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The town of Alleppey was draped in a blanket of green under a grey sky. The morning Sun had begun its journey towards the zenith. But, hidden somewhere, it let the clouds dominate the sky. It was still early when we arrived at the Alleppey bus stop, with the movement around still relaxed. As we started our drive towards the Alleppey backwaters, local folks had just started their morning chores. Tree leaves fluttered in a waft of gentle wind, accompanied by a fresh aroma. An aroma of earthly scents paved way for us and we headed for a surreal experience at the luxury houseboats by Spice Routes.
This was going to be my home for the next 3 days
I find Kerala to be very interesting. How a veteran actor can easily adapt to a new role and completely change the personality, Kerala does something similar. Like water when poured in any vessel adopts the shape, Kerala will also transform aptly according to the ongoing season. Everything remains the same, but the filters change. You might say that every destination looks different in various seasons. But, in Kerala, I find this change to be very stark and conspicuous. I have noticed Goa also to have a similar character. But, let’s leave Goa for some other time.
This was my 3rd visit to Kerala in 2017. This time, I was going to visit Alleppey and Thekkady. Having been to Kumarakom, I was really curious about Alleppey. The latter being a popular destination, I had many questions brewing in my mind. Will it be crowded? Will the houseboats have to wait for traffic clearance as a plethora of boats cruise in the backwaters? I kept pondering as I fixated my eyes on the car’s window pane, admiring the landscapes dotted with mud houses, enveloped by lush green farms, swaying in the wind.
My train of thoughts halted as we reached the spot where houseboats by Spice Routes were docked. They offer luxury houseboats to travelers who prefer indulgence over regular sightseeing. For the next three days, one of their 7 houseboats was going to be my abode for two nights.
These 7 houseboats are named after Spices. Ours was ‘Fennel’, a 3 Bedroom Houseboat with cozy rooms, impressive interiors and a premium touch. When we reached the houseboat, the Sun had started showing its prowess. The clouds had enjoyed their early morning stint and were now fading away.
Soon, the Sun dominated the sky with clouds left in form of streaks; white and fluffy streaks on the blue canvas of sky. Just how my travel experiences stay imprinted on the canvas of my memory. The Sun would now rule the sky till the dusk signals a change, allowing the Moon to shine.
We were welcomed in a cheerful way by their staff. Each houseboat offered by Spice Routes comes with a staff of 3. A driver, cook, and an associate. They are dedicated to helping you have a pleasant time and ensure your well being while cruising the backwaters.
When we entered the staff realized that we might be famished and suggested breakfast. We didn’t keep him waiting and quickly freshened up to later find a spot at the dining table. A humble serving of Puttu and Eggs, coupled with coffee, started the day in a glorious way. After breakfast, I took a tour of the houseboat to admire the meticulous arrangements and efforts invested to offer a memorable stay to the guests.
Our Room in the Houseboat. I have stayed in houseboats before, but these rooms were way too spacious as compared to others.
Later, we went off cruising on the backwaters. Till now, Alleppey was proving to be impressive!
One with the Spice Routes Staff who accompanied us for our entire stay. (PC: Namita Kulkarni – Blogger at Radically Ever After)
After breakfast, we set off to cruise on the backwaters. The first day was marked for Kumarakom. I had been to Kumarakom in the monsoon of 2015.
Back then, it was indeed a magical experience. I vividly remember how I felt liberated as we sailed along the Kumarakom coast, admiring the thick foliage ahead. As our Shikara traversed through the green blanket swaying with the ripples, a fiery sky had appeared at the distant horizon from behind the grey clouds. I can still remember how I smiled when I laid my palm out and let the raindrops bounce off it. Each drop got its moment of glory while hanging on the roof’s edge before it was replaced by another.
This time, it was bright and sunny, a contrasting backdrop as compared to the monsoon setup. I was excited to see how Kumarakom would look today.
I stopped reminiscing about my last trip to Kumarakom and sat at the dining table. We were gathering around for lunch while our boat engine revved. We gently pulled out of the dock and started cruising on the placid waters. On either side, adorable villages stood shining under the Sun. Smaller boats crossed our path while ferrying passengers from one village to another.
Smaller boats ferrying the passengers
Every day, these boats are very frequent at morning and evening. Some ferrying passengers, some cargos.
We gradually crossed a bridge from underneath and found ourselves amidst a vast water body. The Sun was now shining brightly and the water glimmered gloriously. This water body was Vembanad Lake, an impressive one adorned by several houseboats and distant palm trees at the horizon. Alleppey and Kumarakom are situated on opposite sides of Vembanad Lake.
Once our houseboat crossed the bridge, we started cruising Vembanad Lake.
Just trying my hands on the wheel
The Kumarakom side of the backwaters as captured on lens. As we moved towards Kumarakom and away from Alleppey, the number of boats cruising along us reduced.
Last time, I had started my cruise from Kumarakom town and this time, I saw Alleppey’s side of the story; a story with the Lake as the main protagonist and our houseboat as a supporting character. Together with other caricatures like birds, foliage, and people, this was more than a story. It was an epic demonstration of nature’s magnanimity! The beautiful backdrop of Kerala created a perfect storyboard, teleporting me to a state of oblivion, a state which I enjoy the most.
Soon, we reached the coast of Kumarakom. I noticed the Church which I had admired last time as well. The foliage was not that dense as it was in the monsoon. But, the way it shined was impressive. The late afternoon Sun dazzled the landscape. The Sun-light was too harsh for the camera lens, but not for my eyes. I loved seeing Kumarakom again!
The area near this Church is also marked as Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary. Around morning or evening time, you can see a lot of birds. However, we crossed the bird sanctuary in afternoon. So I was able to spot lesser birds, but still enjoyed it.
Around evening, we departed for R-block. It is an expanse of the backwaters near Kumarakom and offers great opportunities to admire the avian life. R-Block is a part of the backwaters which can be defined by wide stretches of backwaters, paved with grasslands on either side. We reached here around evening, before the sunset.
I was looking forward to admiring the Sunset which would leave the sky orange with its reflection gleaming in the backwaters. My expectations were high, but I was not disappointed at all. The orange Sun played hide and seek and kept appearing from behind the Palm trees, just to disappear again soon. The birds headed home, to call it a night. I travel for such sunsets. The horizon looks stunning as the protagonist, and with a lot of characters playing their part perfectly, an unforgettable aura is created. I travel to discover, again and again, how the elements of nature come together and present a cauldron of many things beautiful.
A young champ we spotted while cruising towards R-Block!
The banks were adorned by such Churches and structures throughout
Storks with a blanket of mist in backdrop
Being oblivious to everything but the Sunset, I realized that we had almost reached our docking spot. Today, our houseboat was going to dock away from the civilization; away from network and corresponding social media updates. That night, I couldn’t care less about not being able to check my Facebook and Instagram feed. That night, I just enjoyed the state of being; of camaraderie with friends and a sequence of interesting conversations.
The next morning heralded joy. Sleeping with the houseboat acting as a cradle and Mother Nature swaying it, assured a peaceful sleep. The distant village lights had started fading away from behind the blanket of mist. We freshened up and as the breakfast was being served, our houseboat revved to motion and off we went, sailing the placid waters again.
In today’s fast world, slowing down and spending time leisurely felt blissful. If you are on vacation and still rushing to fit as many things as possible in your itinerary, I wouldn’t really call it a vacation. Today, our itinerary had a few hours of sailing and we would visit some spots in between. The start of our day 2 was amazing, thanks to the stunning Sunrise.
Our first spot was beautiful temple located beside a small village. We docked our houseboat and set foot amidst an adorable setup of mud houses and local folks busy with their chores. The sky was cloudy today and the contrasting green fields and trees looked impressive. Soon we moved from the mud trail by the backwaters and started walking on a concrete road. Along with some mud houses, some concrete houses also started to show up. We heard faint music playing somewhere in the background and it seemed as if all roads followed the beats.
The music continued, and the tunes were now becoming louder. Finally, we reached the source of music and the echoes had now taken over all the other sounds in the vicinity. An authentic representation cannot be justified by anything else but this temple and the Kerala-style marriage in progress. The happy faces and musicians playing the instruments with vigor had brightened up the temple. Gradually, the marriage ceremony started, and we left the temple while humming the tunes being played in the background. Some local kids played football as we walked through.
Our next stop was the Champakulam church, a vintage artifact with shades of blue and white. While cruising on the backwaters, we also stopped at a Tody shop, to taste the local liquor. Today was indeed an indulgence for me as I visited the lesser known spots in Kerala which I didn’t know about.
It was almost evening when we reached back to our docking spot. The birds were circling around their nests, waiting to tuck themselves in. But, there was another experience awaiting us before we savor another course of a scrumptious meal.
When we reached our docking point, a smaller boat was waiting for us. This boat would take us through a canal intersecting a village. The Sun had started to fade and the comparatively stagnant waters created a beautiful canvas to capture reflections. The entire setup looked brilliant and my expectations from Alleppey were shattered to bits. Contrary to my belief that Alleppey would be a crowded destination, this canal hosted only our boat! There was no other boat accompanying us as we cruised and waved at the locals. In return, they waved back and smiled, indicating a tacit welcome to us in their lands.
We cruised for around half an hour before we discovered a vast water body! We found ourselves cruising again on the Vembanad Lake, but this time, just cutting a corner. I saw a bird trying to wade off a dragonfly and many other forms of avian life. We also saw some fishermen catching their daily fish. We circled around and reached back to our docking spot where a delectable meal was almost prepared for us by the Spice Routes’ staff.
Get off me!
Next day I woke up early to admire the morning Sun. An hour after sunrise and before sunset is considered as the golden hour in the photography community. Today’s sunrise reminded me the reason behind it. The morning ferries had already started doing rounds to help the local folks commute. I sat on a ferry deck, my legs almost touching the waters. A slight nip in the air made me pocket my hands and I just sat there for some time, observing the water create patterns. The breakfast was soon ready and after treating myself yet again to a great hospitality by Spice Routes, I was ready to head to my next destination; Thekkady.
We thanked the staff and while the Sun again started to dominate the sky, we headed towards Thekkady. Before leaving, the staff explained the efforts done by them to support sustainable tourism. There are many luxurious stays and experiences in India. But, only a few care to consider and adopt ways to streamline their processes in an eco-friendly way. With the emphasis on sustainable tourism, Spice Routes definitely impressed me. Along with an efficient management of waste and generating fuel out of it, they have also installed solar panels to fulfill their power needs for the boat. However, for voltage heavy products like AC, they can’t depend on solar energy. But, a step taken in the right direction is worth accolades, isn’t it?
We left our houseboats behind with the Sun over our shoulders. I leaned on the glass pane and saw the trees & farms pass by. I had created a memory worth cherishing for many years to come, a memory which consisted of boats, friends, cruises and lots of musings.