Once upon a time, on the banks of the Vembanad...

I wake up with a start at the sound of pitter-patter on the roof. The door is open
and wet wind gushes in. The husband is singing Rabindrasangeet, lazing on an easy chair and staring into nothingness. Big rain drops create patterns on the pregnant Vembanad. Life couldn’t be more idyllic...
Delhi’s humdrum had sprung in us a desire to shun urban civilisation. We asked Stanley, our host in Cochin, about a place that would take us closer to village life. He told us about this
farmstay on the waterfront, off the beaten tourist tracks, that would actually give us a true picture of what life in a Kerala village is. Food and accommodation in the farmstay as well as a night in a houseboat rowed by sturdy men was promised.
We wait eagerly for our first glimpse of rural splendour. As the car approaches a narrow muddy pathway, red tiled huts peek through the foliage. An old man, the owner of the stay, greets us with coconut water. The rains stop and the verdant landscape gleams in a sunny haze. We are taken to our hut, bang on the
banks of the lake, a spacious room with a bed, comfortable chairs and a table. The minimalist decor ensures simplicity and elegance. Green here is such a dominant hue outside that no one complains about the monotone interiors. The absence of telephones and a television mean we have to think of ways to entertain ourselves when indoors. But with so much to explore on this land, who is going to stay put?
At lunch, we meet our young cook Lakhindar, a lad from Bihar whose responsibility is to note down every whim and fancy of ours. If we desire to feast on a plethora of fishes, he will rustle fish and chips or meen curry; if we want quintessential Kerala vegetable dishes, he will deliver that. We have the liberty to behave like pampered royals.
The husband keeps talking about spicy fried beef and beer, and all I want to sink my teeth in is fresh fish from the Vembanad, tossed in authentic Kerala condiments. The first dinner is proof of the cook’s calibre: Cabbage with coconut, steamed rice, two types of fish and some tingling mutton curry. Lipsmacking!

Mobile phones and alarm clocks are so intrinsically linked to us that when the cock crows at the first break of dawn, it’s an irritant of sorts. The crowing goes on and we slowly get accustomed. We head for breakfast: Soft appams and egg curry; absolutely divorced from the eggs, bacon and toast we dig into at home. I crib it would kill my appetite for lunch. But the appams are feather light and curry is aromatic. We lick our plates clean...
I explore the life around in the village. The women are cutting vegetables for lunch
or drying spices in the sun; the men feed the cattle. I try my hand at this. Initially the cows rebuff me but I doggedly hold the hay near their mouth. They give in at last. The women show me the pickles they are making: a riot of flavours on the palate.
In the meantime, the husband is stealthily asking Lakhindar about the whereabouts of fresh todi, or fermented date juice. He plans to go fishing with a glassful in the evening. Supposed to be potent, the villagers here have their fill twice every day. Once, early in the morning when the juice collectors climb up on date trees to prise open the bark. The liquid ferments all through the day; in the evening it’s intoxicating.
I watch him sip away with a fishing line as evening descends on the village. The huts on the opposite bank are lit up with lamps, looking like fireflies nesting on a blanket of inky darkness. The husband comes back to the hut, with no catch to flaunt but in a pleasantly tipsy state.
The last day is reserved for our stay in the houseboat. We embark on our journey through winding backwaters, dotted with trees and shrubs. The boat is wooden, with a restroom and a kitchen where our meals are being prepared. There is a cosy room to retire at night. The rowers double up as attendants. We get a glimpse of the quiet rural life as the boat slices its way past one village after another. The chirp of birds, the gurgle of the water and the buzz of bees are the only sounds. The boat makes its way through an expansive lagoon that one of the rowers say is close to the sea. Do we hear waves?
The lazy afternoon merges into evening. The boat is still stationed in the large
waterway. We look around and see the coconut trees at a distance merging into the dark sky. Lakhindar promises prawns for dinner. We wait with bated breath.
Night gifts us an unforgettable experience. The rain picks up while we are cosily tucked inside the little bedroom inside the houseboat. The lash of the waves and the gust of the winds are heavy on the boat. It’s moving relentlessly in circular motions. It’s scary yet exciting. We fleet in and out of the slumber, rocked by Vembanad’s waves of fury. The weather gods mercifully rest after a while.

In the morning, we alight at the farmstay and head back to the urban chaos in Cochin. We will return soon...

Comments

  1. Very nice capture of the blissful stay. A must-visit retreat to get back what we have lost to the choking cities

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