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As the huge flock of ducks wade through the vast waters in rhythm, tails wagging, a blue-green kingfisher waits for tiny fishes on the palm frond of a coconut tree. Her eyes prod the water depths and she concentrates hard. On the narrow squishy bund, hemmed by coconut trees, a boy rides his cycle. A man squats to fish with his rod. Through the narrow inland canal, a lady rows her little boat with ease, as through riding on the road.
The lake pulses through, touching the lives of all its bounty. To the outsider, the lake and the life around it, is fascinating, novel treasure trove. But to the people who call it a way of life, the waterways and boats make a lifeline.
As I sit back sipping fresh coconut water on the deck of my houseboat on the lake of Vembanad, the largest lake in Kerala, I am swept into a spellbound frenzy of utter calmness. Truly therapeutic.
Alappuzha or Alappey is called the Venice of the east for no small reason. An integral part of Kerala tourism brochures and Kerala’s brand name, Alappey also stands apart in conservation and development of environment, simultaneously. These cluster of islands, separated by cutting lakes, boasts of excellent sun-kissed beaches and aquamarine lagoons in its kitty. This waterway district of Kerala is connected via roadways to Cochin (a port city in Kerala) and by trains (Chennai – Alappey; regular) and air (Cochin International Airport).
The houseboats are a prime attraction of Alappey; a journey that truly stands for its name. These feature without fail, with the description of Kerala. The house boat is a large wooden boat (or Kettuvallom) that homes rooms and beds with necessities for tourists to detox from the city for two days. The steamers of the boat, catch fresh fish from the lake and cook it in spicy gravy. Small boats ply across gigantic houseboats, a scene so must-see! They wade through the lake, from noon to the next day, as those who hired it, sit back, stretch on the veranda seats and awe into the freshest of air and calmest of moments.
Stepping out of the Alappey train station, a 2 km walk towards the road on its immediate left, takes one to the Alappey main beach. This beach, in the wee hours of morning, was just being touched by sunrays as the sand shone gold. There are shade halls to sit, European restaurants on the road sides that are prepping up for the day and few camels chewing cud, offering a ride or two, to tourists through the beach. From the previous night of cold air, the sand gives small chills. The waves lend its core warmth as I dip my feet into the sea. A bunch of youngsters play volleyball on the beach and a few snack shops on the pavement, swell with the aroma of fresh tea being made. Life was just waking up here. An old dilapidated bridge looks into the sea in one corner
Hiring an auto for 30 INR, I move to an area called The Finishing Point, a harbour where the trawlers and houseboats dock. My pre-booked houseboat (single occupancy for a day) was waiting for me, as I climb in, to be welcomed by drinks and cake. As the two caretakers of the boat steers the large beauty into the waters, as the life outside slowly unwinds. I am served piping hot breakfast of Idli, Sambar, vada, tea and fruits. Calmly savouring all that’s on my plate, I do not need to think much here, I just need to relax. It was raining when I decided to take this journey, and I am glad I did. Only because nature lends its best when the rain touches the soil; Alappey is class apart during rains as well.
Outside the bund, hemming the lagoons, on the side with no water, paddy fields pranced with the wind, scarecrows looking at the tourists with grumpy eyes. Flocks of ducks peck at earthworms. Huge cows graze. At certain ends, group of people wait on a raised deck for passenger boats. Fishermen wait patiently on small boats with the rods and peg. Crows swoop in to snatch some. Shops selling cool drinks and fishes open up on the land. A small farm selling fresh water shrimp, has a houseboat parked in front of it. Some men bargain on the price, and my boatmen steered the boat to that end. It was lunch time and then I realized, time never mattered on this boat deck, it just had to go!
After the heavy lunch of fresh fish and rice, the boatman inquires whether I’d like a vallom ride for 250 INR, through one of the canals on the lake. I was curious as an old boatman appeared in front of me, with his dripping oar and a small boat, swaying on the waves, behind him. This has to be exciting and without thinking much, I jumped at the offer. I slowly balanced myself into the little vallom, as the old boatman, hands me another oar as I was supposed to row as well! I settle myself on the vallom, as the little boat moves cutting through the water, into the canals, surrounding which there were settlements and houses.
Because of the rains, all houses were flooded and that was sad to see. It was also surprising that the flooding hardly mattered to the folks inside, they just moved on with their lives! Some folks were fishing, while others washed their clothes. The narrow canal could hardly take in two small boats.
Two school children rowed past us quickly and it was evident they rowed every day. A toddy tapper climbing on a coconut tree on the bund, inquires loudly if I’d like some fresh toddy.
Thanking him, I rowed on. The old boatman was stronger despite his age as I fumbled with my rowing. After a 2 km of rowing the boat, I was tired like never!
As I reach back my houseboat, I am exhausted off all my energy, I needed some snack! The caretakers had prepared some banana fritters and tea by that time that it was licked clean, off my plate in a jiffy! A huge hawk with button eyes and white neck, perches on the tip of the boat deck, paying a visit, but before I could click a photo of it, it flies away, into the patchy blue sky. As I look on, a number of houseboats ply through the water, and they look so mesmerizing from the far.
Cosy houseboats that have huge houseboats were my service providers for this journey. Their houseboats are big, clean and well maintained as I noticed. The prices for the houseboat services (inclusive of food as per requirement and facilities; excluding the tip) can be availed on their website. This company’s services particularly felt apt for budget travelers. My entire journey from my home and back came in less than 5000 INR and that by no means is a joke. Customization of the trip is also possible and they provide such friendly caretakers that it’s such a warm and serene experience.
It is always advised to visit Alappey and have a houseboat journey during rains, because the beauty that your eyes see around you during rains, cannot be measured by any means. I thoroughly enjoyed my food, stay and overall experience. The only qualm I did have was my lack of intuitiveness to carry an umbrella! As simple as that. Wait to visit Alappey and be spellbound; that’s no hearsay, and that’s a promise!