Friday, November 25, 2005

Walking with the Gods

You got to hand it to 'em, "God's Own Country", has rather a romantic ring to it, no? Having grown up with a gaggle of Malayali friends in Itanagar, Kerala, where these guys disappeared into at least once every couple of years, was always a place that was intriguing. This guys always brought back with them stories of Onam, snake-boats, coconut tree and banana chips. Well, to cut this nostalgic trip short, I have always wanted to visit Kerala.

Opportunity presented itself in form of a missus-on-warpath, who hadn't been taken on a vacation for years. Between the missus's persistent demand of Paris and my limited imagination that ventured no further then Nandi Hills, Kerala was a God-sent brain-wave.

Getting There

The weekend before Diwali saw us on Kanyakumari express. I can't sleep when people snore and people invariable make it a point to do so when they are on the same compartment as me on a train. Regardless of whether it is Karma or a CIA conspiracy, I was still up in the wee hours of the morning as Airtel-Kerala SMSed an welcome.

The Ernaculum station followed suit a short while later and we disembarked to the sights and sounds of Kerala.

Hammock Travels, who always overcharge, had advised a Taxi from Enakulum to Alleppy, a idea so dumb that it took winds out of the your garden variety bad ideas, we jettisoned it promptly on reaching there. Experience has taught me not to take long rides on beat-up taxis, on bad roads especially on a hot day.

The missus having heard an announcement of a local train to our destination had me scoot for tickets and soon we were chugging along again under what was turning out to be a rather a humid day along with being a hot one. The greenery around us, though, was remarkable. And as the train moved along, the small stations at each of which it religiously took a breather were so like the small stations of rural Bengal. I got nostalgic all over again.

Flash-back: 1980s, Still in Itanagar and No TV. A Phillps radio was the family pride and source of all things wondrous. Much abused by bro and me when Dad's back was turned. It also contained the list of stations that the contraption was supposed to tune into. Alleppy was mentioned. The name and the radio resurfaced in memory as the trained ambled through an amazing landscape. Flash back has no purpose, I just though about it then and thought it was cool, though now I can't imagine why. Strange are the workings of brain that has survived a night of snores.

Finally the train would go no further and we had arrived at Alleppy.

At Alleppy

Alleppy, which the locals call Allapuzah, could be Lakhimpur or Dhakiajuli or even the sub-urbs of Silchar, replace the script in the road signs by Bengla/Assamese script you wouldn't know that this was a place a sub-continent away from rural Assam or Bengal. The one addition were the water canals that were all over the town and have a uncanny habit of being with you whichever road you are in. A typical small town and I fell in love immediately. Laid back, slow and totally Indian.

Kayaloram resort, where a series of Ayurvedic adventures were waiting for me is a nice place. In the banks of a Back water lake it is quite well maintained. But first an afternoon of sleep was in order...

Evening, a launch ride. Ambitiously called the Sunset Cruise. Quite nice. Food and more Sleep.

Morning the next day, an unrepentant Management says, our planned house boat had unplanned problems and won't we rather get started with the Ayurveda anyway?

Here is a word of advice, if you are not of strong body and spirit, don't leave yourself to the mercies of a Kerala masseur. I am quite strong and spirit has never been in short supply , but the massage was something that I am not going to forget in quite a while.

I would highly recommend the Siro-Dhara therapy though. About two liters of scented hot oil is poured on your head from an earthen vessel that is hanging on a rope and has a small hole through which the oil seeps out and falls on your head. It is a very relaxing experience.

The food in Kerala is good. The Appams, idiappams with Kerala Fish curry is just divine to the palate. And if you are adventurous enough to wash this down with some freshly tapped Coconut sap you could well imagine that this must be the lives that Gods lead.

Afternoon was for lazing about a little. There were a couple of Hammocks strung on coconut trees and made for a nice place to catch a snooze. Evening and more good food.

The House Boat

We had planned to stay one day on a house boat. The boat the came to pick us up on the Resort deck was a piece of history as we were to learn later. Anyway we embarked on our journey. We were the only passengers on our boat that came equipped with its own kitchen, cook, boatman and handyman.

The boat lazily took us across the canals of Alleppy and after an hour or so of ride stopped for all to have lunch which was very tastefully prepared. After lunch we started again. Our boat had a nice veranda where you could go out and see the wonderful scenery pass-by. The boat man spoke no tongue that we understood so we would communicate with wild gestures.

It is actually for this part that people usually take the House boat. Going through the canals within Alleppy is an unforgettable experience. However we slept through most of it so there is little to forget anyway.

When we got up the boat was almost ready to drop anchor for the night. It stopped on a deserted place and the dim lights of the boats came on followed by tea and cookies.

As the dusk descended the whole place started acquiring a dream-like look. The environ around us started getting dark around us rapidly, even the water on which the boat was swaying mildly became deliciously black. The ubiquitous coconut trees on the banks appeared silhouetted against a sky that was only a shade lighter. From our vintage at the Veranda we could see other boats anchored at some distance with their dim lights on. It was so surreal that I couldn't resist making it even more so. I sang old sad songs of Hemant, Rafi and Kishore Kumar. The mosquitos, I am certain, enjoyed the company.

Dinner was as well cooked as the lunch had been. While serving us the dinner, the cook told us that this was probably the oldest boat on the backwaters and this was the last journey before it went for renovation. The old lady had been riding these waters for more then a decade now. It was so strange, the boat had probably made its maiden ride when we (the missus and I) left our college and its last ride was with us as passengers. Gave you a feeling that all this years it was waiting for us in a Karmic kind of way. :)

The next morning we went back to the resort and bid our boat people good bye. They had been excellent hosts.

The Last Day

The last day was blissfully uneventful. The missus took the treatments that she had been taking and I just lazed around more. It was the Day of Diwali. There were a few industrious people at the resort, who in the evening arranged for a small puja and pedas were distributed. We all sang "Jai Jagadisha Hare".

It atmosphere there had really relaxed us and after a long time the missus and I really talked. And talk we did, well into the deep night. For me this was the highest point in a truly wonderful break.

Bidding Goodbye

The next morning we started back. Relaxed, Renewed and Rediscovered......