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River cruise in Kerala

Pilgrims aboard the houseboat enjoying a coconut drink.

By Dr Sheila Atwarie-Rambissoon

Our pilgrimage to India took us to its southern tip of Kerala on November 18. In the recent past this was hit by disastrous floods and in some parts water rose to ten feet. The water line was still evident during our visit.

We had the impression of a raging river and devastation along the Pamba River and the Vembanadi Lake into which it flowed. We met a calm river. We went on a cruise on the famous houseboat. We climbed on to the boat using wooden planks and as the name suggested it was truly a house built on a flat boat.

It was covered by a roof, and bits and pieces from the coconut palm were used for the walls and floors. The boat was fitted with all amenities for living, namely porch, bedroom, kitchen, modern plumbing, and lighting.

There were one-bedroom, two- and three-bedroom boat houses. Our group was split into two and each occupied a one-room boat. The vessel could be used for an overnight stay, as a restaurant or a cruise with a meal. This was a welcome break from our hectic schedule.

We were greeted on board with fresh coconut water from the nut and sweet jelly. While we cruised, the boat men prepared a meal of local foods and the tour organiser gave his commentary about life around the river.

The river itself was buzzing with traffic. In addition to the houseboats, there were tourist boats for visitors, and passenger boats to transport people from one point to another. There were also small boats for individual use in transporting shopping loads. Some other boats were used for parties and religious functions or for river dining.

The river banks were raised and widened and people built their houses and lived there. There were also schools, temples, churches and parlours which provided for daily living.

Along the banks, people bathed or washed their clothes and their food items for cooking. The banks of the lake were also inhabited and at one end there were the coach park, shops and also the individual peddlers displaying their souvenirs.

The river hinterland was created at a level lower than the banks and waters. Here rice/paddy was grown throughout the year and the fields were kept moist by a controlled flow of river-water as needed. After a half-day cruise with lunch it was time to move on.

The waterway is an important source of economic activity. In Kerala, the Back Waters, the river is an intrinsic source for daily living, for leisure, transport, agriculture and trade. What a wonderful experience!