The next day, we started out for Kanyakumari at around 9.00 A.M. The day’s plan was to reach Kanyakumari by evening, but the moment we joined the every busy highway, the difficulties in the plan started popping up. It was hard to keep up speed on the road, with the constant company of towns across the highway, and people jumping in the road for crossing, and buses stopping in between the roads for passengers, and a constant addition of temperature by the rising hour, by the time we halted for breakfast, we were pretty exhausted. Besides, searching for ‘acceptable’ breakfast places inevitably shifted our breakfast time further, which didn’t help in improving my mood.
Having our fill of Appam and Atriappam, we consulted our itinerary, map of our route and Lonely Planet. It was quite clear to us that stretch was not possible for us to complete in a day, and a quick reshuffling of the itinerary in order. Our itinerary consisted of visiting Athirapally falls in the end. An alternative was deduced, by removing this part from the itinerary. The month was April, and even though the Athirapally falls are grand when in their prime after the rains, the probability of them partially or even completely dried out by now was high. Removing this location would give us extra days at other locations too, where we were going to only touch and go. So off with Athirapally, and welcome the new itinerary!
We found we were around 50 kilometers from Kollam – Quilon. The guide books said there were boat rides here too, but different than Aleppy. Here we would have a boat ride through Mattencherry, an island with a crisscross network of small canals where only manual boats operate.
Hmm, seems interesting, we thought. Other option was Kovalam beach or Varkala beach. But both of us were in favor of boat ride as against a beach visit. So it was decided for today’s halt, Kollam it would be.
I observed an interesting phenomenon. In Kerala or South India, wearing Lungis is a socially accepted norm. When you are riding/driving down the highway, you will spot many groups of men walking on the road, all wearing Lungis. You can count from 5 to 1, and 9 times out of 10, one by one they will reshuffle their lungis by opening the view towards you! Like yawning, the lungi opening and closing too seemed infectious, with all the persons doing so one by one. Luckily I was spared of the view every time, as I took extra precautions of not looking at the wrong place at the wrong time.
We reached Kollam at around 11.30. Learnt from our experience at Aleppy, we first headed to Tourist Information Center, which is located just opposite the town jetty. There are two jetties, first one is fisherman’s jetty which doesn’t have any ferry. Second is a nicer cleaner one, with regular ferries for locals as well as tourists.
No sooner than we switched off the ignition of the bike in the parking space at the jetty, we were gathered around by agents. Hasty conversations filled with big promises at good prices started flowing. We gave this and that reason, and freed ourselves from them. The Tourist Information Center itself is very helpful. They guided us about the government boat rides, and also to a very nice beach facing property at a budget rate. We booked ourselves for the boat ride at 3.00, and started towards the hotel, which was about 5 kilometers away.
Here onwards began some strange enmity between myself and Kerala traffic system. I couldn’t understand the signals at all! Firstly all were placed at angles more than 30 degrees, so one could never be sure whether it was for him or the opposite street! There would be a traffic police – man or woman – controlling the traffic by signals. Good in theory, but in practice, 3 systems prevailed. One was what the signal was showing. Other was what the traffic police was signaling, which was not always in accordance to the signal. And then there was public logic. If the public at the red light thought they had waited enough, they would ride right past the nose of the traffic police having his hand up signaling to stop. More than once I rode right into that traffic police, misreading either the signal or his actions. But luckily, we managed to get away just by a disgusted look, an incomprehensible scolding, and in one scenario, a long sermon which I did not understand a word from.
Tackling these traffic issues, we reached the hotel – Summer house. The location is bang on the beach. Just when the hotel ends, there is a wall like as on Nariman point, with similar stones afterwards, and the sea starts. It was as if having a personal beach, at unbelievable price.
The service consisted of a one man army named Rama. The English wasn’t particularly good, but the service made up for it. In fact, this was the only person who called me later in my ride asking how everything was going! Our conversations would never have any verbs.
‘Here sir. Fridge…cold water.’
‘Bed sheet…one more’.
The English grammar was getting screwed around, but we made our points clear to each other. My observation would be wrong, but I felt speaking in full proper sentences was adding to confusion, if not unnecessary.
We reached in time for the boat ride batch, after having a quick lunch. This boat ride begins with a 18 kilometers bus ride to this island named Munroe Island. It is well connected with the outer world now, with TV and DTH and telephone and bridges and even a train station, but yet, it is an island. Here too, I would advise similar to Aleppy. The private ferry costs some 450-500rs per person, but they can take only two persons as well. It is a better option than the government one – 400 per person with 10-12 persons.
Our tour bus was filled by foreigners alone, and we two were the only tourist representative of India, besides the driver. They were a happy lot, and besides having come from separate countries, their willingness to mingle around and help with any query was commendable. I was made to share the seat with a US elderly gentleman named David. Just two days ago he had cycled his way from Trivendrum to Kanyakumari on a one speed cycle! And here I was thinking highly of my motorcycle ride. I hope I will have the same enthusiasm as him when I (if I) reach his age.
In a seemingly unending bus ride of 45 minutes, where for half the time the driver was sticking his hand on the bus horn, we finally arrived at the island. We were placed on this tiny boat that needed to be pushed around by a big bamboo in order to move.
The main business of Munroe Island is sand farming. We reached late, and sand farming would take place only in morning. Apparently the sand farmers made a lot of money, something which was informed in bitter tone by the guide. But their lives would be shorter too. A sand farmer plunges into the river, and brings out the sand at the bottom. There is no guard or safety instrument used in this. Only a boat to ferry the sand, and a vessel to bring the sand out of the river bottom. This sand is used for construction of houses and properties. Sure the money is good, but the farmers develop health problems fairly early in life, and death arrives in different forms, like bleeding from the ears. Constantly working under water messes up with the body, thus inviting death much earlier than anyone else.
The other business consisted of coconut tree. In childhood, all have learnt a coconut tree is called a Kalpataru, a tree that satisfies any wish. We realize its meaning in Munroe Island. From the coconut fruit itself, water and the tender coconut is used for consumption. Sometimes the tender coconut is dried in sun to get dried coconut, which is further processed either for kitchen, or for getting coconut oil. The shell of the fruit is either used to create decorative items, or is kept in water for 3 months, and then thoroughly beaten. This gives the fibrous coir, further used for rope and other products. Before the coconut, the tree has flowers that effectively turn into fruits. Here on Munroe island, toddy is created by giving a cut to the flowers and keeping a vessel under it to collect the dripping toddy. It is further processed to add ‘kicks’ in terms of alcohol, and after having addition such as spirit, it ends up in toddy shops. Few months ago, there was some contamination in the toddy creation, and several people died. Then on, government has made toddy making rules stricter.
The ground , constantly surrounded by water, is rich in its content. So people have plants of fruits as well as spices in their compound. The houses too are beautiful. They are not huts or small adjustments, but proper bungalows that IT guys in Pune-Banglore can only dream of. I guess having a sand farmer at hand reduces the construction costs significantly!
There are some big canals that are naturally formed, and then the small ones are created by people, to have easy access to big ones. The man made canals are hardly waist deep, and they go under the foot bridges where the occupants of the boat have to either bend down or even sit ducked in the boat in order to avoid hitting his head to the foot bridge. The rides are unbelievably peaceful. No diesel dug-dug like in Aleppy, no infestation of water hyacinth, the boat ride offers a perfect recluse from busy city life. When we were short listing photos for this write-up, it was very difficult to select one photo from another, because all were beautiful and peaceful in their own senses.
We stopped en route to visit a house with rope making machine. Rope making is done by rotating a big wheel by hand by one person, and other person releasing a bunch of coir smoothly. It is very fast, and in no time you end up with a long rope. If done properly, these ropes are so strong that they are used to construct the boats. Here we saw a lot of spices and common vegetables plants, which amused our guests a lot. Being Indians, we didn’t take too much fancy in looking for these common plants like lady fingers, tomatoes, and spices like tamarind, lime grass etc. But seeing the vegetables hanging on plants seemed a great experience to foreigners.
After a tea break, the boat ride continued ahead. We passed through fish farms. Here the farmers harvest fishes such as lobsters by some complicated way I never got to understand. The nets on top of the farms are to prevent free loaders such as birds, who feed upon others harvest. For scaring the birds, some clever inventions were seen, like a rope with empty bottles tied across the farms. When the birds would check in, a quick tug at the rope would make the bottles dance, and the small stones inside them created a racket enough to scare away the birds.
After the farms, our boat entered in small canals yet again. There was a temple at distance, and perhaps a marriage was going on, listening to the tone of mantras that were being sung on the loud speaker. With only sounds of nature around, and the chants, the slow pace of the boat calmly riding through the steady green water, coconut trees on either sides covering your path from the sun, it was a beautiful experience. Birds such as Brahmani Duck accompanied us till our departure. The boat ride lasts for 2.5 hours, but is surely magical, and a must add on the itinerary on any Kerala headed tourist.
Couldn’t resist to try my hands on the boat. The occupants started praying to their respective Gods!
We returned at around 6.00 to the tourist information center, where the bus ride started from. Evening was spent in leisure strolling and sundry shopping. In the night, it was unbearably hot with no wind. I took this photo on a 15 seconds exposure:
Not one leaf on the coconut tree moved for 15 seconds! You can imagine the hot weather, with the humidity soaring high because of the sea in front. Tomorrow we would go to Kanyakumari, where we were supposed to be today, but were thankful we took this diversion. Kollam is totally worth it.