Last, but certainly not least, in my whirlwind tour was Kerala.
When I went to India last time, I looked into taking an overnight train for one of the journeys. India has an extensive train network, with routes crisscrossing the entire subcontinent. The order of the cities we travelled, however, would have meant an unbearably long ride, though (up to 30 hours), so I stuck to the air. However, the journey from Chennai to Alleppey crosses the narrower point of the Indian peninsula and allows for a manageable 14-hour ride.
The journey itself neither lived up to any romanticised notion of train travel, nor down to any horror stories. The quarters were more cramped than I'd supposed, but tamer. There's not a whole lot to do on the train, especially as there are unspoken rules that, once 10:00pm hits, if someone decides to go to sleep, their "room"-mates do as well. So I spent some time with an old man and his wife and who I think was their daughter, with her child (sharing one bunk), before the wife decided to turn in. I got to catch up on The Economist and fell asleep easily to the rocking of the train, and had a pretty good full night's sleep.
Awaiting me at the end of the journey was the highlight of the trip, a boat ride through the backwaters of Kerala. The backwaters "...are a chain of brackish lagoons and lakes lying parallel to the Arabian Sea coast (known as the Malabar Coast) of Kerala state in southern India. The network includes five large lakes linked by canals, both manmade and natural, fed by 38 rivers, and extending virtually half the length of Kerala state." The scenery was awesome, just trees, rice paddies, water and people going about their lives. The surroundings and leisurely pace of the boat lull you immediately into serenity, and the boat itself is a small house, complete with driver and two personal chefs at the ready. It's not fancy by any means, but totally and completely comfortable and relaxing. A perfect way to end a holiday.
Unfortunately, it wasn't quite the end - I had a day in Cochin city before heading back to Mumbai and onward to London. There was a general strike in Kerala that day, so everything was closed. I did get a few sights in before heading to the airport, but my mind and heart were really still back there on the water.
Till next time, India, namaste.
At Chennai train station, not everyone waits to board to sleep.
My AC sleeper car. Each cubby on the left of the hall has a set of four beds, two up, two down, and on the right two perpendicular bunks.
Me waking up in my luxury bunk.
And the dining room, upstairs, with delicious South Indian food.
There are a number of houseboats out at any one time, squeezing together where the canals narrow.
And spreading out in the lakes.
Along the canals, you see people going about life, working cooking, cleaning...
...or commuting in paddleboats. I didn't have my camera to hand at the time, but the best thing I saw on the water was one of these little boats with a mother, father, two kids and a cow. The cow was just standing there, looking around, completely unconcerned by its circumstances. It'd obviously made similar journeys many times before.
As it's a living community along the water, the shore is punctuated with restaurants, temples and other services.
Cochin and its environs aren't particularly remarkable - the area really just serves as a port of entry to tourists on their way to more bucolic parts of Kerala - but it does have some pleasant areas.
And also some signs that jar against modern native English-speaking sensibilities.
The city abuts a large port, so traditional wooden boats and fishing nets compete for space with container ships and industrial cranes.
But you are never far from modern urban India and its wonderful sights, such as families riding together on a single motorcycle, including a sleeping toddler.
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