Kerala Chronicles -Part I. Floating Paradises- Vembanad-Kumarakom-Alleppey
I had woken up, perhaps in the midst of a dream. An infinite stretch of hyacinth dotted with petite pink flowers seemed to be gently floating towards the horizon. I got off the bed and nipped towards the huge french windows of my homestay, staring into the face of a surreal morning. My gaze followed the endless placid lake, as vast as the sea. The floating hyacinths were for real! I was on the fringes of Vembanad- the undoubted Goddess of Lakes!
Not far from the homestay, a small canal rested under the canopy of coconut trees. Fresh mussels hauled from the canal were being cleaned in small heaps and cooked in an oversized earthen pot with sea salt; ready to hit the market!
I sat over the edge of the fence sipping on strong filter coffee and relishing the steamy breakfast of home-made Appams* and Puttu* in the company of Mr and Mrs. Shahnawaz, the warm and hospitable owners of the cozy ‘Orchid Lakeview’ homestay. I watched the terns, gulls and egrets briskly fishing their morning meal. A group of fishermen sang a wary-cry as they gently rowed their canoes and casted their nets into the waters. Armies of cormorants flew in batches from the southern end of the lake and settled at its centre-supposedly a part of their daily gameplan.
A few abandoned Chinese fishing nets stood on the far side of the lake. While I admired the reflection of a canopy of trees on the still waters, a kingfisher broke the solemn of my surroundings with its metallic shrill. It nose-dived into the waters; perched on a nearby branch and gobbled a fish. The next moment, Vembanad returned to its state of lethargy.
- Puttu : cylindrical rice cakes steamed with coconut. Served with a hot curry prepared with pulses in a pepper and coconut gravy. Aapam : Fluffy pancakes made with a batter of rice powder and coconut milk. Served with almost anything!
- Ensure you stay on the banks of the lake. I strongly recommend Orchid Lake View. Keep no agenda and soak in the magical sunset of Vembanad!
The beauty of Kerala, lies undoubtedly, in its backwaters. While Alleppey reaps all the attention of its tourists, a traveler like me heads in search of a world that lies beyond the shallow layers of tourism. I chose to explore Kumarakom on a simple canoe at mere four hundred bucks! The morning was sultry and undisturbed with not a whiff of air. The channels looked picturesque with small wooden walk-bridges built to cross over and homes that sat under the shade of coconut trees on either sides. Men and women were engrossed in their routine of washing, cooking and bathing the kids. A Santa Clause galloped happily along the pavement of a canal yelling “Merry Christmas!” Yes, it was Christmas time indeed!
My canoe calmly floated on a vast bed of pink and white lotuses in full bloom. Kumarakom was brimming with Jacanas, moorehens, stilts, orioles, water hens, kingfishers, egrets, herons and other birds in abundance! As the canoe was rowed to the banks, I looked back and waved at the thousand pink lotuses that were smiling back at me.
- Kumarakom does not have too many stay options. Tharavadu Heritage is a safe bet. Kumarakom is best explored on a canoe. This way you can also help a local earn a day’s income.
- Best time to visit : Dec thru early Jan. Apt season to witness lotus blooms
- Respect birdlife. Adore from a distance. Do not feed junk.
The good old Alleppey
Leaving behind the chaos and fuss of the jetty, our Shikara set out to sail through the divine backwaters of Alleppey. The mild breeze gave way to some relief from the sultry weather and scorching sun. Sulking on the comfortable seats of the Shikara gave sudden feel of being in the middle of the Dal Lake in Kashmir. The lagoon was so vast, we felt as though we were sailing over an ocean! Hundreds of Shikaras and houseboats of various sizes were cruising in all directions, but we crossed a few of them only once in a while.
The Shikara was pulled to the banks for lunch at a local eatery. Its roof was thatched with dry coconut palms and it was buzzing with tourists. While they waited for their turn to be served, a tamed Brahminy kite kept everyone entertained by perching on their shoulders in turns. Simple but delicious lunch was served on banana leaf. The deep fried Karimeen (pearl spot fish) and Aila (Mackerel) smeared with generous amounts of hot local spices could easily put any five-star cuisine to shame! We continued on our journey into the backwaters with wobbling bellies; the cool wind tossed me in an out of my afternoon slumber.
Kites and fish eagles hovered in search of their prey while gulls and terns skimmed aimlessly. Egrets and herons perched on the labyrinth of hyacinths, tucking their heads beneath the surface sporadically in search of food. An undisturbed universe of ducks thrived on the swamps and fields, quacking their way to glory! The manner in which birdlife thrived fearlessly in the chaos of Alleppey only proves how the natives have treasured and nurtured the harmony of their ecosystem.
After what seemed to be an infinite journey over the placid lagoons, I was convinced as to why any visit to Kerala would be incomplete without soaking in the bliss of the good old Alleppey.
A glimpse of birdlife at Alleppey