Sunday, May 11, 2014

Of backwaters, houseboats and beaches

Day one, on board, Gloria -

A sofa, a dining table, a television, two compact rooms with toilets and a kitchen, name: Gloria. Yes, Gloria was where we enjoyed the serene calmness of the backwaters near Allapey. She glided smoothly on the backwaters, so smoothly that we felt we were part of a performance where the scenery around us changed, albeit only in different shades of beauty.

A lone middle aged woman rowing a small yacht, another houseboat speeding away, overtaking us, a family having lunch aboard, a window being opened to reveal a pale yawning face, a group of kids waving enthusiastically to us, these scenes made our hearts flutter. We talked, mostly random things, not a care in the world restraining our expression, not a thought polished before utterance.

We clicked pictures, of heartfelt smiles, of unstifled yawns, of shy kids, of bemused houseboat steerers, of tall swaying coconut trees, of their reflections in the calm waters, of the Sun illuminating and bringing to sudden focus, a chameleon, of white beautiful birds, lone and in groups and of gorgeous houseboats moored to trees.

Just when we thought we must be dreaming, it grew dark. When the Sun emerged again, peeping demurely from behind clouds, she brought along in her wake, a rainbow with gentle shades of VIBGYOR.

We anchored at ~quarter to 17.00 at a busy marketplace. Shops sold soft drinks, coconut water, trinkets and sundry other snacks. We alighted, sauntered along the peninsula boundary and watched the Sun begin her slow descent. The clouds gathered and the sky darkened but the rains never came. It nevertheless kept the heat in check and lent the breeze a gentle coolness.

At half past six, Gloria was moored for the day. The moon lay as a thin crescent and darkness engulfed us in no time. I searched for the stars but couldn’t penetrate the thick layer of clouds. A lizard fell down and appeared to gaze for a few seconds at the television screen.

We were seeing Farhan trying to charm Katrina in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. Sarayu, ever mysterious, settled farthest from the television screen. Vidhya and Shruti continued their romance. Bragadeesh aka Brags was lost in reverie and I was trying my best to find a comfortable position that could afford me a view of my friends and the movie at the same time.

Most of us were meeting each other for the first time that day but a sense of bonhomie prevailed bringing us closer.  As the night darkened and dinner was getting ready, like ants slowly and patiently making their way around things, working ceaselessly and diligently, we indulged in the tireless endeavor of knowing each other a little more. The art of open and honest conversation is under threat by constantly evolving sophisticated messaging applications and social media.  Perhaps the biggest victim of these applications is simple banter in a group with each person making eye contact and exhibiting a genuine interest in the lives of the others.

Day two, Kondai Lip -

In the morning, the Sun bathed the backwaters in a gentle light. An entirely new world was getting busy to face the day - families and workers rowing to nearby villages, houseboats unmoored, engines cranked up and occupants coming out to breakfast, birds chirping and young men diving into the waters for a quick dip.  We had a simple breakfast of Idlis and Sambar and before we realized, our short houseboat sojourn was over.

A smiling Sujith was waiting to take us to Kondai Lip, a backwaters resort.  Listening to Palash Sen croon Dhoom pichuk dhoom and the occasional Tamil gaana song, our spirits were high. Kondai Lip was like an apparition out of the blue. A lanky boatman took us across a narrow canal to the entrance of the resort in a country boat.

After browsing through the food menu and ordering for lunch, we came to our cottage. The rooms were spacious and cozy with appealing woodwork. The sit out area at the entrance to the rooms of our cottage faced a large pond, one boundary of which was lined with tall palm trees. At the other end of the pond, two small boats were tied to a tree with rope. The reddish brick color of the cottages and the sloping roof also played their part in the slowing of time. The quietness of the place, the greenery interspersing the cottages and lining the paths, in the afternoon heat, this scenery was an apt textbook picture to illustrate solitude.

Shruti hovered, in communion with her thoughts. Sarayu and Vidhya indulged in fishing. To a hook, a hotel staff taught us to attach small wheat balls. Brags and I pedal boated the perimeter of the pond clicking pictures of the cottages and the girls waiting for the elusive fishes to fall for the humble bait.

Lunch was dal, vegetable curry, tomato rice, curd rice and ice cream. We ate slowly relishing each morsel. At 15.30, the resort staff knocked at our doors. Along with the other guests in the resort, we hit the backwaters in a boat. Sitting under the boat’s roof in the waning afternoon heat, passing by slumbering hamlets, we couldn’t help but contrast this pace of life with the pointless madness of the city folk.

At ~16.30, we reached a beautiful stretch of the Arabian Sea coast, Mararikulam beach. Shruti let her feet be kissed by the waves, wore a broad smile, turned to wave to us, cried in delight at the sight of a bigger wave, gathered her skirt around her ankles and gave her being over to the present moment.

A view of the Sea never fails to calm my nerves. I felt lighter, closed my eyes for a few minutes. We walked along the shore. The waves played pranks by constantly deceiving us with their strength. Brags got a couple of really good shots of our footprints on the shore.

On our way back to the resort, the sky opened up and it poured heavily for a good 20 minutes. Fishermen raised their catches by bringing up the huge Chinese fishing nets. Small boats rowed faster. Some kids waved to us unmindful of the rain. Even as it rained outside, inside our boat, a cute little encounter was underway. Shruti played with a little girl and both of them talked animatedly much to the amusement of the girl’s family.

Back at Kondai lip, thanks to the rain, the green cover looked greener. We had banana fry and coffee. A quick bath and some time at the sit out later, we had a simple dinner of rotis and curry. Post dinner, we gathered in one room and even as CSK and KKR battled it out in the IPL, we talked. After the match, we came out to the sit out area and resumed until my eyelids started drooping.

Earlier in the evening, I decided to chuck my original plan and leave for Madurai only the next day. I learnt in the morning that Sarayu, Vidhya and Brags had slept only in the early morning.

Day three, Cherai beach -

We woke up to a beautiful morning in Kondai Lip. The resort's beauty was multiplied manifold in the light of the early morning Sun. After clicking some good pictures, we left the resort with a heavy heart. 

It was a long journey to Cherai beach. We passed by a few towns before going through the city of Cochin. Despite it being a Saturday, the roads were busy.

It was close to 13.00 when we reached the blue waters hotel opposite Cherai beach. Since lunch was only at 13.30, we utilized the time to explore the rear side of the hotel. A small swimming pool and a large lawn area formed the boundary beyond which stretched a large water body. Post a sumptuous buffet lunch, Brags, Sarayu and Vidhya headed for a massage while Shruti and I talked. Conversation was easy.

The Cherai beach was a little crowded. We were happy to catch a beautiful sunset. What was a large hazy light in quick time became a reddish orange ball that steadily climbed down and moved farther until it was no longer seen.
 It was time for me to bid goodbye to the group. If not for the engagement of my friends the next say in Madurai, I would have gladly stayed back in Cherai. The goodbye moment was not easy especially because, in a span of 3 days, we were no longer strangers! As I settled comfortably in the bus that took me to Thrissur, I was pretty sure that I had made a few friends for life and I was carrying loads of good memories.

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