Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Sometimes Getting There Is The Hardest Part

The view out the "windown" on the Munnar-Alleppy bus.
It was time to slow down.  After a month in India we craved the rest and relaxation promised on the Alleppy backwaters.  Cruising the remote canals on a traditional houseboat - a Kettuvallom - would bring us the peace and tranquility we long sought.  Then we remembered we had to book the houseboat; a frightful prospect in any country, but in India, we knew it would be grinding battle.

Lucky for us, however, we met a new friend on the 6:30 AM Munnar-Alleppy bus, and Maggie Downs of GirlVentures joined me, Jesse, & Russ for this part of the Grand Tour.  It was easy for us to meet because we were the only people who boarded the bus at 6:30.  This was strange because it was the only bus that ran this popular route.  And it was doubly strange because no bus in India runs with less than 95% capacity; indeed, a full bus by the first-world standards is approximately half-full Indian style.  After confirming the bus was going to Alleppy we sat back, stretched our legs, and enjoyed a private Indian bus ride (which, as anyone who has visited India will attest, is a rare treat). 
I could have stared out that "window" all day.
Watching gorgeous Munnar pass us by, as the sun rose something seemed strange, and in fact it was.  The bus was heading towards Munnar, not towards Alleppy. We pulled into the center of town, the driver parked the bus, and then he and the ticket-taker hopped off and headed into a nearby tea shop.  Now, I don’t fault the man for wanting a little pick-me-up before a 7 hour drive on windy, pot-holed roads along steep guardrail-less switchbacks, but maybe he could have purchased his breakfast before he collected his passengers?  But, we just went with the flow.  We hopped off, took a nice glass of chai (tea) with the driver and his “boy” (the ticket-taker), and then all headed back to the bus which returned to the very same, but now full, bus-station where all the Indians and other tourists loaded up for the 7:30 AM Munnar-Alleppy bus.  Oh well.  Welcome to India.

Before everyone else boarded.
15 minutes of comfy, seating.
Actual seating in the Munnar-Alleppy bus.  Three or four to a seat.  One or two in the aisle.  Good thing my seatmate was a tiny diminutive Indian man.

The remaining seven hours of so on the bus required much more physical effort than we expected.  The windiness of the roads, along with the slick plastic seats, meant that each hairpin turn required both a full clenching of the core muscles, and a vice-like grip on the back of the seat in front of you, otherwise, you and all your seatmates would slide off your seat and into the center aisle.  Or, be crushed into the “window” (there weren’t actual glass windows, there were just two metal bars to prevent passengers from sliding out, and thankfully, a helpful plastic accordion-like blind that would keep the freezing cold air, and all light, out of the bus).  So, we didn’t really need to work out that day.

Alleppy and its famed canals.
 By 2 PM we arrived in Alleppy.  First thing we did was eat.  Delicious thalis at the Vijaya café.  We were then able to begin the task of finding a houseboat.  We headed to the dock and began checking out the various boats.  There was quite a variety.  We were even told that Britney Spears had rented a houseboat in Alleppy for New Years.  This seemed most unlikely, but whatever.

What does one look for when hiring a Kettuvallom (House Boat) for the day?
Now the slogan for Alleppy, all of Kerala actually, is “God’s Own Country.”  I knew our houseboat hunting had come to end when I began questioning Vinny our young salesmen as to which God the slogan was talking about.  He demurred.

This boat was well-priced, but seemed small for four of us, plus three staff, for 24 hours.
At least it came with a bottle of drinking water.
Eventually we went with a Coco houseboat.  They had nice promotional materials, a nice owner-operator, and perhaps most importantly, nice reviews on Tripadvisor.  We booked the boat and were all set for an enchanting and relaxing 24 hours cruising the Chithira canals and Vembanadu Lake.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.