Travelling the Kerala backwaters is another outlook on India
THE throb of a small outboard motor broke the morning still.
It was the first intrusion on the absolute silence we had enjoyed since we'd gone to bed the previous night and I opened my eyes to find the first morning light sneaking through the curtains.
It took a few seconds to register the fact I wasn't home in Mooloolaba but half a world away in rural India.
I looked out the window in time to see the source of the noise - a traditional fishing longboat steered by a young Indian man - disappear past the row of Chinese fishing nets lining the opposite bank.
Another day had begun on the backwaters of Kerala, on India's south-west coast.
The peaceful mooring the crew of our houseboat had chosen for an overnight stop was now on the edge of a bustling water highway
The young man in his fishing boat was the first of dozens who cruised past as we enjoyed breakfast in the luxury of our wood-paneled dining room.
While some enjoyed the luxury of an outboard motor, many rowed their small craft or pushed them along with long bamboo poles.
A ferryman delivered his half-dozen passengers to the riverbank just a few metres from our boat.
They had clearly come from the opposite bank but in the absence of any signs of civilisation, it was impossible to tell where.
They disembarked and disappeared into the jungle - their destination just as mysterious.
For three days, life on the Kerala backwaters carried on around us as our crew - a skipper, first mate and chef - showed us a part of India far removed from the overcrowded streets of Mumbai and the country's other major cities.
On the backwaters, life goes on at a much slower pace.
Catching a fish dinner, ploughing a field or digging foundations for a new home require total focus by the locals.
We were a long way from home in so many ways.
Simply to get to our boat required a flight to Kuala Lumpur, another connecting flight to Cochin and a two-hour taxi ride through the seemingly lawless traffic and teeming crowds normally associated with the country.
It's crowded, chaotic and a little intimidating but it seems to work - probably because everyone plays by the same rules.
Those rules remain a complete mystery to most westerners.
The mayhem disappeared once we boarded our boat - a converted rice barge with all the mod-cons including a bedroom suite, full bathroom, open plan dining/ living area and rooftop deck.
More than a thousand of these vessels ply the Kerala backwaters but the network of rivers and canals is so vast - literally thousands of kilometres - we only occasionally passed another boat.
We spent our days reclining in our living area, alternating between watching the world go by, chatting with our crew, reading, dozing and eating.
We passed small villages where locals went about their daily lives, oblivious to our intrusion.
Women washed clothes and cooking utensils on the riverbank, men took their baths and children frolicked, waving wildly at us with broad, cheeky smiles.
Then we would leave signs of civilization behind, passing nothing more than the occasional isolated cement block shanty - some apparently still inhabited and others long abandoned and in the process of being reclaimed by the surrounding jungle.
Our crew kept up a running commentary, although much of it was lost in translation despite their English being significantly better than my Indian.
What didn't need translating was the menu - three meals a day served at our dining room table.
We continued watching the world go by as we tucked into a seemingly endless selection of curries, chillies, rice dishes and other delicacies from the Kerala region.
Getting to the Kerala backwaters is a battle but once you get there, it feels like time is standing still.
You can arrange to stop at any number of historic churches, village markets or other landmarks or stay aboard your floating home and watch Indian life pass by.
Either way, you won't be disappointed.
* The writer travelled at his own expense.