We’d stayed in Alleppey aka Alappuzha before so we chose a new-to-us route: the public ferry south to Kollam, a seven or so hour ride via canals and lakes. We’d overnight there and then continue on to Munroe Island, just to the north, for several nights in the southern backwaters.
We’d noticed that tourism seemed down, even to us who were last in India during the 2017 demonetization. When we boarded the ferry, generally full of tourists this time of year, there were few and a choice of seats on the upper deck. By the end of the day’s journey most of those folks had stopped off and we had the ferry pretty much to ourselves.
Most of the houseboats, a popular overnight option, are located on the north end of the backwaters, closer to Alleppey. As we travelled south we noticed fewer and fewer houseboats. The ferry putt-putted down large canals to ones just big enough for it to fit, plus crossed a couple of bigger lakes. Once in a while we could see the ocean, just a stone’s throw away across a narrow strip of land.
Captain John, a 16 year veteran of the ferry service, took a short break while crossing one of the lakes to join us. He told us how tourism’s down this year, primarily due to the past summer’s floods. He showed us how high the water got in various locations and told us how the local fishermen and boaters helped with rescue efforts.
We reached Kollam slightly before dark and caught a short tuktuk ride to our hotel. We’d decided to spend the night in Kollam rather than looking for our Munroe Island homestay in the dark. Finding a hotel in Kollam had not been easy but we were very happy with our choice: the Sree Janardhana Residency. Although the hotel was undergoing renovations our room was clean and quiet with all the mod cons. Best was the all-veg restaurant conveniently located beside the lobby.
The next day we caught a cab to Munroe Island, leaving the city and crossing the water to an island idyll.
While on Munroe Island we stayed at Mayookam Serviced Villas, a large riverfront home divided into guest rooms. Once again we ate a stunning amount of delicious food. We’d think we’d finished and more would appear from the kitchen.
Other than eating our days were spent walking, cycling and, on one day, taking a canoe tour along the river and some of the canals bisecting the island.
We started on the river, then turned into narrower and narrower canals, passing temples, homes, farms and eventually stopping to look at some fish farms located just off the canals. We then returned to the broader river and on to our homestay.
Monroe Island is incredibly tranquil. There are a few small shops scattered around, but no major centre or large businesses. We enjoyed the peace and quiet; the prevalent sound was that of singing and instruments drifting from the various temples. Sitting out in the evenings by the river was a transcendent experience as the sounds echoed in the dark.
Once again the heat inhibited some of our activities, such as cycling, but finding a bit of shade and watching the river flow wasn’t tough to take. Once again the people made the place special. Not just our amazing hosts at the homestay but also the people we met while wandering around their island. A beautiful experience.