As much as I would have loved to rent a beautiful houseboat like the one above, I had to remind myself that this trip wasn’t in the “grand plan” and not one where I want to go willynilly with my spending. With this in mind, Hugo and I decided to take the government-run eight hour backwater cruise from Kollam to Alappuzha (also known as Alleppey) at just £4 and another £2 for my bike.
The boat wasn’t as touristy as I had anticipated and it did pass some beautiful scenery. However, due to the fact the boat only stuck to the main waterway, I did feel it was more of a means to get from A to B as opposed to experiencing the backwaters of Kerala. In hindsight, cycling would have been just as good and probably much quicker.
It was so humid in Alleppey my sweaty cycling gear was still wet when I went to put it on in the morning but luckily I had spare, don’t you worry! A woman we met in Varkala suggested we visit Periyar Tiger Reserve close to Thekkady and stay in a place called Monsoon Retreat, so I emailed them and asked if we could camp in their grounds. Success.
On the ride I enjoyed reading the many safety road signs as every single one of them rhymed and most, didn’t even make sense. “Dip your lights when driving at night” and “speed thrills and kills” are just two I came across regularly. The road was lined with duck stores with adverts for duck curry to the side of the duck pens. It’s hard to find chicken on the menu, let alone duck so I did wonder why the need for all these duck stores. Later I clocked that duck eggs are eaten more than chicken eggs in this area and people can buy these eggs from roadside duck stores.
The road weaved through the Kerala’s beautiful backwaters and although hot, it was an enjoying the ride. I was desperate to try a traditional Kerala feast called a Sadhya which is served at lunch and at celebrations, so we stopped at a roadside “hotel”. A little note to those visiting Kerala – a “hotel” may not actually have a place to stay, it may merely be a restaurant or general store, more on that later…………
Splashing out an extra couple of pennies to sit in the AC part of the restaurant, I felt like I had died and gone to heaven, especially when my food arrived served on a huge banana leaf. I counted over 12 different dishes accompanying my rice and popadoms including a sweet rice pudding which was just divine. Not only that, these types of set meals in India and Nepal come with unlimited refills. It’s safe to say, this hungry cyclist got her monies worth!
That afternoon I struggled. Besides being a little bit sick in my mouth every time I took a gulp of water (not only had I eaten too much, I had gone through 6ltrs that day), it was ridiculously hot, humid AND we had hit the hills. I reckon I had cycled at least 20km up hill with not one moment where the road flattened. It was just up up up and my poor bike didn’t like it one bit. I was pretty much over the day at 5pm and just wanted to splash some water over me – a shower is a luxury these days.
Anyway, we tried to find a hotel but all the “hotels” we’re not actually hotels with rooms and we still had another 9km of sharp mountain bends until the next town. I was this <…..> close to crying. So desperate, we started asking everyone we saw if they knew of somewhere we could sleep as it was impossible to camp on the edge of the mountain. We ended up practically begging the owner of a roadside hotel restaurant.
He kindly let us set up camp on the roof which was a little tricky considering there was no soft ground to secure the tent pole and pegs. We made do and I enjoyed playing with his two young sons that evening while Hugo played on his phone. After a delicious masala coffee, bread and curry for breakfast I was ready to conquer the hills.
I come across some pretty weird things cycling and this advert particularly caught my eye. A few more hours in the saddle and we had reached Thekkady. I was starving but wanted to wait until we reached Monsoon Retreat, as we had heard the food there was excellent. Due to issues with Google Map and various websites it took us two hours to find the bloody place and when we arrived and asked to order food we were told it would be ready in another three hours! I was so close to eating my arm.
The food was certainly very good and although our tent was on a major lumpy slope, I got a good nights sleep in the jungle and loved waking up to the sounds of the hundreds of species of rare birds around me. We had yet to pay so a late awakening by the owners the next day put us nearly four hours behind schedule. I didn’t mind one bit as I was more than happy taking it easy in the jungle and I wanted to explore the reserve but Hugo didn’t take too kindly to the delay and wanted to get off. We were still two days away from Munnar and the increasingly hilly terrain and my slowly dying bike made it more difficult to make good progress. Would we ever reach Munnar?