There’s always a gush of excitement when people living in the city’s concrete jungle are told they are visiting the southern coastal state of India, Kerala. It is God’s own Country after all. And this intuitively crafted description immediately brings to mind, lush landscapes, inviting home stays, delightful hospitality and mouth-watering delicacies. Start a whisper that it’s really a short get-together on work in the tranquil backwaters and suddenly fresh ideas come alive. Almost like a jasmine flower seller has just passed by creating a fragrance rush. And why not! Alleppey (Allapuzha) is an intoxicating experience visually, but even more so if you’ve had a glug of the locally produced spirit, toddy (palm wine)
GETTING TO THE BACKWATERS OF ALLEPPEY
Fly into Cochin city, home to the oldest synagogue and a bustling spice market. From there it’s about 80 kms by car into Alleppey town. Depending on where you are staying (preferably in a place overlooking the backwaters) a boat will come to pick you up at the ferry stand. But ensure you reconfirm that service when you book. You can hire a car at the airport itself or then book it online from the many car rentals. An in-depth on what you can do there, including stay options can be accessed through the Kerala Tourism https://www.keralatourism.org/ website.
Alleppey has a lot if you are a visual person. Houseboats, the waterways, rice fields, some of the oldest temples & churches, the Kerala culture and great food, even for vegetarians. Trust me you will love it, if all you want is a connection with your inner self.
ALLEPPEY, THE VENICE OF THE EAST
‘Only 3 days’, I blurted in utter disappointment but any chance to get close to the mind-numbing-heart-fluttering lakes was welcome. Since I was there on work hence had less leisure time, I only did a cruise in the evening hours and got a chance to visit a 500-year-old temple in Alleppey town. Ofcourse the most delectable part of the trip was the feast at lunch on the morning I landed. Lucky me, I was there on the last day of the Onam festival. A harvest fest celebrating the symbolic home-coming of the noble King Mahabali, who was believed to be an ideal ruler in ancient times.Which for me meant gorging on the yummy vegetarian meal called Sadya, served on a plantain leaf. But for now I am only going to share my amazing experience with the waters.
Let me start with the analogy drawn to express the beauty of Alleppey. You must be wondering how it got that vivid description despite being miles away from Italy. This goes back in time to the first decade of the 20th Century. The then Viceroy of India (British era), Lord Curzon was so taken by its serenity and beauty that he is said to have exclaimed, “Here nature has spent up on the land her richest bounties. Alleppey, the Venice of the East”.
So here’s my early morning (7.15 AM) capture of stillness. Don’t miss the symmetry & the feeling of a twin life in the waters.
This was my 3rd visit to the land and honestly it’s very different from Venice but I can see where that story came from. The name Allapuzha (Alleppey) means a land located between the sea and the network of rivers flowing into it. The canals, long winding, with many little water pathways between homes, seemed to be the only way to move about in times of yore. Today there are few beautiful home stays along the waters. I saw some on the boat ride and made a promise to myself that I would make that my chill out place the next time.
(People who follow the teachings of Shree Narayana Guru, one of Kerala’s foremost social reformers who believed in social equality, can be seen decorating their homes with yellow flags. Yellow was the color of the fabric worn by Buddha who also believed in a singular divine for all, much like this saint)
LAKES & LAGOONS MAKE YOU LIVE WITH NATURE
If you want a crash course on how to be a friend of the environment then live here among the locals. I’ve always noticed that wherever nature has paved the path, people show deference to the elements. It’s so true. My mountain trip to Kalpa in North India (just 100 km from Tibet) a couple of years back, taught me my biggest lesson in humility.
Alleppey is lush with greenery, birds & marine life simply because of the many lakes & canals, man made and natural that envelop it. From a few chats I had with the residents and boatmen, I figured that while the houseboats (kettu vallams) give you an authentic and languid experience of the backwaters, many tourists who make it a holiday home often disrespect the waters. Making it difficult to swim in it.
But the private canals adjoining a few homes would be a dream to go into. Of course I’ve only been able to see them from a distance, as the boats I’ve traveled in were big and impossible to navigate into the narrow alleys. Scribbled it though into my notes for my next trip.
(You can see a snake boat at rest here. It looks mighty peaceful, but when the Chundan Vallam (beaked boats) are at the start of the race you cannot fathom the speed at which they can travel. The Nehru Boat Race is where you will get to see them in action. Most of them vary from 100 to 138 feet in length)
(The backwaters is home to several migratory birds. It’s a great idea to get a good lens along if you want to sight & shoot kingfishers, cormorants, egrets, white herons, drongos & darters)
I can’t close this post without a mention of the drink people lovingly call kallu. While you are lounging out pick up courage to glug their most potent drink, toddy. It is white & sweet with a strong smell that is usually associated with fermented appam dough (local preparation with rice & coconut milk). I promise you, the afternoon will be utterly stimulating.
I know there are many more tales from Alleppey. This was just a glimpse of the waterways and I do have more to share in later posts. If you’ve been there would love to hear your story.
(Sunset like sunrise, is delightfully reddish-yellow-orange when you are in the backwaters. With clear, oxygen abundant air, endless rice fields and waters that kiss the sky, Alleppey is just the beginning of your journey into God’s own country)