We got lucky that day. The rain infused life into the sleepy backwaters as it fell, almost like washing away a spell. Tiny water drops greeted my face as I steered the houseboat slowly through the rippling waters. Lush green paddy fields stretched to infinity on my left. Swaying coconut palms, guarding the occasional small houses with kayaks and toddy shops, piqued by the low murmur of the engine, stood on alert on my right. The dark wooden head was all I could see of the boat in front of me. Time seemed to have stood still. A pack of seagulls flew across the rosy evening sky. I felt like one of them too as I flew lazily over God’s own country engulfed in its undaunted serenity. The enthralling quietude of the place left me spell bound.
My three day trip to Kerala started with Kochi, the center of Indian spice trade for many centuries. It is home to historic sites such as the St Francis Church, Dutch Palace, Jewish Synagogue and Bolghatty Palace, bearing a distinctive stamp of the rich colonial past with major influences of the Dutch, English and the Portuguese. The ferry rides are the quickest and a refreshing way to get around in Kochi. Fort Kochi beach adorned by boats with Chinese fishing nets is a must watch at sunset, followed by authentic Kerala sea food cuisine at some of the best restaurants along the sea coast.
The second day and night was spent on the calm backwaters at Alleppey or Allappuzha, also known as the Venice of the east. Epitome of tranquility, this paradise on earth also features in the top ten must see places in the world. The houseboat or the “Ketuvallom” comes equipped with all the modern amenities including five star food and even an Ayurvedic massage service. I cannot forget the blissful look on the face of my non-vegetarian friends when they had the prawns and the fish.
Marari Beach on the third day was a surprise. Un-crowded, almost deserted, clean and beautiful, it almost looked foreign except for the few wooden fishing boats that aligned the beach. A procession of people throwing flower petals into the water, a foreigner teaching his daughter to swim, a fisherman taking off into the sea on his makeshift thermocol boat, a seagull walking on the beach in a pensive mood, indiscernible white crabs sprinting across the sand to hide in holes on seeing the shadow of a bird, people having fresh coconut water that tastes like nectar in the hot weather, and my friend feeding two puppies a mango candy are just few of the sights I saw.
But what actually makes Kerala – God’s own country are the people. Apart from handcrafting every corner of Kerala, God also made the people with his own hands. Despite 70% of the population living in rural areas, it is the first state in India to have achieved 100% literacy. The progressive nature of the people is also reflected in the male/female ratio. The society is untouched by evils such as female infanticide and unlike the rest of India is matriarchal, not patriarchal. Women enjoy many rights often denied to the fairer sex elsewhere in India such as right to property, education etc. Heartwarming smile and hospitality greeted us everywhere, even when we paid for a transport ticket, sometimes followed by sincere and excited suggestions on the places to visit. Truly, God’s own people.