In April 2009 I was invited to attend a conference at a very luxurious resort in Kumarakom in the state of Kerala. Kerala is located on the south-western tip of India. It enjoys unique geographical features such as: an equable climate, serene beaches and tranquil stretches of backwaters, lush green hill stations and exotic wildlife. Kerala is fondly referred as ‘God’s Own Country’ in the tourism industry. Being my first visit to this state I planned an extended stay in Kerala to visit more places after the conference. I had a rich haul of photographs after this tour. I will be presenting a few of them in this series of travelogues.
Cochin International Airport is the nearest airport for Kumarakom. The organizers had arranged for transport from airport to the resort. The car pick-up was waiting outside as soon as we, me and my colleague, walked out with our luggage. The resort is on the banks of Vembanad Lake which is about 90 km from the airport by road. The expected duration of the drive was 1:30 hours. As soon as the car pulled out of the airport area, I was ready to shoot the beautiful serene nature in the God’s Own Country. However for almost an hour the car kept driving through densely populated urbane landscape. The surroundings were surprisingly very clean relative to many other tourist destinations in India. But the promise of “God’s Own Country” seemed to be still far away. So I muttered sarcastically to myself, myth #1 (i.e. Gods own country) is broken.
I was glancing at the printed map to understand the route (blue marker). At one place on National Highway (NH) 47, the car was supposed to have taken a left turn on Cherthala Road to join State Highway (SH) 40 a little away. The car did take the left turn at one place but the road ahead did not look like a State Highway.
In fact it looked like a single lane village road. I asked the driver whether this road is leading to SH40 and he said that we have left behind SH40 for quite some time. I tried to find out more from the driver but he found difficult to express himself in English. (Later I found out that we had actually taken the route shown by the red marker).
The general assumption is that everyone in Kerala understands English. I found that assumption to be true only to the extent of understanding when you speak in English. When it comes to replying back to you, people there have as hard time speaking in English as any other place in India. Only consolation is that they at least understand what is being asked. At other places in India, they may not even understand that. OK. So myth #2 (i.e. if you know English, you are ok in Kerala) is getting broken, I said to myself.
Soon the village road we were travelling on ended in front of this structure which looked like an empty hall. I did see the vast stretch of backwaters just beyond the hall. The driver unloaded our luggage and spoke to the security guard there in the local language, Malayalam. The security guard nodded and asked us to wait inside the hall by sign language. I was trying to locate our resort thinking this was the security gate of the same. But nothing like resort was visible around this structure. The guard spoke with someone over a phone and turned around and said to me, “This jetty. Boat. Coming. Fifteen minutes”. He was probably trying to tell me that this is a jetty and a boat is coming to pick us and take us to the resort.
Since I could only guess why we were waiting here, I decided to explore the place a bit more. I could see a large decorative metal pot inside the hall and I could see the vast stretch of blue backwaters on the other side. There was a small pond of water and a patch of green grass on the other side of the hall. I quickly walked across the hall towards the backwaters.
After walking a few steps I turned around to find this beautiful frame of lush green coconut trees covering the large part of the waiting hall. Well, the Myth #1 was now taking the shape of reality. I had started getting the glimpses of the God’s Own Country.
I noticed a tiny but neatly carved fishing boat resting in the backwaters. Probably the fisherman had returned home for his lunch and an afternoon siesta.
In the distance, there was a nice bungalow with a parking lot that accommodated a bigger boat, painted white with red borders.
I heard some sound coming from backwaters and on turning around saw a house-boat approaching the small jetty. Was this house-boat coming here to pick us and take to the resort?
Alas, the houseboat did not stop for us. We were left alone watching the empty jetty in the hot sun and humid weather.
All of a sudden my colleague ran on the jetty pointing towards something on the horizon. There was a lush green island in the distance and a speed-boat was coming towards the jetty from the island. Yes!! that HAD to be our next mode of transport !!!
That approaching speedboat was indeed our next mode of transport. (Its route is marked by acqu color marker on the map).
We sped towards our destination in the backwaters of Kumarakom. Crossing the Vembanadu Lake in the speedboat was just the beginning of an exhilarating stay in the God’s Own Country.
20 minutes later we were in front of the resort waiting for gates to open. This is the place where we were going to spend our next 3 day……….inside the conference rooms churning out the numbers!
Thats how life is always…..the green pastures and blue waters are always just a step further but you cannot leave the conference room….and even if you do, numbers do not leave you alone ! Life smiles at you and says……Enjoy …… if you can …. as much as you can !
Our speedboat entered the gates and moved past the gym and swimming pool of the resort.
The speadboat parked itself on the jetty. We disembarked very reluctantly and walked towards the reception.
A statue of Kathakali Dancer gave us the traditional welcome at the reception. The rooms were already reserved for us and we moved towards our rooms to freshen up………the conference was going to begin immediately post lunch.