Trying to find a bus to Alleppey on a Sunday
Another day of traveling ahead, to Aleppey on the west coast of Kerala. To be on the safe side, I inquire at the information desk of the bus station to check whether there are any direct buses to Alleppey on Sundays. No, it seems, so I have to go to Kottayam first to change to another bus over there. I collect my stuff at the hotel, and when I return to the bus station, a bus to Kottayam is ready to depart.
A green route to the west coast of Kerala
The route is beautiful. We gradually descend from about 1200 meters to sea level. The mountains here are full of tea plantations. All of South India is quite green, but the Kerala state beats everything. In between all the greenery, you can also spot the influence of the European trade representatives. We pass several churches, merchant houses, and the like.
The heat takes its toll
I refrain from taking my camera out; I am traveling on a local bus, so I do not risk offending people. As we lower down to the west coast of Kerala, the tea plantations make way for forests with rubber trees. I enjoy the view. But the time it takes to travel 120 kilometers takes its toll because the heat also gradually increases as we leave the mountains.
Stopover in Kottayam bus station without English signalization
After a four hour trip, we arrive in Kottayam. Finding the right bus to Alleppey is no easy task. Rarely or never does the destination appear in English on the buses. So I ask a conductor. Just before 3 pm, there must be one. It stops on the other side of the platform, so I move my belongings over there. Shortly past 3 pm, it turns out I have to be on the other side for my bus to Alleppey.
Standing on the bus for two hours
When I board, I notice the bus is almost full. One seat is free at the back, but the rope dangling next to it makes it clear to me that this is the conductor’s place. The cord is connected with a bell; when someone wants to get off, the rope is pulled once. And as soon as the driver is allowed to leave, the conductor rings the bell twice. I have to place my backpack at the front next to the driver. As there is no free seat left, I have to stand. Fortunately, the road to the west coast of Kerala is quite flat, during a mountain ride this would have been more cumbersome.
Sweaty arrival in Alleppey
After a two hour drive – over a distance of 50 kilometers – I arrive sweaty and tired in Alleppey. I take an auto-rickshaw to the hotel. The rooms are simple but fine, with an Asian squat toilet this time. Because the hotel is centrally located and also houses the best, affordable restaurant in town, I decide to take the room.
Kerala is famous for the backwater boat trips
After a refreshing cold shower, I take a walk down the street. At a private travel agency, they try to sell me a boat trip in the backwaters. After all, this is the main reason for visiting the west coast of Kerala. But their price is way too high. The official booking agency for the backwater boat trips is a bit further in the same street. The most popular tour goes to Kollam and takes eight hours. I can also go for half a day, but after lunch, I will have to return by bus myself. I am okay with that. After all, the same goes for the full trip, or you have to spend the night at Kollam.
The agency tries to sell me a rip-off
An alternative offer is to spend the night in a beautiful lodge between the palm trees, for a very reasonable price naturally. They usually charge 3000 rupees for this accommodation, but because of too few tourists, I can book for 750 rupees. This is a pure rip-off. Tired and irritated, I report this is a remarkable price difference. They try to convince me further by suggesting that I bring my backpack tomorrow so that I can decide on the spot. I also dismiss that.
Never-ending hassling to earn some income
To top it all off, I am told that tomorrow’s boat trip is being carried out by four companies, and with one of them, there are occasional problems with that half-day arrangement. In that case, I will have to negotiate is their advice. That would cost me 250 rupees instead of 150 for a full-day. I nearly lose my temper; I have been around in India long enough, so I can imagine vividly how things will turn out tomorrow. The constant hassling and corruption are nerve-cracking at times.
My dinner gives me a stomach ache
After this interlude, it is time for dinner. At the restaurant in my hotel, I order rice with lime, kofte – minced meat – and chicken soup with corn. While the service is less, the meal tastes excellent; probably the best food I had in a week, slightly spicy, but doable. Afterward, back in my hotel room, my stomach judges otherwise, though, so I take some medicine to relieve the pain.