As soon as I reached Alleppey, I requested the hotel manager to help me book a trip into the interiors of the city, though, by Canoe. This recommendation was made to me by a dear friend who lives in the city. After having heard about the wonders of the waterways I knew I had to see it for myself. The manager at Vedanta Wake up! set it up for me.
The next morning I started my day at the crack of dawn. A hot cup of coffee and I was off in a tuktuk from the hotel to the famous Vembanand lake. The drive took about thirty minutes. With the early morning breeze on my face and a tuktuk driver who gave me a guided tour of the areas we passed, I watched the city slowly come to live. As soon as I reached the lake this vibrant, smiling gentleman walked right to me and greeted me with a formal ‘Namaste’. His warm infectious smile lit his eyes and I was sure I was in safe hands. Right away he led me to his canoe. Small though it was he assured me that it was safe, the warmth in his tone and the encouraging gestures helped me settle in. With no motor and just the oars to steer, I slowly started feeling the exhilaration of the trip.
I eagerly volunteered to row but my boatman, Periya assured me that later in the day he would let me row the canoe. As he steered the canoe I marveled at the ease with which he deftly handled it. Then right before my eyes I saw the canoe go into the winding waterways and suddenly there was a whole new landscape before me. The open lake was no more and we were in the in a series of canals. As we slowly rowed our way along, I could see little kids diving into the water, happy and excited to get away from the heat. Periya explained that kids here learn to swim before they walk and I could clearly see that. As we moved ahead, we came along side some local fishermen. It was so amazing; they were fishing and happily showed off their catch. The waterways are the real life line in these parts. We could see other boats and canoes go past us selling local vegetable and daily requirements from house to house, women folk happily going about their daily chores; washing utensils and clothes totally oblivious to our presence. Young girls merrily chatting as the elders continued with their work. The landscape was picturesque and fascinating. As I watched Periya slowly bring our canoe to the banks of the canal. I suddenly felt very hungry, the manager at Vedanta Wake up! had informed me that breakfast and lunch would be at the boatman’s house, much to my delight. So here we were, off to Periya’s house for a homemade breakfast.
As we got off the canoe, we were greeted by his family – a shy wife and two bubbly kids. I instinctively knew this was going to be a great breakfast. We had the local favorite, Putta (mixture of rice flour and coconut) and papadam with a spicy egg curry, followed by ripe fried bananas. Oh! I was in food heaven. The next time you visit Alleppey, don’t forget to try this breakfast combination, believe me you won’t regret it. After a great cup of filter coffee and a lot of chitchat, we said thank you and continued on our way to explore the canals. As we made our way further into Kuttanad there was a change in the landscape, canals gave way to extensive farmlands. This is one of the unique features of Kuttanad that lies below sea level and is surrounded by earthen embankments. We waded through the paddy fields waving to the farmers, just as Periya enquired if I wanted to work with them. Before I knew it I was bent over replanting rice saplings in the dirt. I can’t explain how I felt. The joy of burying little green saplings into the earth made my heart sing. I think this was the best part of my trip yet… Actually, I can’t make up my mind as to which is the best part, experiencing the changing landscape, the breakfast or this. Then, just as I was starting to think it couldn’t get better one of the locals climbed up a coconut tree, removed a fresh coconut, cleaned it with skillful hands and offered me the best coconut water I had ever tasted, fresh, sweet and delicious.
After the fun and frolicking in the dirt I thanked all of them for their generosity as Periya signaled it was time to leave. We made our way back to the canoe and headed to Periya’s house for a late lunch. We passed some fisher men in their boats and Periya bought the locals Min or Pearl spot fish. I understand it is native to these waters and that it makes for a delicious curry. We took it home to his wife she prepared the local favorite curry – fish moilee. Another must have in these parts. The heady mix of coconut milk, mustard seeds, curry leaves filled my senses and I ate to my heart’s content. Fish moilee served with appams (a kind of pancake made from rice flour). We sat around chatted with the family and after the pleasantries were over, we continued on our way back to the lake.
En route we stopped at Champakllum a small village known for their canoe making skills. Here carving is a big industry, were villagers specially hand carve wooden canoes and statues for the churches and temples around. As we came towards the Vembanand Lake we saw several teams practicing for the Nehru Boat race. This was exciting as the whole lake was abuzz with activity. The long snake like boats were a magnificent sight. The Nehru boat race is a big tourist attraction; it’s a pity I’m not going to stay long enough to see the race. Guess this is the next excuse I can use to visit Alleppey again.
Then as the day progressed I started feeling tired and could not wait to make my way back to Vedanta Wake up!, where a warm bath, clean sheet and the opportunity to embrace the day was extremely tempting… Don’t forget, the next time you are in Alleppey you must see the city from a canoe – to experience Alleppey, build memories and make friends with the locals.