Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Toddy: My First and Last Time

To Kochi or Bust

Robin is from Kochi (formerly Cochin) and invited me to come with him one weekend. He was heading to his home town in the state of Kerala to visit family. We took a bus from Whitefield to the bus depot and got on an overnight bus there. Before getting on the bus, I drank a 1L bottle of water, which turned out to be a mistake. On top of whatever liquid I already drank that afternoon, this water wanted out at some point, but the overnight bus was not planning to stop. Anywhere! So, I was uncomfortable for about seven hours of the journey from Karnataka to Kerala.

Bus from Whitefield
The Bus From Whitefield

Upon arrival in Kochi, the contrast in temperature and humidity from Bangalore was the first thing I noticed. I stepped off the bus thinking I had been transported to South Texas. We jumped into an Ambassador taxi and were off to Robin's parents' house.

Day one was not even close to being over. I met everyone and we had lunch, then in a rental car, Robin and I headed down to the mountains and tea plantations of Munnar.


Beautiful scenery, that is what Munnar is.

Munnar's mountains
Western Ghat Mountains

Mountains, mountains, mountains! It had been fifteen weeks since I had been behind the wheel of a car, and I was driving in mountains! Every sight around Munnar was grand: mountains, trees and rivers. Even most of the trucks on the road were clean and ornately decorated and colorfully painted.

Munnar tea plantation
Tea Plantations

Work and play in the water
Kids Play in the River as Adults Wash Clothes

Looking up into the trees
Majestic Trees Line the Roads

All good things must come to an end, so I pulled over on the side of the road to exchange seats with Robin. He was concerned we might get pulled over and hassled by police in the city if I was caught driving without a license.


The next night was going to be spent on a houseboat, or kettuvallam, on the backwaters of Alleppey. But, before heading away from Koshi, we visited a local fish market.

Fish and prawns for sale
A Kochi Fish Market

Kochi river fishermen
Fishermen on a River in Kochi

We got up early and headed to the market to pick up fish and prawns for the next day's meal. After seeing some local Kochi sights, it was time to head toward the lake and backwater canals of Alleppey.

Some canals are tight
Kettuvallam in Alleppey Backwaters

Lone boatman on the lake
Lone Boatman on the Lake

The houseboat experience was very nice and I highly recommend it. Mosquitoes were a pain, so I suggest you carefully pick what time of year you visit Alleppey. When the boat docked for the night, I was able to wander around the local neighborhoods. The entire time, I kept thinking about the property value of this non-commercialized area. Along all these canals there were nothing but simple homes with people who were by no means wealthy.

Guys illegally playing cards for money
Guys Playing Cards

Woman happily catching fish
Woman Happy to Catch Fish

Having enjoyed some time in Alleppey, it was time to join Robin's family for lunch back in Kochi, where a surprise was waiting for me.


I had heard about a local drink named toddy, which I was told to stay away from. I was told that if I were to try it, do so only at the start of the day and that by mid-morning, you should never try the stuff. Here it was, after noon, and I was being given toddy to taste. Robin's dad poured an entire glass of the stuff for me. I tasted it, thinking it was nasty, and then quickly downed the glass to be over and done with the experience. As soon as I set down the glass, it was full again, Robin's dad smiling as if he thought I liked the stuff. Ugh! So, I gulped down the second helping of it and then held onto the glass.

Trying toddy for the first time
Glass of Toddy

Toddy bar in Munnar
Toddy Bar in Munnar

I had been paying attention to the toddy bars seen all over this area, and toddy was the first word I learned how to write in Malayalam. Robin thought that was funny, saying a person's (child) first word written should be "Mom" or "Dad", not an alcoholic beverage.

A quick lunch of the fish and prawns picked up the day before and we were heading for the train station.

Back to Bangalore

Train station in Kochi
Train Station in Kochi

We hopped on a train for the overnight journey back to Bangalore. The discomfort of the train car was bearable once I found out Robin's mom had packed some prawns for us for the ride home, along with bread made from the remaining toddy instead of yeast. Toddy that way was quite nice.

The return train compartment
Train Car for Return to Bangalore

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