A First Class Indian Adventure Part 5: A Bandit’s Retreat On The Backwaters Of Alleppey

We had booked a car for 09:30 at the hotel’s suggestion which was a little too early as N & G had to change some money first and the bureau de change wasn’t quite ready for them. Eventually we left around 10:00, much to the annoyance of our driver who had been ready and raring to go at quarter past nine! Three quarters of an hour later we pulled up promptly at Ernakulam Town Station and thankfully by then our driver seemed to be in a better mood.

We knew he couldn’t be all bad as he had two small stuffed dogs in the rear window of his car and much to mine and Anne-So’s delight one was most beagle like, but that’s another story!

Train: Indian Railways Train 16308 Alleppey Express ERN – ALLP
Depart: Ernakulam Town (North) 11:10
Arrive: Alleppey 13:00
Seats: Coach C1, Seats 66 & 67 (CC Class)
Locomotive: Unknown

The train information boards at Ernakulam Town Station were hand written and they directed us off and over the bridge to platform 2 for our train to Alleppey. I watched two trains come and go before I eventually decided to come up with a plan. Learning from the fiasco of our last journey and having some extra time to kill as our train was running a little late, I asked at the information desk where we needed to wait on the platform to find our carriage. Amazingly it turned out that our carriage was right next to N & G’s who were in D1. For once we were in luck as after the unfortunate mad dash down the platform at Coimbatore a few days prior it turned out we were waiting at just the right spot for our assigned carriages.

When our train arrived it was largely empty and we made ourselves at home. The AC was lovely and cool and we had the full set of six seats to ourselves.

At the first station, Ernakulam Junction we bumped into the Australian couple we had met back on the steam train from Ooty and they were sat in the group of four seats next to ours. After exchanging pleasantries we all retreated to our books, window watching and me writing up notes for this travel tale. As we approached Alleppey the scenery became more vibrant with brown fields giving way to lush green palms, flowing rivers and flooded rice fields; this was our first sight of the typical Keralan scene we had been looking forward to.

Better still our train made up it’s delay and we arrived into Alleppey Station bang on time at 13:00 much to everyone’s surprise.

We waved good bye to the nice Australians, took our things and found N & G on the platform. We then hauled our cases over the footbridge in search of the exit.

Before we could find the way out, our hotel booked driver found us and asked right away if I was Mr Halsey and if we were going to Our Land. I said yes to both and asked if he had space for our friends! Thankfully this time it took little convincing for N & G to top up their adventurers budget and agree to join us. One quick phone call and they agreed to let N & G come with us. We were on our way to Our Land!

Hotel: Our Land
Room: Deluxe Double
Status: N/A

They say in life that true luxury is the simple things done well. If that is genuinely the case then the next few days were luxury in its purest form. No bowing and scraping, no expensive suites with marble bathrooms, just a basic bed in a simple white cottage, the most amazing fresh cooked food, generous service all whilst being surrounded by beautiful nature. Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself, but honestly Our Land was one of the highlights of our Indian Adventure. Read on and hopefully you will see the beauty just like we did.

We drove out of town through some back roads, eventually turning off on to a narrow, raised dirt track that led through lush green paddy fields until we reached the Pamba River. A phone call was made and soon an older man in an even older looking rickety rowing boat came to meet us. Whilst he was motioning to greet us, we wondered how on earth we’d get ourselves and our luggage the across the river in one piece.

After some wobbles getting on to the craft, we were away; paddling across the lazy river to our home for the next few days.

We sat outside for a bit before being called over for food and welcome formalities.

As we took our seats at the main house for lunch some lovely plates of South Indian food turned up to greet us.

First we were served a rich bitter gourd and coconut curry, followed by a bowl of plain rice.
Then a portion of spicy Chinese potato curry.
Followed by a dry-fried green bean and chilli curry.
With the main event being some fresh caught and grilled river fish.
There was a helping of crisp fried popadoms on the side.

The food was out of this world, spicy without being overpowering even though we later found out that the heat had been toned down a touch for us. I thought the gourd curry and potato curry were particularly tasty. We completed our check in formalities and returned to our rooms for a much needed shower and rest.

Around 17:30 after the temperature had dropped we took a short ride in a traditional canoe with the two other resort guests, a couple from Denmark.

It was a little tricky to get on the canoe but for some reason known only to her, Anne-So decided that the best way to board was to take a running jump at the craft rather than carefully climb aboard via the seat, much to the amusement of everybody else.

We moved almost silently through the water, with a stealth the noisy rice barges were incapable of. Moving so quietly our guide was able to point out various kinds of birds that were undeterred by our presence as well as numerous types of plants.

After 45 minutes we turned back and enjoyed a magnificent sunset over the river. What a way to end our boat ride.

We agreed to meet for dinner an hour later and at 19:30 we returned to the lodge for our evening meal.

For our dinner we were treated to a green pea curry, a chicken and coconut curry, rotis and idiyappam with coconut. Once again the food was absolutely stunning.

We had an insightful talk with out host after dinner where he told us more about South India and the species of birds we would likely encounter on our nature tour the following day.

Anne-So and N were over the moon as they saw two barn owls swoop over their heads, after hearing them call out to one another.

We were incredibly fortunate to see the owls as they nest in Alleppey only from November to February where they lay their eggs and teach their young to fly.

It was a perfect end to the day as we headed back to our rooms to rest knowing we had an early start the following day. Thankfully the gentle calls of the wild lulled us to sleep.

We began our morning of bird watching around 07:30 and if it were anywhere less beautiful I know we would have struggled to have made it out of bed on time.

Our guide met us and we took a short boat ride from our island to begin our walk.

On the way to the boat we saw a huge snake skin by the foot of a tree. Hopefully its former owner was not nearby anymore!

Thankfully that morning Anne-So decided to climb in carefully rather than jump on to the boat.

We passed people’s homes, boats and animals with the occasional school child waving us on our way.

The birds we had come to watch were quite shy and regularly flew off when we got too close. Despite this we made some good sightings with just the naked eye, though some required aid from the provided binoculars. Unfortunately our cameras weren’t quite up to the task to fully capture the birds in all their glory and this was definitely the one time on the trip we could have done with the 55-200mm zoom lens we tried to buy before this trip.

We saw the following birds on our two hour walk: Indian Pond Heron, Indian Cormorant, Blue Tailed Bee Eater, Barn Owl (back at the hotel), White Throated Kingfisher, Kingfisher, Oriental Magpie Robin, Black Drongo and Black Hooded Oriole. How may did you spot in the photos?

We also saw some henna plants, coconuts, papayas and a root vegetable popular in the local cuisine. We had worked up quite an appetite by the end of the walk and thankfully it was soon time for breakfast.

We arrived back at the resort for 10:00 where we sat for a late breakfast. It was yet another memorable meal at Our Land.

We had some delicious coconut chutney.
With some fluffy fresh made pancakes to accompany it.

There was also an omelette which seemed to escape the evil-eye of my camera.

And finally a serving of toast with a small bowl of the most amazing sweet pineapple jam I’ve ever tasted.
We were also served huge glasses of fresh pineapple juice to help keep us hydrated in the heat.

I have searched high and low for that pineapple jam since we returned from India and six years later I’ve never found it anywhere. If you know somewhere that sells the stuff please let me know!

We settled up our room charges and confirmed our departure times for the next day before retreating to our rooms for a rest.
Before lunch there was time for a little competition, starting first with Kalanay Belanay (Black Elephant, White Elephant) that Anne-So and I won after a tense finale!
Afterwards we tried a play-fighting game that N & G taught us.

You start off with a scary pose and the best poser has the right to the first slap.

You then take it in turns to slap the hands of your opponent, who stays frozen in the pose from their previous move and the first to slap both their opponents hands wins the match.
For once lady luck was on my side that morning as I was also victorious in the play-fighting contest.

We had lunch at 13:00 and it was another delicious treat of a meal.

We had sambar, cabbage and papaya curry, fried fish straight from the river, popadoms, a curry made with a local courgette type vegetable and a huge bowl of rice to soak it all up.

Every single bite of this meal was fantastic and as someone who doesn’t really eat fish or courgettes that is a big compliment. I think the only disappointments during our stay was that there was no Our Land cook book to take home with us and that I didn’t get the chance to have a closer look in the kitchen. Apparently Our Land do offer you the chance to cook the local cuisine but it wasn’t something that was offered to us during our stay.

Around 16:30 when it had cooled down a notch we decided to explore the local area on our own.

We were rowed across the river and left to our own devices for an hour and a half to do a walking circuit of the local area.
We saw lots of waving children asking us where we were from and if we could give them a pen!

It was nice to watch the world go by in no hurry at all, from the cows and goats to the man up a tree preparing the branch for collecting sap and the annoying ‘put-put-put’ of the noisy rice barges.

For our last dinner at Our Land they had once again spoiled us rotten.

We were served a tasty bowl of chicken on the bone smothered in a rich and spicy coconut curry sauce.
Along side some simple and delicious vegetable rice, bread and a couple of chutneys.

Other than trying to remove the chicken from the bones this was another excellent meal and the food at Our Land left a lasting memory that makes me yearn for those dishes every single time I look at the photos or reminisce with Anne-So or N & G. As sad as we would be to leave this all behind, we also couldn’t wait to see what Our Land would serve up for our final breakfast the next morning.

We spent the rest of that evening arguing and laughing over a deck of cards, playing a game that I took a while to understand.

Playing the President and the A***hole, it seemed my luck had finally turned as I ended up as the latter on more than one occasion, something to do with being British perhaps?

We started our final morning at Our Land around with a leisurely breakfast at 10:00.

Alongside the staples of toast, coffee, pineapple juice and that amazing sugary pineapple jam there was something new for me to try today.
It was steamed rice paste with a sweet coconut and cardamom filling, almost like some kind of Indian rice pudding but served wrapped in a coconut leaf. Again, if you know what this dish is called I’d love to know.

Once more we ate until we could take no more, we knew we were going to miss this place and the food when we moved on!

After breakfast we relaxed for an hour or so playing catch with a fallen coconut. I went to top up our water bottle and whilst at the water cooler, I said hello to two of the newest hotel guests. Like the previous people we spoke to, they were also from Denmark and it turned out the lady had done quite a bit of travelling herself and she was particularly keen to hear about N & G’s adventures on the tandem bike. Unfortunately our conversation was disappointingly interrupted as it was time for us to leave for the airport.

Sadly we would part ways with N & G for the next two legs of our journey though we promised to meet up for one last spectacular day in Mumbai. What more can I say, the memories of that food, those glorious sunsets and the simple luxury of living the quiet life will stay with us a lifetime but somehow I feel that as tempting as it would be to go back, retreading those steps will never be quite the same.

A First Class Indian Adventure

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