Friday, January 27, 2006


Tucked away in the southwest corner of India and isolated from the rest of the country by the Western Ghats mountains, lies the state of Kerala. Sometimes dubbed the "Venice of India" (I don't see why one should always compare places with canals to Venice. One could just as easily call it the Birmingham of India.) Kerala's backwater canals are a must see. The way of life among the brackish waterways has changed little in the past few centuries: the main mode of transport is still by punted canoe, coir rope (made from coconut fibres) is still spun the old-fashioned way, and the same type of fish nets have been used since time immemorial. A few hours being lazily poled along the labyrinthine network of channels, watching the people at work, the children at play and the birds doing their thing, is remarkably relaxing.

The state, although populous, is highly rural, with most people living along the backwater canals, for which the state is famous, cultivating coconuts, bananas, spices and other mainstays of the tropics. This makes it one of the poorer states in India, and yet paradoxically it is one of the most developed. Its people have the highest life expectancy, the highest literacy rate, the lowest rate of infant mortality, and so on. Many people attribute this to the state government, which has often been controlled by the Communist party (the first state in the world to have a democratically elected Communist government), and their socialist welfare policies. Whatever it may be you don't see the same extreme poverty here as in other parts of the country. Which just goes to show, not all backwaters are backwaters.

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