It was difficult to leave the radiant souls and surroundings of Panchgani so soon, but it was time for the next stage of the journey. Kerala or bust!
Spent most of the day traveling, by bus-rickshaw-plane-plane-bus-bus-rickshaw… so it was wonderful to finally reach the end of the journey around 11 at night. I’d asked the driver of the final rickshaw to take me from the Alleppey bus station to my hotel… so I was surprised to see it stop by a small boat at a river! It turns out there are several areas of Alleppey that aren’t accessible by road, only by water; and my hotel was one of them! So we got into the boat, revved the motor, and set out across the water. I can imagine no more perfect close to a day than that quiet boat ride in the heavy warm air under a misty half moon.
Kerala’s slogan is “God’s Own Country”, and though that’s a tall order and I was only here ~60 hours, I did see many points of beauty! Not only does it have admirable literary rates & development indicators, but its landscape is lush, warm and bursting with life. That sort of vibrancy that’s so conducive to growth that life just can’t contain itself, and will spill out of every little corner. My hotel sat right along one of the numerous rivers criss-crossing the countryside, and I spent my first morning there just sitting on the banks drinking in the rejuvenating calmness of the water drifting by, colorful birds singing and butterflies landing in my journal.
Later, I took a short boat ride to see one of the churches in town. On the way, I got to see the “backwaters” I’d heard so much about. They’re basically a network of rivers/streams of various sizes that serve as the highways, roads and even back alleys for the homes that lie alongside them. Except unlike normal roads, these weren’t sliced through nature, but rather a part of it.
Most homes had a boat of some size, and some even had a covered storage area (the garage!) 🙂 Lush plants grew abundantly in and around the water. As we got closer to town, we saw “taxi” boats that shuttled several people around.
The church was stately and also had a distinct southern Indian feel—maybe it was the rich mahogany wood covering the walls. (Speaking of which, the word mahogany comes from Kerala’s language Malayalam!)
We passed quite a few characters along the way—for example, an elderly man with a prominent mustache that twirled expansively around his face. He was dressed in the traditional white robe and was carrying a Spongebob purse 🙂 I didn’t take a picture of him, but I did see this interesting sight outside a bank!
I noticed there was a mixture of temples, churches and mosques… and according to the rickshaw driver, who had a Quranic surah in Arabic hanging from his rearview mirror, they were able to co-exist relatively peacefully. Sometimes in the same rickshaw, I’d see sticker icons of Ganesha and Jesus side by side. Interestingly, there were also banners and flyers displaying the hammer & crescent symbol of the Communist party. I don’t know enough about the area to know if it’s popular here, whether their presence has anything to do with the higher standard of living… or why its banner was hanging right outside a prominent Hindu temple!
That night, New Year’s Eve, I watched a hilarious Bollywood movie (called “Oh my God”, with Akhshay Kumar as Krishna!) Though I must have gotten asked 20 times, “You came alone?”, “You are not lonely?”, I’ve had so much fun and feel so lucky to have had this the experience!
Here’s one of the dishes I had frequently- curried fish wrapped in banana leaf!
Next day I headed into town. First went to Alleppey Beach, which had delicately warm water, soft toe-wiggle-able sand, and a few little stands selling food. Had a glass of frothy fresh pomegranate juice for a dollar—and best part was, I didn’t get sick! (I’d decided it would be worth it either way though. You just ain’t gonna get stuff like this in Boston in January!)
Then headed into town for some sari shopping. (Side note- when the rickshaw driver was telling me about his kids, he explained that he had “one daughter and two gents” 🙂 ) I knew that in the shopping experience, dozens of saris would be flung out at me, which they were, but I’d forgotten that the sales clerks will walk around with you the whole time! The store had four floors and hundreds of saris, and each time I tried to sidle away, they would cheerfully but insistently follow me around. I tried going to another floor, but then they simply handed me off to another clerk! 🙂 Finally though, I emerged with 2 lovely saris, one turquoise & purple (of course) and the other in the traditional Kerala style of cream, red and gold. Went round the corner to have the blouses fitted (or “stitched” as they say). The little shop was filled with 3 or 4 women at metal sewing machines humming away amidst piles of fabric. And you can pick it all up the next morning!
Some more scenes from around town:
A short but sweet stay in this amazing city!