Welcomed like family on Munroe Island

We would have missed Munroe Island, but for the chance meeting of a fellow traveller and her heartfelt endorsement. She had just come north from staying at a nearby ashram and raved on about the beauty of the area.   Canoe rides through narrow canals. Cycling on flat dirt paths by the river. Losing an afternoon reading in a hammock.
Yes, please – this was everything we had hoped to find in Kerala’s backwaters.

Getting there from Alleppey was easy – we hopped on a regular unreserved train and headed south for 1 1/2 hours. Cost – 40 rupees for two – less than $1. Ambience – priceless. This is an unflattering shot of Stephen, but will give you an idea of the train’s interior. The ceiling fans do a not-bad job, and the wide -open doors also help with ventilation. It hasn’t been cleaned in a while, but that’s what hand sanitizer is for.

Images of Indians clambering on train rooftops are familiar to moviegoers;  I guess this stencilled notice is here for good reason. This action is apparently  “punishable”, but they’re not saying how. Since no-one came by to check our tickets, I think travelling short distances by train for free is not uncommon.

The train stops at each station for about 30 seconds, so you need to be ready to roll. Stephen jumped down, grabbed my suitcase and helped me down. Boom – train resumed travel and was gone. We grabbed a tuk-tuk, and 15 minutes later, we arrived at Green Chromide Homestay, to be welcomed by the lovely Sunaina. This picture manages to make her look freakishly short and me freakishly tall.

Sunaina recently switched careers and lifestyles – she left her job at Yahoo in Bangalore to open Green Chromide Homestay in her husband’s family town of Munroe Island. They built a home with their quarters downstairs and two guest bedrooms and bathrooms upstairs and have been in operation since September. Her husband commutes each week to his job in Bangalore, but is on hand on the weekends, along with his brother, to help Sunaina welcome their guests.  They all pitch in with preparing the fantastic meals. This was one of our dinners – the namesake green chromide fish, along with more food than we thought we could eat – but we managed.


Sunaina’s little daughter is also thrilled with the move. In Bangalore, she missed her extended family and was confined to an apartment; on Munroe Island she runs barefoot and has the whole neighbourhood watching out for her.  Her self-appointed job is to watch out for her 2-year-old cousin. The little cousin has an older brother – he and Stephen would solemnly fist pound each time their paths crossed.

Indian kids are the cutest. Almost all the children we’ve encountered are curious, confident, sweet-natured and very well-behaved. “Hello. What is your name? Where are you from?” – they call out to us, and we call back and then they giggle. Stephen has taken to saying,”Where are you from?”, which causes them no end of consternation. (How could he not know they are from India?) The older ones sometimes get it. Steve being Steve, this joke will never get old, so I am doomed to hear it for the next two months.

On our last evening on Munroe Island, Sunaina invited us to join her family at a festival at another family member’s home. We still don’t know what the festival was about, and neither did our host. He shrugged – apparently the whole neighbourhood was lighting small candles and offering food to departed relatives. Most of Sunaina’s relatives and friends did not speak English and needless to say, we were the subjects of much curiosity and also the recipients of tremendous hospitality.

I got to hold this little dumpling – she must be so used to being passed around to adoring relatives, she didn’t bat a (kohl-rimmed) eye.


Sunaina’s relatives live on a large property with three buildings – the original 100-year-old small home, the much larger family home and a shrine. We began celebrations by slurping a sweet liquid out of our hands (I accidentally ate with my left hand – a huge no-no), and then went back to the shrine for the brief ceremony.  The woman with the pink sari began – offering prayers for about five or ten minutes.


We followed by throwing flower petals around the shrine and then moved back to the main area. Our hosts had made small sweets – something like a little banana pudding wrapped in leaves and steamed over a fire for an hour. Delicious – plus we got a few more to take home. I got lots of arm pats and looks and giggles – it felt very warm and welcoming, although of course they could have been saying anything about me – how would I know?

We came to Munroe Island for a peaceful backwaters experience and lucked into this lovely new friendship. It was an honour and a privilege to be part of this family gathering, and will remain one of our top Indian experiences so far.

On to the backwaters… Munroe Island is a cluster of eight small islands, covering 13 square kilometres, linked by innumerable small canals, a large lake and a river.

The view close to our homestay:

We borrowed a couple of bikes at the homestay and took off to explore the island.

First up – a dad and his son skipping rocks across the water.

This little store is very typical in India – sometimes they carry fruit and vegetables, sometimes cigarettes and toilet paper – others carry jars with small candies and perhaps a few bottles of shampoo. I think they function on a greater level as a hangout.

IMG_0016 During our three days on Munroe Island, we were serenaded day and night with chanting, singing, and prayers – sometimes at teeth-rattling decibels – part of the festival. We cycled by this woman who was reciting prayers from a book, much enhanced by the mic and loudspeaker.

At first, we were aggravated by the noise, especially when it began at 5:00 am. It soon became part of the background and we stopped hearing it – we must be surrendering.

We arranged with Sunaina for a canoe ride through the backwaters. We were picked up at 4:00 pm for a two-hour tour, on a typical Keralan dugout canoe. I sat in the middle and Stephen sat in the front – he was soon instructed to start paddling as well!

Our captain:

As in Alleppey, the river life unfolded, but in a much quieter way.

One beautiful scene after another:

Birds were a big feature of our trip – we were accompanied by birdsong the entire time, and we did see a hornbill, although my only photo is a bird in silhouette on a wire, so I’ll save you that non-image and give you this video instead.

More boat-and-trees-reflected-in-still-water-shots.

The birdsong was disturbed by our captain’s nonstop expectorating. Even by Indian standards, he was outdoing himself.  Every five or ten minutes, we would hear a phlegmy, chest-rattling hork, followed by an emphatic pttchoo into the water. I looked back at one point to see him crouched and covered with a towel.
We passed this happy group twice – here for the weekend and armed with selfie-sticks, they were having a grand time.

These sturdy wooden boats are called into duty for any number of things, including the transport of household appliances.

We passed by the simplest of dwellings:

As well as a more comfortable home, complete with a jaunty Christmas tree.

And boys – lots of boys. This little crew reminded us that boys are the same the world over – they yelled out to us, with big bright smiles, and then a couple of them felt obliged to climb a tree and hang over the water.

We approached two young men – one very proudly sitting on his new bike and the other taking photos. They agreed to pose for us.

Pick-up volleyball by the river. This game was going on every night we were there.

Stephen heading under the bridge, wearing his new Tilley-ish hat bought in a market in Alleppey.  The days when we would not have been caught dead in a hat like this are over – function over form is our new approach to travel fashion.

A parting shot – good-bye to bucolic Munroe Island – we are on our way to another beach holiday in Varkala for a week.


17 thoughts on “Welcomed like family on Munroe Island

  1. This part of the trip seems so peaceful, however, the sounds do wake you up early in every country, no roosters and mopeds here!
    Steve, do not worry about your Tilley hat, if you lose it along the way I have a replacement for you on Gabriola! Remember the one that got washed on the beach after a storm, the one you would not be caught dead wearing, the time has come my friend, they are changing!!


    1. Laurence, along with our changing fashion inclinations, both our memories must be slipping! Neither one of us can remember a hat washing up on shore.

      Being in India is good training for me. Back in Canada, I can get so fussed about noise, unwanted music, dogs barking, etc. Here, it becomes the background. As I write this, there must be dozens of crows flying around – caw, caw, caw. That sound is a constant. On Gabriola, I used to throw stones up at the tree when the crows got going – was I crazy?


  2. Beautiful shots! Beautiful people and families. What a great experience to take part in a festival in an Indian home! Experiencing the country not just seeing it. The canoe ride looked so serene. Can just imagine that feeling everytime you heard that horrible phlegmy sound, chuckled having shuttered about that a few times. Train looked great too. Loving your adventure! Keep enjoying. Hugs.


    1. They are beautiful people – unfortunately we can only get to know the ones that speak English. They look a little confused when I say my one Hindi word – dhanyavad (thank you), so I reserve it now for the most extreme cases of needing to say thanks.

      You know the funny thing about spitting is that there are “No Spitting” signs in a number of places, like bus and train stations, and they are absolutely ignored. A national habit that many have broken, but many more cling to. Where does all that phlegm come from? The only time I need to spit is when I have a bad cold that’s gone to my chest.

      As for the train, at some point, we hope to travel first class and experience the grand Indian Railway that our friends Jim and Sheila have told us about.


  3. Lovely to see these photos and a reminder of our days on the backwaters. We are in Uyuni and are heading off to the Salinas of Bolivia tomorrow. We are worlds away from each other but send our love and hugs.
    Tourists only see the world while travellers experience it…..we are happy you are enjoying Incredible India.
    Sheila and Jim


    1. We are so enjoying reading about your travels – can you believe I have been envying the photos of you dressed in warm clothes! Everywhere you have travelled, you make us want to follow in your footsteps.

      Incredible India in every sense of the word – we thought we were prepared! By far, this is the most interesting and full-on travel we have done.


  4. I think I have inherited the Burr trait (Stephen Burr-specific?) that bad jokes improve the more you tell them. Amazing photos folks!


    1. It’s true – after his success with the small Indian boy, Dad started trying to fist pound me. At first, I was as annoyed as Elaine with Putty’s “High five”, and then it just made me laugh.

      Wear them down – I think that’s the Burr strategy.


  5. After a day of freezing rain, followed by snow, your last shot is looking extremely enticing right about now! I loved reading about your experience getting to know Sunaina’s family, albeit briefly. What a glorious memory you will carry with you.


  6. This part of the journey seems so peaceful, I’m just gliding along the river with you, and feeling nice and relaxed. Great to see you both looking so well, and creating relationships wherever you go and memories that will last forever. Your photos are always excellent, beautifully composed, even on the fly! I loved the video of the river and the bird calls, lovely. Hugs from us! Garry & Donna


  7. donlyn@telus.net

    On Mon, Feb 12, 2018 at 11:34 AM, Leaving Ourselves Behind wrote:

    > leavingourselvesbehind posted: “We would have missed Munroe Island, but > for the chance meeting of a fellow traveller and her heartfelt endorsement. > She had just come north from staying at a nearby ashram and raved on about > the beauty of the area. Canoe rides through narrow canals. Cyc” >


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