become more popular. Saji is such a lovely bloke and he genuinely enjoys the company of his guests, on my first night there he sat up all night with me and a Turkish chick, just chatting and having a laugh and a few beers whilst he sang some songs. So yeah, your liver might not ultimately like him very much, but your stomach will when he produces a bowl of spicy daal or coconutty curry with a generous helping of Kerala parotha. And as for the fucking rooster, maybe take some ear plugs. Or a gun.
Alappuzha (Alleppey), Kerala, India
Stayed at: Alleppey 3 Palms Guesthouse