Life on the water

Our last stop in India before heading to Sri Lanka was going to be the Keralan Backwaters. The backwaters are a network of canals, rivers and lakes mainly natural but also man-made. Covering an area around 900km long, the backwaters have been and still are one of the main transportation methods for the people in the area. Nowadays it is also one of the main attractions for tourists visiting Kerala.

There are many routes through the backwaters and many possible destinations, but we didn’t have much time left, so we had to limit our route to just a couple of areas. While many tourists choose to travel by houseboats, which are expensive and a little bit too posh, we choose to travel by local ferries, which gives you the opportunity to get a little bit closer to the locals. This was our route:

Varkala – Kollam

The starting point for our route around the backwaters was Kollam, which is just 1h away by train from Varkala. We arrived to Kollam after lunch, and the ferry to Alappuzha was leaving the morning after, so we had to stay there for one night. This little town has nothing special, but for some bizarre reason it was very busy and it almost became a challenge to find accommodation. After two hours of walking with our backpacks and asking in many hotels and guest houses, we even run into a place which was for bachelors only (…ummmm….), we finally got to find a room for the night.

Kollam – Alappuzha

The ferry to Alappuzha was departing from the boat-jetty at 10.30. The night before when we bought the tickets we were advised to arrive early if we wanted to get a good spot, and so we did. But even arriving 1h before departure time all the seats in the upper deck were taken, so we had no choice but to seat in the lower deck (during the trip we got to realize that the lower deck was far more comfortable, so happy days!).

The 8h trip to Alappuzha was long but well worth it. The scenery was incredible, beautiful lakes, labyrinths of canals, countless coconut trees, leafy plants and bushes growing alongside all with amazing green hues. We could also see how life grows around the banks of the canals, fishermen on their boats or using the Chinese nets, people bathing or washing their clothes in the water, kids going to school and even WCs on the water.

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Nochevieja en el Varanasi del sur

Salimos de Goa con un par de horas de retraso. Llegamos a Varkala cansados de tren después de 17 horas pero con muchas ganas de disfrutar de la que dicen ser la mejor playa de Kerala, y de entrar en 2012 con calorcito!

De camino al guesthouse, el tuk tuk driver nos informó que durante los siguientes tres días (30 y 31 de diciembre y 1 de enero) había un festival religioso muy importante en uno de los templos de la ciudad, el templo de Sivagiri, y que miles de locales venían en peregrinaje desde muy lejos expresamente para este festival. Como anteriormente ya habíamos estado leyendo acerca de estos festivales en Kerala y de la dificultad de encontrarlos, nos hizo mucho ilusión la idea de poder disfrutar de uno de ellos.

La playa de Varkala se encuentra a unos pocos kilómetros del centro de la ciudad, y está situada a los pies de un pequeño acantilado. La playa está dividida de manera virtual entre la zona norte y la zona sur. La zona norte está reservada para los turistas y la zona sur para los locales, que guarda para ellos un significado religioso ya que los Hindus creen que las aguas aquí son sagradas y limpian sus pecados. Normalmente se pueden ver pujas en la playa, que es un ritual donde hacen ofrendas a los dioses, y en ocasiones también arrojan las cenizas de los muertos al mar, que la marea se encarga de llevar hacia el sur. Por todo ello Varkala es conocida como el Varanasi del sur.

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