Sweet escapes from the Ashram

Houseboat in Alleppey

Houseboats and kids in a kayak
The backwaters of Kerala are a very famous network of canals and lakes where houseboats can be rented overnight.

With 3 other girls from the Ashram, we decided to take 2 days off from spiritual life and go on a houseboat tour.

I had been tricked by a friend into believing renting a houseboat was crazy cheap. It is not. Actually we got the overnight rental for around 120€, 2 meals, driver and cook included. Okay, it is “cheap” but my friend was telling me 5€… I should never have believed him!

Justine, Lise, Teresa and I, enjoying the cruise. How great to find ourselves in a girls group on the backwaters!
Justine, Lise, Teresa and I, enjoying the cruise. How great to find ourselves in a girls group on the backwaters!

 The boat cruised along the canals, and we had glimpses of people’s everyday life. Men bathing, women washing pots, kids waving… The canals are their bathrooms and kitchens, as well as their roads.

We had shared one beer, which was delicious after more than a month in “no alcohol land”. Dinner was very tasty, and pineapple for desert was a must. We had “girlie girl” conversations, and were glad the driver didn’t speak English!

In the evening, before sunset, we had to stop our cruise as it was time for the fishermen to go out. Our cruise would resume in the morning.
We had breakfast and resumed our journey. to find ourselves in a gigantic lake. From the crowded canals (I can’t imagine the traffic in high tourist season), we suddenly found ourselves in the middle of fishermen, birds and vast stretches of calm water. The backwaters are definitely a must-see, especially if you can afford the houseboat experience!

Back in Alleppey, we met Teresa’s friends at Lemon Dew, where Khan cooked us a delicious lunch. In the afternoon, we went to have a massage for the girls and face care for me, and a walk around Alleppey. It was awesome to be on our own, outside of the Ashram, and actually doing this all by ourselves! I couldn’t stop smiling, we were on an adventure! A short one though, it is better not to be outside after sunset, especially as a woman. We asked around to find a bus back to the Ashram, and once in there got help from the locals to get off as close as possible and end our great journey in a rickshaw!

When we arrived near Lemon Dew, and these
When we arrived near Lemon Dew, and these “rasta” Indian guys showed up on their motorbike under the communist flag, I wasn’t confident. “Is this safe?!” I asked myself… Well Sanil and Khan greeted us as friends and we had a great experience in Alleppey thanks to them!
This is the houseboat we cruised in overnight. It is very comfortable, and we also had great food!
This is the houseboat we cruised in overnight. It is very comfortable, and we also had great food!
Some of the best food I've tasted here, Khan is definitely a great cook!
Some of the best food I’ve tasted here, Khan is definitely a great cook!
Nice view over Alleppey, we didn't stay there for long but it was a great first experience of going out on our own!
Nice view over Alleppey, we didn’t stay there for long but it was a great first experience of going out on our own!
Walking in the streets in Alleppey
Walking in the streets in Alleppey

Beach time in Varkala

Another escape from the Ashram, just a few days ago, was to the beach in Varkala. My new friend Khan had told me about a music and arts festival he was organising, and as I was coming back from Coimbatore it would be the occasion to visit this beach resort.

varkala beach and cliff
Varkala is famous for its long beach with the tourist shops and accomodation overhanging on “the cliff”.

With the new money situation (the government suddenly declared that all 500 and 1000 rupee notes were illegal, leaving the whole country wish worthless pieces of paper and empty ATMs for days), I had nothing left. Well, I had 100 rupees, which is basically 1.5€. India is cheap, but you’re still not getting very far with that money. Luckily, my partners in crime had some money in both old and new bank notes.

We set off after lunch, got an auto rickshaw ride to the bus station, hopped into a bus where a man was yelling “Kollam! Kollam!” and got there for less than 50 cents. Easier than we thought! Another auto and we get to the train station, where we discover they do not accept old currency despite the government’s sayings.

Simona and Peppiina, my travel mates for the week-end!
Simona and Peppiina, my travel mates for the week-end! “Ladies Only” wagon in the train, with great views on the landscape and backwaters through the open windows.

In Varkala, we walk along the cliff to find accomodation, and negociate a good price at Kerala Bamboo House. Our room is quite fancy, and we’re a short walk from both the beach and festival location.

Making new friends at the Off Beat festival. We were surprised to see many local men but no local women.
Making new friends at the Off Beat festival. We were surprised to see many local men but no local women.

Khan welcomed us at the Off Beat festival, where we had good food and drinks (fresh pineapple juice and rum is a new favourite for me). The band playing was great, transporting us through Indian rhythms, Spanish lyrics and reggae inspirations. The locals were very friendly with us foreigners, and helped us along the week-end.

gigantic jellyfish
Simona and a gigantic jellyfish. Loads of them were washed up on the beach, and many others stinged us while we were swimming. No jellyfish fights like back in New Zealand here!

The second day, we had breakfast at noon, then went to the beach. Hoping to get sun tanned but not burnt, we smeared sunscreen on our white bodies before diving playfully into the waves. Shortly after, we started to feel itchy all over, and Peppiina discovered a huge jellyfish on her lap! We all had stringy red marks on our skin, and decided to get out of the water for a while.

Out there, another surprise awaited us. Most of the people on the beach were westerners in bikinis and shorts. Some Indians walked along the shore, fully clothed. But when we raised our heads from our towels, we were surprised by two lines of a dozen Indians each, on either side of our sunbathing spot! Feeling observed, I decided to walk around and go hide in the ocean, trying to avoid the “selfies”. When I was back, the guys had moved to sit on rocks behind us and this was definitely and uncomfortable situation.

How to get rid of a line of suspicious Indians? Get a professional juggler to perform in front of them!
How to get rid of a line of suspicious Indians? Hire a professional juggler! All these guys were sitting behind us minutes before this picture.

Luckily, as we were covering up, a guy started juggling just in front of us. From us feeling observed, they soon became the centre of attention on the beach as they cheered and clapped at the performance.

We had a delicious dinner with fluffy puppies in the evening, and “Happy Hour” cocktails for 100 rupees. Luckily, all the businesses on the cliff accepted the old notes. Otherwise, nobody could buy anything and they would be as broke as we tourists were.

The money situation was serious, but the local people didn't seem that much bothered as they queued at the bank for hours, hoping to get money.
The money situation was serious, but the local people didn’t seem that much bothered as they queued at the bank for hours, hoping to get money. Notice Simona, the only white in line!

On our last day, we rushed around Varkala in a rickshaw to try to get money, but after a few hours, we returned empty-handed. We just had enough food for breakfast and going back to the Ashram, what an adventure!

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