Amongst a lifetime of exhilarating moments, sitting in a houseboat on the Kerala backwaters at midnight with the monsoon thundering down out and around us, its cool air enveloping us, has got to be one of the most exhilarating moments of my life.
I thought of my grandfather – “Appachen”. I thought of how he saved my life as an infant. I thought of him (and my grandmother – “Ammachi”) raising my mother. I thought of them saying goodbye to her, when she first left for school, and then when she left India for good. Saying goodbye to Appachen this morning was difficult. It always is, partly cos it hass been a very finite and small number of times we have actually met though that number is not a reflection of the love shared between us, and partly because I just did not know when I would see him again, if ever. That finality is a tough thing to contemplate when saying goodbye, but goodbye we said with a big bear hug. And though he is a little man, he gives massive bear hugs.
After hugging my uncle goodbye, my mother, buddy and I left for Kumarakom (only to find when we reached there that we were to be in Allepey – the “Venice of the East” – an hour the other direction). And from Allepey, we boarded a small jetty to take us to our houseboat. Luck would have it that we had the entire boat to ourselves – three spacious and air-conditioned rooms, one for each of us. Accompanying us was the captain of the boat, a chef, a steward and a ‘gopher’. Long and sturdy, built of solid wood on two levels, we were inside the lap of luxury. And we knew today would be a good day.
We were soon served with lunch – rice with pappadam, cabbage, sambar, beet pachidi, and kerimeen aka Pearl fish fried. It was amazing. And then we were off.
We spent the rest of the afternoon on the top deck of the boat, happily enjoying the scenes unfolding around us during our trip. For the next four hours, we lazily traversed the Kerala backwaters. The Kerala backwaters is a network of canals, rivers, and lakes forming more than 550 miles of waterways that run parallel to the Arabian Sea (i.e. Malabar Coast). Besides just being beautiful, there are many interesting aspects to it – the unique ecosystem a result of the freshwater of the rivers meeting the seawater of the Arabian Sea. Keeping the waters separate helps a thriving community of crabs, frogs, water birds (terns, kingfishers, etc.) and otters, turtles, etc. that all accompany the lush vegetation.
On either side laid the small town life of my home state – kids coming back from school being picked up by bus-boats, women stone-washing clothes, small shops selling their wares, and Ayurvedic centers (where we would later procure an Ayurvedic massage) helping people feel better. We were adorned by coconut trees, banana trees, rice paddies, and many other scenes of green. The skies were replete with wondrous clouds, many with loud personalities. As the waters opened up to our presence, we talked, we listened to music, we took pictures, and Derek & I enjoyed a beer.
After our massage (once we had docked), we had dinner with rice, chappati, chicken curry, okra, green beans and dal. Again- amazing.
We reposed on the bottom deck after dinner talking about our Indian adventures to date, my mother soon calling it a night (not before she gave me all the reasons – all of which I already knew by heart – that I should get married). Enjoying the breezy quiet night air (for once without the company of mosquitos), the precursor to the monsoon soon fell upon us in her full splendor. Her rain crashing hard upon us and the river, we stood up to stare in wonderment and happiness that we were here of all places. We stood there quietly for a long, long time. Combing my memory, I could not think of a more peaceful, yet exhilarating moment.
We finished our beer and called it a night.
The next morning we awoke at dawn to the same sounds of the monsoon that bade us sleep. This time we could see the pitter patter of the rain causing ripples in the water. Recollecting my thoughts of just a few hours before, this view was just as beautiful, just as serene, and just as exhilerating as the night before.
By 9 AM we were back ashore, all agreeing that next to the Taj Mahal, this was our favourite part of the trip. “God’s Own Country” has a way to live and stay deep in one’s heart and soul, as it surely did mine.
As I had most days and nights on this epic journey, I wish I could press rewind.
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