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Everyone goes on and on about how diverse India is. It wasn’t until we arrived in Kerala that I began to understand quite how stunningly different this enormous crazy country really is.

Southern India is: men in sarongs; spicy and sour food; fish, fried or curried with everything; palm trees; big houses; less bread and bigger rice; very Christian with enormous churches and shrines; and less crowded and well, pungent.

We spent a few days in Fort Kochi wandering along the waterfront, trying to work out how the hell the massive chinese fishing nets worked, watching a traditional Kathakali dance and going for a fancy meal with friends from home, Tram-Anh and Brendan.

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Chinese Fishing Nets

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Spice shop

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Camels and a church

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Kathakali dance performers putting on a bit of slap.

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Super posh dinner with Tram-Anh and Brendan.

Then came the thing I had been waiting for: cruising around the Keralan backwaters on a houseboat. This was very kindly funded by my sister, Katie, and we spent two very blissful days gliding past the palm trees and rice fields. We had a captain and our very own chef who made us the most amazing meals, including the now favourite, beetroot curry.

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On the first evening we went a little ‘off piste’ and stopped off to visit the chef’s village. As the light was fading we walked about 20 minutes away from the river to arrive as a surprise for his family. It was certainly a surprise – for us and for them – the whole village turned out to have a look at us. We were made to sit like royalty on the only two seats in the house as about 30 women and children looked on with shyness that soon gave way to giggling. We later found out that most of them had never seen white people before.

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The chef with his mother, sister and her two children (the little one was only one week old).

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We spent two days pootling along in our little houseboat and, despite the captain loosing his way a few times and almost crashing into overhead cables, I don’t think I have ever been so relaxed. Though it’s quiet, life along the river banks is colourful and incredible: washing, swimming, fishing, it all goes on in the dark green waters. Eagles soared above us and the green of the trees and rice fields bounced off the bright sunlight. We even saw some men in boats herding ducks.

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Duck herding

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These two were adorable. They kept calling me Auntie.

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Our floating palace.

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Fish thali: (L-R clockwise from rear) raitha; pickle; salad of coconut, spices and cabbage; pineapple curry; spicy green beans; fried fish; rice with dal on top; and papads.

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Captain (middle) and Chef (right)

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Our thrones.

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Relaxation levels reach new highs.

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Ever wondered what a boat full of nuns looks like? Here you go.

Our Keralan experience continued at a homestay north of Kochi on an island in the backwaters. We stayed with Benny and his gorgeous family and ate delicious home-cooked meals with them, they took us out on their boat to see their prawn farm, showed us how the chinese fishing nets work and even drove us into Kochin town so that Angela could meet Benny’s friend who is also a lawyer.

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Benny, his wife and their little girl, Carol (named after Christmas carol since she was born in December).

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They made us wear hats…

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Prawn farm

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The view from our balcony.

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Fishing with the chinese fishing nets.

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Sorting the prawns from the tiny fish.

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Our catch.