Munroe Island, 4-5 September
In the late morning we take a short train trip from Varkala to Kollam in the north. The train we’re on originates in Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of Kerala, and goes all the way to New Delhi, a whopping 52 hour journey. Glad we’re only one stop away.. It’s our first experience travelling in Sleeper Class, which for a short journey isn’t entirely unpleasant. Once at Kollam, a tuktuk brings us to today’s final destination: Munroe Island.
Munroe Island is a small inland island group located at the confluence of Ashtamudi Lake and the Kallada River. It was named in honour of Scotsman John Munro, Resident Colonel of the former Princely State of Travancore and we’re here to visit the picturesque backwaters.
When we arrive at the homestay around mid-day, our lazy morning quickly turns into a rollercoaster ride of Munroe Island’s famed hospitality. We’re greeted by the owner (strangely looking exactly like the Indian version of our downstairs neighbour), who, after giving us just enough time to put our bags down, takes us along the road on the back of his motorbike to his brother’s retirement party!
We’re sat down at a large table in the garden with a group of about fifteen men who are extremely amused to see us, while the women, equally excited, wave at us from inside the house. In mere seconds someone puts a big banana leaf in front of us, another scoops up rice, the next one dishes out curry, then pickled mango, sambal, bananas, and so on. All the while everyone’s laughing, taking our picture and trying to talk to us at the same time in broken English – we smile and nod and pose, trying to eat with our hands like the others (our right hand that is, don’t want to gross anyone out!)
Back at the homestay we think we’re relaxing on the patio, but that’s not happening. First there’s a ton of paperwork to fill out for the Indian authorities (required at each hotel, although it’s always different), and in the meantime the owner has already drummed up a pal of his to take us onto the backwaters by boat. We quickly throw a water bottle and our phones into a wet bag and set off on the waterways!
This is what we came here for and we’re not disappointed: the backwaters are absolutely stunning. We’re the only boat out on the water and everything is totally quiet except for the pole going into the water, birds chirping and the boatman’s uncontrollable coughing fits – he’s old, but hardy.
In three hours on the water we see a lot of birds: eagles, kingfishers, herons, ducks, and loads of other birds we don’t recognize (our guide doesn’t speak English except for the word ‘down’ he yells at us whenever there’s a bridge ahead), plus a water snake, mangrove trees and lots of coconut trees, as well as the odd person washing their clothes in the murky water. We’re enjoying every second of it, it’s peaceful and beautiful out here, so much so that we decide to stay here for a second day.
We’re allowed to relax on the patio now and also go for a bike ride around the island. Tomorrow we will try to get a train back to Kollam (the note below we found stuck on a shut ticket counter today, but the 8AM train is hopefully still running) and then an 8-hour public ferry to our next stop: Alleppey.