Friday, March 10, 2006

Houseboat Millionaires

In the small town of Allepey in the middle of backwaters Kerala, there stands an incongruous building. In its own grounds, towering up to three stories height but actually only one, it looks like a Greek temple crossed with a modern cinema. Around the outer walls are giant niches occupied by sculpted figures larger ever than the Greeks made. Inside is a subtly illuminated sanctum in red plush and white marble. Whatever is it? It's a gold and jewellry shop.

I can't prove it - but from conversations with locals it seems that the wealth that created the demand that underwrote this Temple to Gold was from houseboats, pure and simple. Along the banks of the canal leading from Allepey to the backwaters lake and other waterways are boatyards turning out more and more of these romantic craft. Externally they look very "ethnic", clad in woven palm leaves and shaped like rice barges but inside they are appointed to the highest standards of comfort and convenience. You can hire one for between sixty and ninety pounds a night but that is all-inclusive of fuel, food and crew. You set off into the maze of channels inland from this gold-crazy town and spend a night - or several - bobbing gently on the shallow water, maybe having a bonding time with friends, maybe renewing vows on a second honeymoon.

Whatever it is that people want them for, it seems that hiring out houseboats keeps the good folk of Allepey in gold to their (and their jeweller's) hearts' content.


Blogger Nigel said...

I like the sound of these houseboats, they sound a little like the narrow boats I recently saw parked in Stratford-upon-Avon. I suspect they are similarly lucrative for the owners!

Celia has been looking in to your blog and sends her love - comments typed but wafted away when the registration process clicked in.

Good to see that India is still working its chaotic magic. N

Sat Mar 11, 10:51:00 pm GMT  
Blogger pangapilot said...

Thanks Nigel: you might be alone out there for all I know from the comments - but as with Celia, so with others, the blogger identification process seems to faze would-be commenters! Back to e-mail, I suppose!

Mon Mar 13, 07:48:00 am GMT  

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