A traditional wooden boat with a huge pile of straw. The tiny strokes on the top of the straw are people.
This concrete footbridge allows people to cross from one island to another.
The river had mats of aquatic plants. I believe that they are water hyacinth, an introduced species native to the Amazon.
Boat made from wood planks stitched together with coir. Some boats built by this method can carry many tons of cargo.
This water tower has a left-spiral staircase. Other water towers have right-spiral staircases.
The waterways have signs, just as highways do.
The land is lower than the water level. I glimpsed this temple behind the dike.
Building reflecting in the river.
Coir, or coconut fibre, is a local product that people make into rope, mats, and mattresses.
A razor-thin dugout canoe, reminiscent of a racing canoe.
Boat owners brightly paint the tires that hang over the sides as fenders.
I made a second visit to the Backwaters, again travelling on the public passenger boats.
A very rough sketch of the State Water Transport Department boats that carry people through the canals, or backwaters, to the settlements on islands near Alappuzha. The wooden hull is long and narrow, with sheltered seating for, I estimate, about 80 people.
The helmsman is in a bridge above the main deck. An engineer operates the Ashok Leyland six-cylinder diesel in accordance to bell signals from the helmsman. Deckhands handle the ropes for docking. The teamwork appears expert, and they guide the boat into the jetties with aplomb.
A gentleman on one of the islands showed me the pumping station that regulates water in the agricultural fields. The land is lower than the surrounding river water and is surrounded by dikes. For irrigation, people are able to flood sections of land and pump out water from the canals that criss-cross the fields.
In local parlance, items of introduced technology retain their English names, such as “motor”, and the wooden parts have Malayalam names.
Discharge plenum = box = പെട്ടി (petti)
Suction tube = drum = പറ (parra)
To prime the pump, the operator opens a flap or gate valve set into the dike on the river side, or discharge side, and floods the suction tube and plenum. The foot valve retains the water. When the pump begins running, the water reverses its flow and rises due to pumping action, draining the catch basin where the suction tube is immersed.
I was unable to determine whether the pump has an Archimedian screw or an impeller. The suction tube diameter is large, on the order of a couple of feet.
On the way back to Alappuzha, after touring the backwaters, I sketched a few construction details of the State Water Transport Department boat.
The fasteners are textbook examples of traditional wooden boat construction: Copper or bronze washers and clench nails. A threaded fastener here and there updates things a bit. The builders used traditional joinery, that is, mortise and tenons, to assemble the solid teak timbers.
This is the classical way to build a wooden boat, and centuries of use have proven these methods to work.
Alappuzha comes into view at the end of the day’s boat journey.