It is impossible to understand Kerala but if you want to understand a small bit of it in a short time, do what I say. Drive down from Kochi to Cherthala and then take a diversion westwards to Kumarakom and return back to Alappuzha. Those 82 unpretending kilometres will take you through a very representative sample of Goad’s Own Country.
Vivekananda called Kerala a ‘Madhouse’. I wish I were a Malayali and I would have sued him or his estate. If you look at how people behave here, you will note that they are the most rational people you can find.
Everywhere in India people with their bikes and cars would go as close as possible to the railway crossing, standing in the hot sun for the train to pass. Not here. These vehicles you see here are in the shadows of trees about 50 meters from the railway gate. If you know any more sensible people in this country, please let me know. I bet my life if anyone is so patient in Vivekananda’s home territory.
Kochi to Cherthala in the morning on the narrow coastal roads is a drive to remember. School buses and students are everywhere.
A channel of water runs parallel to the road and is navigable. Most of the bridge crossings are very low but the boatmen know how to do the crossing.
As you enter Cherthala, you will see a unique model of a Lighthouse. It is first one so far along India’s coast we have seen which is built on stilts.
Cherthala beach is quite good but better still is the creek where people are dredging for sand.
On the way we can see the Malayali ingenuity at work everywhere. For example this fish vendor has nets around his shop to prevent his fresh fish jumping back into the see.
In fact it is to prevent theft of fish by crows.
Somehow during the drive we lost the Cherthala Cathedral and remembered it much later. By that time it was too late to come back. It is not on the main road.
We had booked a hotel room at Kottayam on a website. We drove all the way to Kottayam and beyond and could never trace it. We return back and find accommodation at KTDC Kumarkom within the Kumarkom Bird Sanctuary.
The stay at the resort start with lunch with Karimeen which we had missed earlier in northern Kerala.
Karimmen Pollichathu and Fish Moilee with Boiled Rice should be followed by a nice nap after the long drive from Kochi.
Come morning and it is birding time. Long walk through a dense vegetation by the side of the lake to find practically nothing. The day was saved by a Paradise Flycatcher, a Barbet at nest and a Racket-Tailed Drongo.
The lower one is my own bad photograph, not a painting. Please note that the feathers are up to the lower left corner.It is an amazing bird.
After the long walk till lunchtime, we deserve a good lunch which we decide to have it at a roadside local restaurant serving the local cuisine. It is a ‘Toddy Shop’
Toddy, a sap from the Coconut ( and other palms) can be drunk before it is converted into an alcoholic drink. This is not to say that I have an aversion to alcoholic drinks.
What is served by way of food (our choice) is more amazing. Fresh Crab Curry, Fried Shell-fish (about this delicacy a little later) and the Dosa ( appam). In my considered opinion, one cannot have anything better than this to eat.
What do you do after such a meal? You are right, sleep.
Get up and go for a boat ride in the lake. Kumarkom is perhaps the place from where the Great Kerala Backwaters Romance starts although it is possible to travel from Aleppey to Cochin up north by a Water-Bus.
And of course there are the Birds in the lake.
The large picture is of Snakebird or Anhinga , the upper right is the While-Breasted Kingfisher and the lower one is the Little Cormorant.
Now it is the time to leave Kumarkom but before we do so, there is a small advertisement around which we would like to respond to. It is about the fossilized (putrified) Driftwood.
Mrs Raji Punnoose was a Post-Graduate teacher in English on the Andaman Islands when her husband was working for the Ports Authorities. She collected a large number of specimen of Putrified Driftwood from the Andaman Sea.
These specimen are now displayed at the Bay Island Driftwood Museum at Kumarkom.
The museum has its own building and deserves a visit.
I am not conversant with this subject and would not like say anything beyond saying that the story and exhibits and the sound that they make are impressive.
We reach Alleppey or Allapuzha late in the afternoon and catch up with the Lighthouse. There are two pictures below. The first one is the actual Lighthouse and the second is as it appears on a Postage Stamp issued by the Government of India. Never trust a Government.
The Lighthouse has a small Museum attached and the entrance fee includes the entrance to the museum. One should have a look at it especially if one is interested in understanding the Lights of a lighthouse. It displays the various types of the lights.
Get back to the town and go to the Backwaters.
It is brilliant.The way the backwaters have been used for practically every aspect of the life of this region. More to come on this.
The waterways have been used as roadways for the centuries. They have everything that a road has including the petrol bunk.
The operators dont have to carry the diesel in cans.
One of the things you should not miss when you are in Alleppey is the Coir Museum.
You enter the Museum and get a shock when you are told that the first coir factory in India was started with Europeans in 1859. I always thought that it is a ‘traditional’ industry going back many centuries. They were assisted by two Bengali Technicians who had expertise in the Jute industry. That establishes the connection. This is the second such shock to me after the discovery that the Mangalore tiles were invented by a Swedish missionary.
The Museum is exhaustive in the sense that it displays the history and the processing involved in the industry.
It has a workshop and Training Centre for the Industry and it displays a very large number of items that can be manufactured using coir.
Kerala has unending festivals.One enjoys the sights even without understanding what is going on.
The people here are master inventors.
What do you do when the falling fruits of your coconut palm damage your roof tiles?
What do you do when your neighbours steal the falling coconuts?
This is what you do!!.
Text by Suryakiran Naik
Pictures by Suryakiran Naik & Veena Naik