Drifting leisurely on the backwaters of Kerala

Houseboats in Alappuzha. Photo: Vanitha

Standing at Aaryad boat jetty in Alappuzha, one gets a chance to compare the hustle and bustle of the city with the placid waters of the Vembanad backwaters where life takes an easy, relaxed pace. Away from the mad rush that the city has to offer, one's senses takes a breather looking at the small waves dancing to the tunes of the wind. The water birds and the hyacinths are not in a hurry; neither are the people who manage the houseboats and the booming tourism sector here. Everything is relaxed and calm. At the boat jetty, there were a number of houseboats-all spruced up like old Kerala mansions. The facilities being offered in 'Elitair,' our houseboat, could compete with modern hotels. Its spacious living room, attached bedrooms, kitchen and air-conditioned facilities all added to the magnificence of the boat. The moment the boat entered the broad stretches of the backwaters, the mind settled down to a calm pace. The boat takes its time to amble through the waters and one can see many other boats close by. Even though the houseboats look the same, at close inspection one can see that they are all different, with different comfort levels inside. One can say that the path through which the boats travel are the highway for boats in Kerala. The waterway extends from Kochi to Kollam and has markers to guide travellers at night. Looking at the waters, one wonders how boat drivers are able to keep their bearings in this expanse of water with islands, canals and other structures adding their bit to confuse them. Foreigners are the ones who enjoy the waters the most according to tour operators. They imbibe the beauty of the trip to the fullest. There have been instances where foreign tourists have spent close to one month inside the boats, savouring the experiences. There are also tourists from North India who are not interested in the scenery but choose to revel. Looking out through the window, one gets to see rural life at its best. The boats travel through the middle of small islands where villagers are involved in their daily activities oblivious to tourists. There are people who are involved in their morning chores, mothers who are teaching their children to swim, people involved in their daily professions and so on. There are even women fishing for lunch. These sights are not easy to come by in the city where life is a mad rush. Crossing the broad waters, the boat turns into Punnamada where the famous Nehru Trophy boat races are held. Now, during off season, it is the resting place for hundreds of house boats. As the boat turns into narrow waters, one comes closer to life along the banks. People zipping across the waters in their small boats, children swimming in the waters, people taking their daily bath and so on add to the activities that one vicariously enjoys as the boat skims through the waters. If you are the kind who enjoys stepping out of the boat to take in the sights and sounds of the villages, there are a few places such as the statue of Budha at Ambalapuzha, the Chambakkulam Church and other places where you can alight and spend some time. At noon, the kitchen in the houseboat came alive. The feast of tastes brings out the goodness of ethnic cooking. Fish fried in banana leaf, duck curry, prawns fried and so on make the journey a celebration. After noon, the boat travelled through Kuttanad, where one gets to see nature that is more involved with the daily lives of the people. As the boat slipped into the evening, lights came on. Rules require boats to come to the shore in the evening. As the night thickened, the lake went into a deep slumber, its stupor disturbed occasionally by the hoots of fishermen. The starlit sky and the cool breeze added to the ambience already set by the reflection of the moon on the placid waters. As one slipped into sleep, perhaps the mind wanted to keep awake, looking out for more sights on the romantic lake. In the morning, just as the sun was about to rise, a coffee from the kitchen added to the happiness of sitting lazily over the lake that was just waking up to another day. As we ended the trip after a brief detour and stepped into the hustle and bustle of routine life, we had with us the treasured memories of a day and a night when we allowed life to take its own course, on the lap of a lazy lake and its careless ways.

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