A Day in the Kerala Backwaters

Our next port of call was Cochin in the state of Kerala. Rather than spend the day in another large city, we opted to visit a smaller “village” along the canals known as the Kerala Backwaters. With a population of 23,000, Vaikom is a little bigger than what we would call a village, but all things are relative. India is on pace to exceed the population of China in as little as seven years, so there are a lot of people everywhere. To give you an idea of how fast the population is growing, they add the population of Canada approximately every two years.

One of the highlights of Vaikom is the Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva, the destroyer of evil. Shiva was tough to deal with, but his wife, Pārvatī, was a soft touch; so you always wanted to face Shiva on days when Pārvatī was also around.Shiva is busy destroying evil in the top picture, but looks almost angelic in the bottom picture with Pārvatī.One of the traditions is to be blessed by sitting on this scale while the priests add enough bananas to balance your weight.This nine month old girl was the first to be blessed on the scale.These people are in line to make an offering at the Temple and receive a free lunch in return.This is the outside wall of the main building of the Temple. The little metal dishes are to hold oil which is one of the most popular offerings. The idea is to pour oil in the holder and light it as your offering. It must be safe as the temple has survived since 1594. The Temple is notable as the site of the Vaikom Agitation which gained the right of people of the lower castes to walk on the roads around the Temple.These are some of the men in the Temple. The man in the lower picture has stripes of ashes on his body as a symbol of his devotion.We passed by this one room school house with the teacher and her class of three to six year olds. They enjoyed waving to us, but the oldest started to cry that he wanted to go home when some of our group wanted their picture taken with them. The school house was about as deep as it was wide.These housing extremes were within a one minute walk of each other.The black flag flying above the poster was to honor one of the village residents who had died recently. The poster had a picture of the man and the date of his cremation.We took a short tuktuk ride to the put in point for our canoe ride on the Kerala Backwaters. A short ride was fine as the speed seemed way too fast for conditions.Women were in the canal doing their laundry and washing the dishes. I don’t think I would want too eat or wear anything washed in that canal!Both ducks and children were enjoying the canal. We rode in wooden canoes with a driver who poles the canoes through the water. Most of the canoes held six passengers, but we were in a larger canoe with eleven passengers. Unfortunately, the water level was not very high and our more heavily loaded canoe soon was mired in the mud and could not get out. There was one man and four children there to help push the canoes through this low spot. While they were successful with the smaller canoes, they worked for twenty minutes on our larger canoe before finally concluding we needed to be rescued. After another ten minutes, a rescue canoe arrived and half of us transferred to it. We made good time for the rest of the trip.We saw a lot of people going about their daily life in the village. This pair was drying rice cakes in the sun. This was the fresh chicken section of Whole Foods. If you wanted a chicken, they opened the door and selected the chicken of the weight you desired. The price included the chicken counter manager wringing the neck of the chicken for you.Whole Foods had a meat counter as well. Since cows are sacred to the Hindus, the meat here is water buffalo.We visited a weaving workshop packed with hand looms. The weaver used her feet to move the warp yarns up and down, one hand to shoot the weft shuttle back and forth, and the other hand to set the weft yarn in place. When you had the right rhythm, the weaving was very fast. There is a weaving caste in India. If you are born into that caste, you are destined to be a weaver. Presumably, this girl is learning weaving from her mother to begin weaving herself in a few years.We also visited a coir factory where they made ropes and mats from the fiber of coconut husks. This factory is a cooperative run by the government.

We saw many other people at work making various crafts. Despite the heat, we both enjoyed a day out of the city. For some people, India stands for “I’ll Never Do It Again”. However, if you can get past the poverty (half the people exist on an income below $3 per day) and the pervasive litter, any other country you visit seems dull by comparison. After a sea day, we visit the Portuguese influenced state of Goa, India.

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