Monday, June 11, 2007

Kerala '07

Kochi (Cochin) airport is a small and clean place with a typical small town kind of architecture- sloping roof, low-height structures and amidst a plethora of greenery...and one revels in the reverie of plantations and grassland... until one reaches the road connecting the airport to the main city... 'Land of billboards' can be another suitable name for Kochi. As I got out of the airport and hit the road, all I could see were these huge structures advertising various things, lined up one after the other, completely covering the foliage behind...

As I travelled on, wherever the eye could see, were more billboards- square, rectangular, small, medium,big, in English and Malayalam, of clothes, numbers, movies, actors, real name it...

I noticed religion also being a very strong influence of saw churches of various kinds, beautifully experimented with in terms of form, design and colours...different expressions of creativity reserved only for God... unfortunately the car I was in, sped so fast that all I managed clicking were few blurs...

The drive to Kumarakom was about 2 hours... had some genuine, non-adulterated, non-chemically-enhanced coconut water- and it's no mean task to finish one- they are huge! The road was very good and the view around even better... the weather complied and I got to see variations of blues from the water to the sky...amazing!

My resort in Kumarakom had a surprise in store for a room that was on the top level, overlooking the huge natural fresh water lake (Vembanad Lake, one of the largest fresh water lakes in Asia, in which 41 rivers merge into) and lawns... but the best part was that the sloping roof above the bath area had an opening, left uncovered so one could glimpse at the sky above... and I will always recommend a bath with the open sky and moon and stars shining above also drizzled, making the environment heady with romance.

Yes, a trip to Kerala without getting the special Ayurveda massage done, is incomplete. I only wish that it could go on and on and last me for the entire day...mmmm!

The next day and night saw me in a houseboat doing the rounds of the lake and then part of the 604 km backwaters(rivers and sea) of Alleppey, reaching Allepey the morning after. The houseboats are like mini apartments-a 2bhk, 3bhk right upto 5 fact these are so popular that the Kerala Government is introducing seven-bedroom houseboats! And one gets three attendants in tow, as part of the package- one driver, one chef and the third being a man of luxury!!! The journey had breaks for lunch and dinner, but all one could see were small thin strips of land and vast expanse of water...reminded me of the movie Waterworld... and with the erratic thundering, and eventually a heavy downpour, my imagination need not have worked hard at all to understand what life on water could be...Luckily the boat stopped at night and I was not too affected with the onslaught of the rains outside... woke up amidst a blanket of greens with all the mangrove plants, which were spread over the water during the day, now aligned by the shoreline.

Alleppey or Alappuzha as it is known, is also referred to as the Venice of the East by travelers from across the world. This backwater region is fairly rich in diverse animal and bird life, but all I could identify were ducks! From Alleppey, it was a ride to Kochi to check in to the hotel and then move out again to explore... Old Kochi is absolutely beautiful to walk around in! A heritage precinct, it has all the grandeur of the old British Raj, mixed with some Portuguese and Dutch influences...very like Goa but more sophisticated. It's a place frozen in time- be it the buildings, the water, the landscape... Saw the grave of Vasco Da Gama, the wonderful port, the bazaar- famous for antiques, Dutch palace, Synagogue, Maritime museum( but from outside as it was shut that day!) that has some wonderful display of landmark objects...Missed seeing the Museum of Kerala History. Well, there's always the next time!

Despite the rains and deserted water side, managed to get a fisherman to show how the Chinese Fishing nets work. These huge nets are tourist attractions in Kochi...a group of six fishermen are needed to work on one boat...two maintaining the balance in front, the rest working on the weights and structure from behind... and got to see how the fish are caught - the nets caught a catfish this time. And the best part of that day was seeing Dolphins!!!!

A day went visiting the Guruvayur temple... the darshan was a tedious 2 hour wait before we could all go in, then a quick 2 second glimpse at what I managed to figure out as being the main idol of Lord Krishna and before I knew it, was out of the place. Then went to see the Elephant Park- Punathoorkotta which is 2km from Guruvayur, and is the largest elephant park in the world with a count of 64 elephants, mostly being donated by devotees. So one got to see JayaKumara, the elephant donated by Jaya Lalitha, then one by some famous actor...and so forth... But what was amazing to behold were the sizes of each of them and their tusks! And all together. Got some gyaan on elephants too... that they are fine till the age of 18 and then slowly go mad... we saw elephants that were mad, some that had managed killing mahuts and some that were absolutely docile. The gentlest of them all was Devdas...who I think, got named because he is so aloof...maybe the lady dumped him!?

My hotel in Kochi was right behind the shipyard and I could see these huge ships being docked and machinery being moved and so on... there is something about machinery and the large construction activity that always gives me a high- blame it on my architecturally-happy nature. And it was that 'pretty' sight that I took back when I went left Kochi for Mumbai...

From different blues of the water, I saw a never ending blue and white of the sky... in fact layers of skies, if I could say it. And India has such a beautiful topography when one sees it aerially... hmm... I felt blessed! And flying over two rainbows confirmed it!
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