Paddling through narrow passageways and greeting local fisherman, while women rinsed off breakfast residue from pans and plates and children jumped into the water for a quick dip, was when it hit me: this is paradise.
Kerala, Gods own country, the Venice of the East and one of National Geographic’s top 10 paradise destinations, 12 years running, a dream for many Americans — I knew I had to visit this destination when I came to live in Bangalore.
After a 15-hour overnight bus ride from Bangalore, all I had to do was look up the place, where clouds puffed perfectly and palm trees fell in limbo, to provide salvation from the tropical sun. The tourist destinations of Kerala has a rich history of food, culture, politics and traditions. It has experienced Portuguese, Dutch and British rule due to its attractiveness in natural resources and easily accessible trade routes.
So, travellers often find colonial remnants in many of the towns. It’s also the state with a recently discovered treasure trove beneath a Hindu temple, which has now become the largest in India.
Though this time of the year is usually considered off-season, apart from colossal waves of the Arabian Sea crashing into shore, the weather was watching out for us, a fellow traveller and me. We found ourselves to be lucky even in the monsoons, famous for its relentless downpour.
Our deep-water boat trip treated us no differently. While roaming through the canals, we gazed at the beautiful houses and their inhabitants, which were visual obstacles to the rice fields that lay behind them.
The captain of our canoe was a villager named Anil, who took us through the winding canals before stopping at his three-room brick home for lunch. Incidentally, it’s a home he built for his family with his own hands.
“Small fish!” Anil’s son yelled, as he repeatedly ran through the yard to dump the mortal creatures into a bucket. Stuck in wonder, the boy would proceed to squeeze them between his thumb and index finger before returning the carcasses to the water. These small fish eventually made their way to our lunch plates.
Inside, Anil sat beside the bed, while my friend and I devoured the traditional Kerala meal in a traditional manner — complete with fresh seafood and fried bananas. “Full tummy,” Anil would say, while plopping more food on the plate.
His wife stood at the doorway, checking in frequently to see if we enjoyed the food she had prepared. And we did. It was one of the tastiest meals I’ve had in India. After a few minutes of relaxation with the family, we got back inside the canoe for the last leg of our ride back to the ferry.
But as with any widely heard-of tourist destination, paradise can become threatened. The peace was interjected at points with oversized motors of houseboats — another tourist mode of transportation — ripping waves under our canoe and pushing us towards the shore. These canals are the source of running water for the majority of villages and some are profiting from guiding tours too.
There have been efforts by the locals to make the tourism eco-friendly too and I hope other travellers embrace these options too. On the bus back to Bangalore, mosquito-ridden and swollen from the heat, I knew this experience would stay in positive retrospect for years to come.
And I would like others to experience what I have, with the diverse ecosystem and happy villagers intact.
The American-born writer is on a two-month tour through India and the article was published here