Sunday, January 3, 2010

Floating on the Back Waters

We boarded our house boat today. The outside looks like a thatched hut although we’re happy to see the inside structure is made of more solid materials. Our room is much nicer than we expect with a big bed, hard food floors and a sizable bathroom (at least for a boat.)

There are three crew members on board: Georgie, Gobi and another man whose name we can’t understand. They alternate between driving the boat and cooking. Georgie is the only one who speaks any semblance of English. He asks us where we’re from three separate times which suggests he speaks English better than he understands. We discuss the possible problems of riding on a boat in the middle of nowhere with three men who speak no English, but decide like most things in India, it will work out.

And it does.

The food is amazing: spicy eggplant in some kind of sauce, naan that we watched them bang out 30 minutes earlier and spicy fried fish.

The scenery is stunning: green rice paddies stretch to the horizon like a florescent green shaggy carpet while palm trees sway on thin stretches of land that separate some of the canals. And there are people living out here in small, brightly colored houses, walking along paths that run close to the water and waving as we ride past. Even though there are dozens of other house boats in the water we still feel like we are alone. It’s amazing to me that people live this way, so simply. They do have electricity but I’m guessing no running water. We pass a school with a gaggle of kids outside making their way home. Some start along the path while others are being picked up in long, narrow boats.

We eventually dock, which really involves just pulling up alongside land and trying up to some trees. Again, we think about how easy it would be for someone to just climb on board in the middle of the night. But out here, that just doesn’t seem to be what people are about. Besides, our room locks from the inside. The sun is a blazing orange-red as it sets behind the palm trees and darkness slowly creeps into the backwaters. The sounds of nature start to come alive with chirping and squawking.

Despite my natural inclination to get sea sick I wear my wristbands the entire time and do ok on the boat. The calm waters also help. Bedtime become quite comical when we turn the AC on and convince ourselves the room smells like fuel. We finally decide that we’ll leave the AC on, turn on the fan, open the window and sleep with the mosquito net down. Yes, we’re wasting energy. But better than gassing ourselves in the middle of the night. I drop off without notice and wake up to a still dark morning.

We get dressed and walk onto the deck to watch the day come alive. The moon is still out and reflects off the water, while the sun also spreads light across the top of palm trees. People are washing clothes along the river edge, which involves a dunk and then repeated slapping of said article of clothing against rock. It has become a familiar sound. People are also bathing and brushing their teeth in water that would certainly give me a unhappy stomach.

Despite all the activity it’s still quiet and peaceful and a small slice of life so different from our own.

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