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India - Backwaters

A village on lake Vembanad in Kumarakom, Kerala

January 20, 2016
A village on lake Vembanad in Kumarakom, Kerala

The view from our beautiful heritage resort on the banks of the Lake Vembanad was almost unreal; birds flying into the glorious sunset over a never-ending lake dotted with traditional houseboats. Though I was in God’s own country, it seemed like I was in a different world.

Two days later, early in the morning, I set off in a small country boat to see and feel life in the village on the banks of the backwaters leading off Lake Vembanad. A lone cormorant, perched on a wooden stilt, greeted us as we set off.

We passed the Kumarakom bird sanctuary and then, from the lake, turned into a narrow, tucked-away backwater, watching as the village Kavanattikinkara woke up and came to life.

Dappled sunlight filtered through the thick trees as we passed a man in his boat setting out into the lake for his daily work. Small, colourful houses facing the backwaters lined the entire stretch. As we glided along on the water, life in the village unfolded in front of my eyes – villagers bathing in the backwaters, cleaning their vessels for another day in the kitchen, women washing their lovely, long black tresses, laundering their clothes the old fashioned way on a stone on the banks of the lake.

We passed the village school – painted bright pink – on the right bank, and the temple on the left.

There is a little stage built on the backwater where the villagers gather to crown the winner of the local snake-boat race, held in September in honour of Sree Narayana Guru, a social reformer who had visited the village. That is a big and colourful event on the village calendar.

We moored the country boat and ventured into the village for a short stroll. The temple was busy with devotees inside, while outside people were gathered in animated conversation over chaya or tea from the ubiquitous tea stall that is found everywhere in Kerala.

A man with a large bow and arrow was sitting on the banks staring keenly into the water.

He explained to me that he was fishing local style – once a karimeen – the local speciality fish of the region, also called pearl fish – is spotted he aims and shoots an arrow from the banks of the river. I have never heard of hunting for fish with a bow and arrow before! We saw coconut leaves being woven into mats and the veins being made into brooms. I was asked if we would like climb a coconut tree…. Well, that should be fun, but perhaps on another day!

Large, open, wooden boats, used to transport goods, were moored alongside the kettuvolams or houseboats which now transport visitors/tourists through Kerala’s backwaters. This village is a large boat-operators’ base and there are scores of houseboats of every shape and size tethered to the banks. A lady tended to the ducks she was raising before they waddled down the banks and into the water dotted with beautiful pink lotuses.

It was now time for the first shop to float by and, of course, he was selling fish. He called out as he glided past the houses on his boat with a fresh haul of fish, and the women came scurrying out so they could pick the best. Talk about fresh – it does not get better than this.

We passed the village jetty filled with boats offering backwater rides and made our way back to the lake, passing many brightly painted signs announcing the ‘best’ backwater restaurants..Gathering clay and river sand from the lake is a livelihood for many villagers and we passed a few sand-laden boats, the man on it skilfully steering the heavy boat with one hand while talking on a mobile phone in the other! Modern technology meets Mother Nature.

Life in the backwater villages has ebbed and flowed in time with the lake and its backwaters. For me, it was a glimpse into a beautiful way of life, shaped by the environment we live in.

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About Me

I am a banker by profession, traveller by passion.

I have found time to travel to many countries and live in 2 countries (3 if Scotland ever does becomes one!) and 6 cities during my career in finance. I was a diplomat first and started in the Indian Foreign Service with my first posting being Paris – The City of Light. And began my lifelong love of travel and coffee there! An MBA followed and I’ve been in finance since.

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