Espero, a glimpse into the world of an incurable romantic
-Pooja Sarath Chandran
One of the best features about Kumarakom is its climate. Thanks to the proximity of the picturesque Vembanad Lake, the weather is perpetually mild, soothing and above all, welcoming to all visitors. Waking up to such a delightful ambience was one of the loveliest bits of holidaying in the backwater destination.
To add to that there was a lot to see, do and explore too! From getting a firsthand experience of the local village life and fishing to eating mind-blowing food from local toddy shops, Kumarakom was replete with interesting activities. But what truly stole the show was essentially the core of the land, a parallel universe of sorts, the Great Backwaters.
Yup, it looks beautiful!
The way the calm sea green waters caress the banks trying to woo you into jumping into its soothing depths for a nice long swim sure is alluring too, especially as you can see the local boys swim around in abandon. But if you really want to feel the pulse of Kumarakom, a journey in a country boat through the labyrinth of little canals that network its length and breadth is what does the trick. You can also choose to hire one of the majestic houseboats for a ride on the Vembanad but then you won’t be able to get as intimate with the local life.
Soon after an early breakfast on our second day in Kumarakom we headed straight to the jetty to hire a small boat. Though at first a bit scared about wobbling on water, Minnu took to boating pretty quickly and was soon pointing out water lilies to me.
“Did you come to see our land or are you headed elsewhere?” the boatman asked exhibiting his pearly whites in a broad smile.
“We’re on our way to see the Neelakurinji,” said hubby without taking his eyes off the sights around.
“Lord Muruga’s flower right? I’ve heard of it but never been to see it. Be careful not to touch the flower or the plant.” the old man replied.
He went on to explain that the tribes in those regions believe the flower to be sacred because according to a myth Lord Muruga married a tribal girl, Valli, by placing a garland of Neelakurinji blossoms around her neck. For the same reason the flower is considered a symbol of love especially by the Muthuvans. He added that they are careful not to touch or harm the plants.
“How do you know all of this?” I asked.
“We’re boatmen. We meet so many people each day!” he smiled as the oar in his hand gently splashed the calm waters.
Calling the backwaters of Kumarakom a parallel universe is by no means an exaggeration. The minute you drift away from the shores the noise of life on land and the traffic are muffled and replaced by the gentle gurgle of the waters and the quiet splash of the oars.
Life slows down to a refreshing, calm pace.
Fishermen standing on the banks preparing their nets for the day’s catch, men mining for clam shells in country boats, majenta water lilies bobbing and playing with the ripples… The sights are myriad.
And finally when you step back on land and drive away, you will gaze back at the tempting waters awed at how two wildly different worlds, that on land and the other on water, can coexist with such fluidity. I guess for the natives they both make for a single canvas on which their lives are painted but for an outsider like me, the feisty, touristy Kumarakom I met on land was extremely different from her serene, laidback counterpart.
We bade farewell to Kumarakom soon after a lunch of soft cooked tapioca with spicy fish curry. The next pit stop on our quest was to be Kumily, the plantation town.
The two and a half hour drive to Kumily via Kuttikanam via Vandiperiyar was so picturesque and enchanting that we took approximately four and a half hours to get there stopping every now and then to take sips of the intoxicating sights around.
One of the most important commercial centres of Kerala, Kumily is the gateway town to the tourist hotspots Thekkady and the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary. It is a border town that lies between Kerala and Tamil Nadu and is renowned for its plantation walks, exotic wildlife, boating and trekking. A huge volume of spice trade is done via this little unassuming town and for this very reason the markets here are full of the freshest of produce.
Cardamom is the primary spice grown in Kumily alongside pepper. Tea and coffee are also grown in these parts. In fact, it is here that you may find some of the finest tea and coffee plantations in the State.
On reaching Kumily town by evening we checked in at the Livvinn’s Inn which turned out to be an excellent place. The food, services and facilities were all very good. After freshening up and playing around with Minnu a bit we stepped out for a walk.
What immediately struck me about the fresh, clean air was the strong scent of spices. Not that of any specific one mind you, but rather, a blend of aromas, all vying for attention.
Setting out at a leisurely pace showed us precisely why the town smelt delectable. Every other shop had either spices or chocolates or fried goodies on display!
The nip in the air, bustling markets, both sides of the streets lined with shops selling all sorts of produce, Malayalam, Hindi and Tamil mingling in the air to create a unique symphony… The ambience of this town was well worth getting drunk on especially with the added delight of lovely weather!
Despite the fact that our little lady was practically nodding off by the time we left the hotel, within moments she was back to her alert, observant self as kids her age usually are.
As for me, well, more than the spices it was the wide array of shops selling (very delicious) homemade chocolates that won me over. While shopping for wild honey, spices and chocolates hubby stumbled upon a shop that sold sugar-coated chips of ginger. It tasted good and the shopkeeper assured us it would prove helpful in tackling sore throat. Even as I write this the packet we bought that day sits on the kitchen shelf, in an air tight bottle, patiently waiting for one of us to catch a cold or a bout of sore throat.
That night as we ambled back to the hotel hubby pointed out to me just how ridiculous our apprehensions had been with regard to travelling with a baby. We both looked at our little one who was happily riding on my arm, her eyes gulping every sight the new environs around her had to offer.
Babies are so much more flexible and adaptable than we make them out to be. A bit of planning and Kerala is a beautiful place to explore with a baby on board.
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