Ashtamudi Lake and the Keralan backwaters
We had to eventually say our goodbyes to Villa Jacaranda and traveled to Kollam to spend a couple of nights in the resort hotel Raviz on Ashtamudi Lake. It’s a luxurious hotel offering Ayurvedic treatments with wonderful grounds in a glorious location.
This was our one glossy, luxurious stay.
We ate in the restaurant and the food was again amazingly, authentically Keralan. We all had a spa treatment and relaxed for a couple of days. The hotel had a distinctly colonial feel with afternoon tea served by the lake.
Speaking to the staff they were very worried about their jobs as Kerala had suffered a horrific early monsoon and they had had a great number of cancellations due to the bad press, they were grateful to have any western guests and looked after us so well.
Kollam was famous for its long coastline and thriving port as a centre for the spice trade. The streets were full of spice and grain traders.
The hotel organised us a visit to a cashew nut factory -this trip was fascinating. The male workers started with roasting the whole shells in small mounds sitting on the floor in a large hut, which would then be passed to the next room where the shells were drilled and hammered to remove the nuts and passed once again to predominantly young women, who eased out of the shells. The nuts were then roasted again in large trays and graded - this is where the older women came in. Some of them sat on the floor with the more senior on chairs sorting into large, medium and smaller nuts - whole or broken. These were then passed to the packing plant where most were packed into tins and shipped to Dubai and the Middle East, with the broken ones packed for local use.
The nuts were grown locally but also imported from different countries across Africa to keep the factory in work all year round. It was very different compared to UK work standards but an important source of work in the region.
We also visited the Jutaya earth centre where the worlds largest bird sculpture is found, this is a mesmerising sight but oddly out of place in the Kerala countryside with high tech entry and incredibly security conscious. They’re hoping it will be a major tourist attraction once fully completed and a beautiful nature park.
Leaving Kollam our next destination were the nearby backwaters, a vast network of lagoons and lakes home to fishermen, small houses and endless bird life.
We were lucky enough to secure a night on one of the houseboats, which float along the eight miles of water.
This was one of my favourite days and evenings, watching the wildlife including kingfishers and egrets. Sipping lime sodas in the sunshine, we nibbled on crispy bananas that are deep fried in coconut oil and served alongside a delicious meal onboard. We also took a kayak trip down the small canals that the large boats can’t get through.
The houseboats were originally used for transporting rice and spice. Coir and coconut fibres make up the structure of the rooms on board coated with a resin made from cashew nut shell. The boats are now used for trips.
The riverbanks were dotted with houses, the water is used for washing clothes and bathing as it has been for thousands of years and it was humbling to see babies being washed on the banks, then swaddled whilst the dishes were then washed alongside.
We awoke to the sound of rain, to us, very heavy rain but we were assured this was light rain compared to the monsoon season and the marks of the wall in the booking office showed us the reality of this, we were told that lives had been lost in the monsoon earlier in the year, mostly the elderly who were normally moved to upland family houses in monsoon season but it came much earlier than expected.
We spent a thoughtful day sipping banana lassis through banana leaf straws before catching our first night train to the Indian mountains.