Chennai had been nothing special, and we found that we were more than slightly worried that we would find ourselves unable to fall in love with India. We had read up on some of the calmer things to do in India and Allepey and its backwaters had come up as a must see.
We booked ourselves a night bus – our first of many – and I was like a small child, giddy with excitement at having a bed on a bus! The bus was straightforward and apart from the ride being quite bumpy at times causing us a lack of sleep, the bus got us there safely early the next morning.
It was still cool so Stu decided we would walk to our accomodation. Unfortunately, a few wrong turns and the distance actually being around 4km by the time we got there we were sweating and in need to a cool shower.
Maria Guest House was lovely. The couple ushered us in and showed us to our room, making us tea and giving us time to shower and rest before any formalities. Both of our hosts were lovely and more than willing to have a chat with us or arrange any activities at a very reasonable price. As it was hot and we were weary from our bus ride, we opted to spend the first day checking out the beach and grabbing some food in town.
The beach in Allepey is okay, but with a new rail line being built directly behind it and no other infrastructure around it meant that it was a hot and noisy place. We figured we would still walk along the beach anyhow as it would lead us to town and therefore food. It turned out we were rather wrong and in for a long, hot walk in midday sun. We soon regretted our choice but found we were too far into the journey to turn back. After 30 mins of walking in direct sun and Stu almost delirious with overheating we found a side street that led off the beach and we took it gladly.
Problem was, we were now nowhere near the towns centre or food, so another 30mins of walking saw us yield no rewards on the food front. Feeling defeated, we accepted a very overpriced Tuk Tuk and got him to drop us in the town centre. After finally finding a meal, we felt no desire to try and walk back to our accommodation so we sought out a Tuk Tuk and headed back for a nap.
Dinner that night was had at a place called “Mushroom” on recommendation by our hosts and it was delicious and not too overpriced. With full bellies and still feeling drained from the heat of the day, we headed back to our accomodation to arrange canoeing for the next day and get an early bed time.
So I should explain in more detail the reason people head to Allepey. The area is a series of ‘backwaters’ with small towns and villas deed along the body of water. Many people come to hire a houseboat for a few nights to slowly meander through these waters and take in the unique lifestyle that the people lead here while relaxing and getting away from the chaos of Indian cities. After reading up on the houseboats however, we decided that for the price you had to pay and the disadvantages of such as large boat (such as not being able to get down any of the smaller canals which were usually where all the buzz of life was) we would instead go on a day canoe tour of the area.
The canoe tour cost 800 rupees each and included breakfast with the families of the canoe drivers and a lunch afterwards as well as all ferries needed.
Our guesthouse host kindly offered to drop us into town and introduce us to our guide for the day and he even shouted us some Chai and wouldn’t let us pay. Only after seeing we got on the right ferry did he head off.
The backwaters in the early morning light were beautiful. Houseboats floated lazily on the larger lake areas of the waters as people ate leisurely breakfasts on their balconies. Locals washed clothes and bathed along the banks and school children joined us on the ferries as they made their way to school. Everything seemed to be happening at a meander and everyone seemed to be happy because of it.
After taking the ferry along the larger canals and lakes for around half and hour our guide ushered us off and led us and around 20 others towards a small house overlooking the lake. Here we were sat down by the most bubbly 14 year old I think I have ever met who’s name was Sandra. Sandra was a legend, she went around the table and memorised every bodies names and was able to say at least one sentence in each persons native tongue. She had a wicked sense of humour and had all of us in stitches with her jokes almost instantly. Sandra and her mother served us all a traditional Indian breakfast (Dosa with some kind of chickpea sauce) and Chai while the men got the canoes ready. After everyone was full we boarded the canoes in groups of four and headed out on the water towards the smaller canals.
The canals were a real treat. We saw schools, houses, churches, temples, people diving for mussels, people washing, cooking, and fishing. Many locals would wave and continue their routine and as many others seemed to know our canoe driver well and would engage him in a conversation as we floated past. As we floated we got chatting to the boys sharing a canoe with us and we all agreed we wanted to find a Toddy and and try some of their palm wine.
A Toddy is a little place making wine from coconuts, its not exactly legal or illegal so there are no signs for these places and you need your guides help if you want to find one. Thankfully our guide had already sussed out that we were a group who would probably like to find one and around an hour in he pulled up the boat and said he would do a Toddy run for us. The wine continues to ferment all day and when we first tried it it simply tasted like tangy coconut water, but by nighttime it was a far sharper taste. Not my favourite drink, but fun for a try.
Toddy in hand we continued through more canals and the whole tour lasted around 4 hours. With the canoeing portion completed, we headed to another house for Thali and beers before making our way back to town on the ferry. Overall it was a great way to spend a day and get a close look at the way of life that the backwaters offers to its residents.
That night we opted to stay in and drink the rest of our toddy while we listened to music and played cards and it was a nice way to end the day.
The next day our hosts suggested we head to Marari beach for a day of swimming and relaxing. It was a relatively hot day so we took the suggestion gladly and took a local bus to the beach which is around 20-30 minutes away.
When we got to the beach we were 2 of around 20 people there and the quite was a rare and welcome find. We set up camp and spent the day swimming, reading and generally lazing about. As the day wound on more and more locals started to turn up and by sunset there was a happy buzz of locals splashing in the water as the sun went down.
We bused home and headed to a place called Avocado for dinner. The food was delicious and the owner was very welcoming. The place is new and doubles as a guesthouse and after seeing the rooms and the facilities I would recommend this to any younger traveller as it was one of the coolest places we saw in our travels around India. The place boasted a cute garden filled with fairy lights, artworks, comfy seats, hammocks and a rooftop dining area. It also had a library where you could sit and read and two super cute cats who were more than happy to have cuddles.
After dinner we sat and chatted with the owner for a while and had some Chai before walking home to get some sleep ahead of our travel day the next day.
Our last day in Allepey was spent walking through the town, eating at Avocado again before jumping on the night bus to Bangalore.