The ride into Cochin,
where Vasco de Gama is buried was through the town of Ernakulam and
gave us the expected problems in finding our way. In theory we could
have taken a ferry, but finding the bridge should be easier than
finding the ferry terminal. It wasn't.
Eventually after a 10
mile detour, we found our way over three bridges to Cochin, a "must
see" place in the tourist guide. As usual, any hotel listed in the
Lonely Planet was overpriced but we eventually found a reasonable room.
Our search was not helped by a local lad on a bike who kept saying,
"follow me" and leading us to the most unlikely looking places.
couldn't see why Cochin was so popular. True, it did have some old
fashioned decrepit buildings, but that was all. The tourist spot
consisted of 100yds of tourist stalls near the so-called "Chinese"
fishing nets, which operate on a cantilever principle. Behind the nets,
were stalls selling fish which tourists would buy at exorbitant prices
and then have cooked at another stall for another high price. It didn't
seem to occur to them that the large fish that they bought had come
from trawlers as the Chinese nets only caught tiddlers.
other places, rubbish strewn everywhere spoiled the effect. The very
small beach was like a rubbish tip. We took a ferry to an island a mile
away at a cost of 5p each and wandered along a much better beach where
tourists never venture.
Leaving Cochin, we cycled south along
minor roads through area's reminiscent of Holland, or the Norfolk
Broads, until we reached Alappuzha.
The countryside in this area
is known as the "backwaters" and is a large area of reclaimed mangrove
and marshland with canals, dykes and strips of land sometimes no more
than 50ft wide on which people live and work. Most of it is polluted
and covered with floating Water Hyacinth a pernicious water weed which
apparently is only kept under some sort of control here because it dies
off once a year when very high sea tides turn the backwaters slightly
We found a very quiet spot a few kilometres out of town
that had a bungalow next to one of the backwater canals and situated in
very nice gardens. Although expensive at eight pounds a night we stayed
there for four days. It was very pleasant watching all the local folk
go about their business on the water. They all used canoes instead of
cars or bikes. Even a trip to the builders yard was by canoe returning
with sand, cement and bricks.
Tourists in houseboats passed by
frequently and although at first it looked appealing we resisted the
temptation as we realised we would see no more than we had already seen
and would see on a ferry trip to Kottayam, our next destination.
had another go at fishing and caught small catfish and two other
species, which the locals eat as a speciality. We tried one of them but
it was very bony. We saw several snakes swimming in the water but had
no idea if they were venomous.
Ordering food at a local
restaurant, we asked for our usual "bottle of beer and two glasses"
only to be told "sorry, but we do not have a licence to sell beer, but
if you order our special tea you won't know the difference". We ordered
"special tea" and along came a tray with a large teapot and two mugs.
He was right.
The tea was cold and tasted just like beer. There was only one problem - the tea was rather expensive.
town, the touts were offering tourists trips around the backwaters for
ten pounds for a couple of hours, but we chose a three-hour trip on a
public ferry to Kottyam. It cost 20p each and our bikes went on top.
We saw as much as any tourist would see on an expensive trip and it saved us a 70-mile trip by road.
lonely Planet guide recommended a beautiful scenic spot in a bird
reserve ten miles from town. When we got there it was nothing of the
sort and the owner immediately riled David by asking how much we could
afford to the question "how much is a room". The final price was
ridiculous even though the owner reminded us that it was recommended in
the Lonely Planet. Back in town we found a nice place on the edge of a
lake at a reasonable price. It seems that anywhere that is mentioned in
the Lonely Planet feels they can charge what they like.
again tried some fishing and this time he caught a catfish, another
fish and six turtles after which he gave up as they fought like house
bricks. Needless to say, they were all put back carefully even though
the restaurant manager said he could put turtle soup on the menu.
We intended to stay only one night, but Joan's toothache, which had been nagging her for a week, got worse.
morning we arrived by Rickshaw at the local dentist who was very good
and didn't hurt a bit according to Joan. A temporary filling cost 150