In Alleppey, I was not the only wanderer. There were many like me seeking information about the place and it’s tourist spots with or without a planned itinerary. Most of them were from across the seas since the place is so popular among international tourists. In fact, I found more international tourists than national even inside the city. It was not exactly the tourist season. It was hot March. The beaches were throbbing with aliens speaking Malayalam in bits and pieces. The locals too brush up their English and Hindi for the encounter with non-Malayalam speakers.
While I was also craving for an adventure, and by adventure, I mean, trying out Scuba Diving in Cochin followed by Kayaking in the backwaters of Kochi or even trying my hand at snorkeling. But, alas, I finally settled for a leisure-some holiday on Alleppey.
I was not a tourist there not even a complete alien. I say Alappuzha instead of Alleppey and I am familiar with Kerala culture thanks to my Malayali roots. Kerala was always a home away from home. Sometimes in my childhood, I had been to Alappuzha but I only remember in bits. I also vaguely remember heading out to Kayal Island. So this was my chance to press the refresh button. Plunge in the sea and feel the wetness of the land which I had heard so much about mainly from non-Malayalis. And yes, I could speak Malayalam good enough for the locals.
At St. George’s Church, Edathuva
Staying at a relative’s house, I had wholesome breakfast to fill myself with. The first thing my cousins said they would show me was Punnamada Kayal that was close by, only a walking distance from our house. But then there was another suggestion to visit the distant place first and the closest one later. This sounded good and with no proper itinerary, we decided to set out for the Edathuva church. I was excited and hopeful that this trip is going to turn out great.
As my cousin drove, finding the location was not a big task even without navigation for the church is immensely famous and you are easily guided to the spot. Even as you step out in Alappuzha you will see that the terrain is mostly uneven with bridges and canals and know what.. there’s always water in the lakes with boats and canoes lurking in them. Coconut trees bows to water and the sun shines merrily on the simple and orderly life people live here. Even a casual outing will give you eye soothing sights of nature’s bounty in the form of water and trees.
Edathuva Church is a sprawling structure with more than one building for prayers. The main hall was crowded as some function was going on. We visited the intricately carved interiors and it reminded me of St. Thomas in Irinjalakuda, Thrissur which had more intriguing interiors. Nevertheless, this church dedicated to St George had its own share of ethereal ambiance. We could not sit for a silent prayer because of the crowd, so we strolled in the compound and with the river in the vicinity, it was a delightfully serene place.
As we drove across Edathuva back to Alappuzha main city, we wanted to fill ourselves with some local delicacies. The roadside restaurants were the best I was told. Known as “Shaapu” in the local language, the restaurants are not very pleasing by their looks but if you do not care for luxury, you can indulge here mainly as they have fresh “Kallu” to offer.
For those who do not know what “Kallu” is, here’s a brief:
Kallu is nothing but a kind of wine prepared from the sap of coconut palms in this region of Southern India. It turns more and more alcoholic as it ages through the day. If it is , had fresh in the morning, the alcohol content is nominal and it has oodles of nutrients that boost immunity.
So at the Shaapu, my cousins suggested me a variety of items to try. From Pork to Duck, the table was set with the best delicacies of the land. Hailing from Thrissur, another part of the state, I had never tasted much of Southern Kerala food. Here was my big chance and I must say I plunged on food like a mad woman. My platter was full of fresh prawns, soft pork pieces, and fleshy duck. In veggies, there were crisp thoran and simmering Sambaar and Rasam to complete my meal. I was already full but then I learned there was more. Kallu was next. Looking inviting in earthen pots in a shape reminding of “Surahi”, the Kallu happened to me. It had a slightly bitter-sweet taste to it. After this, we headed back home and my hosts kept me guessing what was next on my itinerary.
“The Waves of the Beach Get Me Back to Me”
Beaches! Can someone really define them? The colors of the waves, the music of life reverberating through sand grains, the sun rays splashing itself on water.. what all beach can be for someone who has the eyes to see beyond the usual!
Before you reach the beach, you have the lighthouse guarding with its watchful eyes. We climbed to the top just a few minutes before the closing time. Need I tell you what the sea looks like from a lighthouse! Although I had been to beaches before, it was the first time I was on a lighthouse. The sea looked majestic, all-encompassing and made us look like tiny insects gazing at it. As long as my eyes could reach, the water played its mad sport.
As you walk from the road to the water, you hear the roar of the waves and the sand grains makes the walk hard. And then you reach there, the tides reaching to touch you while you tease them playfully. There are many kiosks and stalls nearby which means plenty of food. It also means you can spend the whole day listening to the roaring waves as all that you need is provided here. There is a region of trees and greenery and then there is another section which is newly constructed for family time. There are rides for kids and plenty of food. So the officials have truly taken good care of the place to attract people. The only hassle I thought was the construction of the flyover right in front of the beach which made the place thick and bit shabby.
As the sun prepared to take our leave and the shadows grew darker, the beach grew more serene. Laden with sand, we had a weary walk back to the parking and I must admit I didn’t want to leave. I thanked myself for being there.
A Day on The Backwaters
Houseboats were something I had only seen on TV and movies mostly associated with romantic getaways. I had only heard of the deep dark backwaters and now I was about to experience them. We had plans of hiring a houseboat but as we could not make the advance booking on time we ended up on a Shikara. We decided to take a morning ride and finish it well before it turns hot. We were charged 500 Rs per hour.
In our 2 hours long ride, I realized that people who spoke highly of their backwaters experiences were not actually exaggerating nor did they overrate it. We boarded the Shikara in the morning at 9. There were four of us and our journey started from the place which is the finishing point of the famous Kerala Boat Race. The sap green water surrounded by bending trees and houses on the banks presented a unique view. Right in front, you can see the path of the water winding and winding and you feel like you are proceeding on a dangerous journey but you like the thrill too. The Shikara provided a comfortable lounging experience but we preferred to sit in the front watching the water. We clicked pics abundantly and relished the view. After around half an hour, we stopped nearby to get some refreshments and coconut water. The person selling refreshments had a pet eagle. My cousin tried to get the eagle on his arm and with some help, he could manage it and clicked a selfie too.
The calmness of the water and humble life around the place brings you closer to nature. The journey reaches ‘the turning point” as it just enters the Vembanad Kayal which is known to be too deep to be safe and the boundaries of the land vanishes as soon as you enter it. From there the boat takes a “U-turn” and we headed back on to the point where we started.
A Tryst With Ambalapuzha Sree Krishna
We had reserved the evening for a special meet with none than Lord Krishna. The little toddler God resided in Amblapuzha, about 10 km away from the main Alappuzha city. The Ambalapuzha Sri Krishna Kshetram is well known for its delicious Payasam (Kheer) which people say has a taste that’s unmatched. And of course, there are plenty of legends related to it.
There is something about the temples in Kerala which is exemplary. There is something about the lamps, the flickering light, the chanting of the mantras and the temple pond that reflects God’s bounty and the air that resonates with the hymns. Being from Kodungallur, I am familiar with the majestic ambiance of the Malayali temple. That evening, as I prayed in the queue to the toddler Krishna, I felt my soul filling with his divine music.
Outside the temple, there were kiosks with all sorts of toys and fancy items. For tourists, these are the best places to pick up Souvenirs and collectibles. I bought an idol of a butter licking Krishna.
Bowing to the Serpent God at Mannarshala Temple, Haripad
The next morning dawned early. We had to reach Mannarshala temple early in the morning at around 5 o’ clock. I had heard about this famous temple of the Serpent Gods. It is similar to the one I had been to near Kodungallur, my hometown. The temple is an old palace converted into a shrine. The place is situated amidst moderately thick trees with sculptures of snake Gods. Needless to say, Nagapanchami is the most auspicious occasion here. The temple is a special pilgrim for childless couples. There are special rituals for couples praying for children. The most famous one is up turn the utensil (Uruli) in front of the Lord. The ritual has known to have born results for many. We witnessed many couples performing the ritual. I was very much fascinated by the sculptures of snake-heads all along the pavements, walls, and gates. There were hermit ladies in a section of the temple who gave advice to devotees regarding their personal problems. Such was the abode of the serpent God.
Nature Watching at Punnamada Kayal
For the evening, my cousins kept me guessing about their plans. At around 4 o’ clock, they asked me to get ready. I was still guessing. We walked up to the Punnamada Kayal. Another famous houseboat hub. Something very authentic and simple had been arranged for me. A man brought his small canoe near us and asked us to get on it. The Kayal (backwater) is vast and the famous boat ride during Onam festival is also held here. But the part close to our house is narrow. We sat on the canoe and began our ride. Our boatman was a very jolly person with all smiles while he hummed few tunes of the local songs. My cousin tried the oar through the water. What seemed easy wasn’t all that easy. The boatman helped him and he managed to do some rough kayaking. Now it was my turn. I sat near the corner and tried the oar. It was the first time I was holding the oar in my hand. The boatman assisted me and I managed to make some ripples in the water.
On our ride, we saw sprawling green fields with the rays of the setting sun resting on them. There were shining grass blades, storks flying across the fields, far away houses and trees that had their own secret stories. We reached back our starting point. It’s never easy to leave the water. The smaller the boat, the closer you are to water. I felt the coolness and calmness of the water addictive. But, I had to leave it.
Tracing History at Krishnapuram Palace
The next morning unfolded with a historic site visit. Sometimes I had mentioned being interested in historic heritage places and my cousins planned this exclusive trip for me to the famous Krishnapuram palace. After a journey of about 45 minutes, we reached this part of Kayamkulam where the palace is located on the top of a small hill. The grand structure of the palace took us back in time and the scenes of the historic Malayalam films played before my eyes. The palace which is around 3 centuries old has a mixed architecture of the modern and the medieval period.
We were fascinated by the stone and wood sculptures, bronzes, Mural paintings, coins, megalithic remains, stone inscription and such historically and archaeologically important objects that were kept for display. It had pent roofs and dorma windows which had their own tales to tell. The pond in the backyard was quite intriguing. The best part was the mural paintings. Though old, the intricate works on them caught everyone’s attention. There were small and big sculptures which seemed to be the characters come down from the paintings itself. This palace cum museum catered to our fancy of the royal period of the region.
Thereafter for lunch, we hit a restaurant in the city. Locals here love meat, fish, and Kappa ( tapioca) which is a vegetable from the potato family. We relished fish curry with Kappa and it made for a sumptuous meal. While we drove back home, I observed the land was mostly low and there was an abundance of roads with the water flowing by the side. There were bridges with houseboats under them. There were fields with wet patches interspersed. There were huts on the small patch of land surrounded by water. I wondered whether they could be called islands and more than that, I wondered how people resided there! There were lotuses in the lakes with the coconut trees providing shades to them. Each aspect of Alappuzha is colored beautifully by nature.
The Temple and the Statue at Karumadi
By the time it was 4 o clock, we reached a luscious green place known as Karumadi. I held my breath seeing the structure of the temple, simple yet beautiful with a small natural pond close by. The famous statue of Lord Buddha is also close by. Shielded in a miniature temple structure, the black granite structure has it’s left side missing. It is a rare structure to be found in this part of India as there are very few followers of Buddhism in Kerala. But with the presence of this statue, Kerala truly lives up to its reputation of being the cradle of religion in the country. We were told that the locals believe that the statue has divine healing powers. The locals seek miraculous treatment from ailments from the statue.
When we headed back home and passed the Karumadi temple again on our way back, it was time for ‘Sandhya Deepam’ (Evening Lamps) at the temple. There were a bunch of devotees lighting the array of lamps on the temple. Whispering prayers, chanting mantras, the devotes lit up the entire temple. The small idols under the tree also had lamps. The pond close by reflected the lamps and also the gloriously shining moon. Can you imagine how beautiful the sight was?
That’s why they say Kerala is an artist’s paradise.
It was a tiresome day. But I was not yet ready to reach back home so soon. I wanted more of the water! We drove straight to the beach again. My cousins who were the locals here were as fond of the beach as I was. We parked the car in the hasty and crowded parking lot of the beach. I followed them to a beach-side restaurant. We settled down on the shaded terrace to have something spicy. The Hindi speaking attendant uttered the name of the dishes in Malayalam. We was well trained we must say. We ordered fish fry, oysters, and kappa with coconut water. We asked for “Kallu” but we were disappointed. The breeze from the sea was blowing softly and the roar of the waves could be heard in the intervals of our conversation. I was not much of a seafood lover. But I truly relished the plump fish and fleshy oysters on my platter with the kappa beautifully balancing the taste. The locals also told me about a trek to Lakshmi Hills but we were cramped on time hence decided to do that some other time.
The noises on and around the beach began to die down. Most of the sea was pitch dark now. Small lights here and there and of course the moon.. it was time to go back home.
As we approached home, the fields nearby were conspicuous with their music of the night. And also the little ‘dot’ like lights on and around the trees. The lights were nothing but glow worms and the music was the noises of the insects. That’s how night is for nature. Maybe it is only we humans who sleep in the night.
The next day, it was time for me to pack up! I told my cousins I had not had enough of Alappuzha. There was still more. Marari Beach, Kayamkulam Lake, Pandavan Rock and so on. But my time was up. They told me about Cherappu which is December Beach Fest and asked me to come over for it. I was hopeful again. I bid goodbye to Alappuzha with new plans brewing in my mind.
My next pick from my bucket list would be to visit Kochi and explore the very many things to do there. Also, Munnar is a definite yes yes as a good summer getaway for me in 2018. Learning the basics of Kalaripayattu that’s is something I wish to do.