No, You did not read that wrong. This post truly is about finding solitude in India, an oxymoron to be sure. India is chaos personified. Everywhere one turns there are bustling throngs of people, thousands of cars and rickshaws, camels, cows, and endless shops and spice markets.
We had two items on our bucket list for our months in India. One was to see the Taj Mahal at sunrise. Done. Second, we wanted to spend a couple of nights cruising the backwaters of the Kerala region on a kettuvallom, one of the traditional rice barges of the region. We didn’t realize in advance how essential those couple of days would be to our mental state in this extremely challenging country.
In the early years, the kettuvalloms were used as traditional rice barges. The backwaters are a network of over 900kms of interlinking canals, lakes, and rivers. It is a unique eco-system of fresh water from the rivers mixing with the salt water of the Arabian Sea. Several towns and villages are interspersed throughout the region and, although the traditional rice barges have been replaced by motorized watercraft, it is still a remote and somewhat inaccessible area.
The barges, built nearly 80 years ago, come in a variety of sizes but most run around 55 feet long and 15 feet wide. With an open, thatched roof lounge area and separate bedroom/bathroom and kitchen, they make for a quite comfortable place to hang for a few days. As with everything in India, pricing and options are all up for negotiation. We checked into several companies and ended up with two staff on the boat, one driver and one cook. All meals are included, and we were also able to have a tour by canoe down a few of the smaller waterways.
Time took on a feel of an alternate reality. It was one of those moments in life where time nearly stands still. Where day and night merge into eachother with no apparent transition. Days with no sense of time or place, but where minutes and hours pass in a lazy bit of a blur.
We were worn down by India. Rajastan and Delhi had challenged us unlike any place we had ever been, with all senses under a constant barrage on every level. Although we had been somewhat revived by our move to the south, our time in Kochi seemed a distant memory after traveling even further south on the ever frustrating trains of the country.
Now, we were faced with nearly perfect solitude. A mere three days, absent of the endless frustration of India, proved to be transformational. Our time on the kettuvallom proved to be exactly what we needed. We talked, drank rum, ate amazingly delicious, traditional Southern India cuisine, and spent hours doing nothing except watch the days go by.
The nights were, shall we say, not as restful.We had learned earlier on in our trip that, although the majority of Indians are Muslim, some still drink! Apparently our boat captain and cook were two such fellows. The weather was hot, oppressively hot and remarkably humid on the water. Both of our nights on-board started off pleasant enough, with the fan blowing the somewhat cooler night time air over our bed. Both nights the generator on the boat went out in the middle of the night. Waking abruptly, soaked through in sweat, we quickly realized the situation and went to arouse the captain to re-start it. Both nights the men were drunk to the point of being passed out and resulted in us being forced to yell, shake them, and generally raise a ruckus to get them to wake up.
Irritating as this was, we were traveled enough to know this, too, was all part of the adventure. Travel, and life, really is all about the journey. Getting too bogged down in the details is not always a good thing, and each part of the journey involves taking the good with the bad. Once again, India both intrigued us as it challenged us.