Life on the Water (photos of Kerala Backwaters)

India was so rich in atmospheric cityscapes, beautiful nature, interesting people and great food that I could probably have done double the posts about that trip without stretching it too thin. During the two weeks I spent there in February, one of the really incredible places I visited but haven’t posted about yet was Kerala Backwaters, a 900 square km area of lakes and lagoons running parallel to the Arabian Sea in the southern state of Kerala. I visited the Backwaters as a day trip from Kochi, the main city in Kerala where I was staying, about an hour by car to the north.

While I generally avoid tours, in the Kerala Backwaters the only transportation is by boat so there is the obvious question of how you are going to get around. To solve the transport problem I looked into a couple day tours but wasn’t happy with the offerings, and I ended up hiring a private boat and captain instead.

My main problem with tours is that they tend to be overly structured and rigid. The entire trip is all planned out for you and you experience the destination at the same fixed pace as every other participant. There is little flexibility or room for spontaneity.

Most of the posts in this blog would be impossible if I experienced the places I travel on tours. Take the post about the visit to the Butterfly Conservatory of Goa, for example. There is not a tour guide in the world who would wait around while I spent two hours walking around and photographing butterflies. I would have been lucky to get even one or two photos of them at the pace of a normal tour. More likely, the large group would have scared the bashful beauties away completely.

The ideas for the written part of that post as well (that with a bit of self-awareness and patience we can find ways to enjoy even ordinary and difficult experiences in life) would never have occurred to me if I had rushed through the butterfly park on the heels of a guide and other tourists.

This is just my style and I’m definitely not on a crusade against tours. Just as most people are happier married and with a regular job, I completely understand that most travelers are more comfortable with a tour. Actually, I think that there are interesting parallels between the attractions of marriage, regular employment and tours – all provide a degree of structure in a complex and sometimes chaotic world and they solve a number of practical problems. This blog though springs from the mind of someone who is single, takes an entrepreneurial approach to work and, while traveling, hops on a motorbike or a boat and makes his own way. If I were married with children, had a regular job or experienced the places I travel on tours, it would not exist.

While the backwaters were one of the high points of my travel in India, a big reason I didn’t post these photos before is that I was on the boat for the brightest and hottest hours of the day (from around 11 am to 3 pm) and that’s generally the worst time of the day for photography. Under the harsh midday sun everything looks flat and washed out. The experience itself was great but I had little hope for the photographs and initially I didn’t give much thought to doing a post about the Backwaters.

When I looked through my India photos recently though I realized that the photos from that day were better than I expected. The harsh midday sun hadn’t ruined as many of them as I thought. With many of them the subject of the photos was in the shade (after all, direct sunlight is bad for people as well). Other times clouds blocked the sun and this can sometimes create good light for photography as well.

Here are my favorite photos from the half day I spent on the Kerala Backwaters. I hope you enjoy them!

The Place

(Above four photos) The large boats in these photos are houseboats. I spent just four hours on the backwaters but many other visitors spend a night or more in one of these traditional boats.

I didn’t take a photo of my own boat but it was like the one on the left side of this photo

(Above two photos) My boat captain told me that a socialist political party is the most popular one in this area.

The People

With this and many other posts, the people photos are my personal favorites. In the Kerala Backwaters, people live right next to the waterways and get around by boat or by walking along the banks. There are no roads. My boat captain told me that most people make a living from agriculture. Some of my favorite photos of that day are of locals going about their daily activities on the banks of the lagoons and canals.



My boat captain and favorite Donald Trump supporter


This lunch at a restaurant on the backwaters catering to tourists looks better than it tasted. I have a theory that in places like Thailand and India, with their spicy and flavorful cuisine, restaurant staff have a secret sign for when someone who looks like me walks in the door, which essential means, “We got a white person here! Nothing too spicy!”. Personally I love Thai and Indian cuisine at the native spice levels so I almost beg them not to water it down for me. At this river side restaurant for tourists though I think the food was made in advance and there was no way to add flavor back in. I ate a lot of really fabulous food in India but this was a bland exception. It does look good though.
Indian cuisine is one of my favorites in the world but I can’t eat it three times a day. This is one of my favorite breaks from local cuisine on the trip, a snack I had right after returning to Kochi after the half day on the backwaters.
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