The train journey was uneventful, as most of my memories consist of sleeping only. The train was kept very clean, with periodic cleaning and spraying of air freshener. After many days, we were left to ourselves, as most of the times the mobile was out of range. I can definitely recommend this train for Pune persons going to Kerala as a good way to travel.
We arrived at Ernakulam Junction at 4.20 AM. Here I faced our main problem that would trouble us for our entire stay in Kerala – language barrier. Kerala is the state with highest literacy rate, however Malyalam language rules here. Especially among the lower service class, communicating in any other language is quite difficult. One has to resort to dumb charades and at sometimes even to paper and pen to draw up objects.
The porters at the station rolled my bike towards the exit and parked it there. I waited a while, and seeing that no further action was being taken, merrily rolled the bike outside of the station by myself. Suddenly a mob of porters came running after me and started hurling some unrecognizable sentences. Finally someone remembered some common words, and communicated that I need to take a signature of police there before taking out the bike, otherwise it would be as if I stole it! Again I rolled the 150 KG Vesta back to station, and huffing and puffing, started looking for that police constable. He proved to be more elusive than God almighty himself. The language barrier was not helping either. Nothing to do there except to sit and wait for the police maharaj. A wild idea popped up, that maybe I should throw a stone at some window, that will get some attention and attendance of the police, but fortunately, sanity prevailed. Later, we found out that one of the senior policemen was leaving by an early morning train, and most of the police force at the station was gone to see him off! I hoped it was a teary good bye, because sure as hell it took its own sweet time. Finally, at 6.30 AM, that police arrived and signed the sacred receipt, and blessed me towards my journey!
The stop of the day was Alapuzha, AKA Aleppy. It is about 55-60 kilometers from Ernakulam, hardly a 1-1.5 hour’s ride. That too, we rode at early morning, and thus the roads were empty. The first impression of Kerala was ‘green’. For Rajasthan, that impression was ‘yellow’, yellow golden sands, yellowish white clothes, stone structures, Rajasthan was draped in shades of grand Yellow. Here, green colour was sneaking in every scene, everywhere you look. And this observation was repeated many times in the journey.
At least in the early morning ride, I liked Ernakulam. Beautiful lake face buildings, nice marked roads, a proper city that is not yet as out of its natural touch as Pune – Mumbai. We reached Aleppy soon, and after a brief search, found a reasonable hotel to park ourselves.
Aleppy is a town that is mainly built around two canals. It is very famous for backwater boating. Aleppy is a major port for tourist backwater rides as well as local ferries. When they say Kerala is a tourist state, they actually mean that the state government will milk the tourist to the last drop. Almost for every ride, we found that private operators offered same services at much better prices than government rides, and local shops sold the same stuff as the government shops at 50% discount, if not more. However, the tourist information centers everywhere are quite helpful. We found the hotel by ourselves, but later felt that consulting the Tourist Information Center first before finalizing our hotel would have helped us.
After checking in a ‘Om Shanti Lodge’, we started out to roam the town. Aleppy is a small town really, and with a bike, one can cover it very quickly. There was a saw mill – a wood cutting company operating nearby. The woods made some interesting photo sights. I would have loved to understand the process a little better, but language barrier made sure this didn’t happen.
We headed to the tourist center after having a not so good breakfast. We wanted to book some boat ride, and also get some information about the town’s tourist points. There are various back water rides of boats that one can take. There are mainly two types, short ones covering a quick visit to Vembenad lake, and long full day ones taking you from Aleppy to somewhere else. But here too, ‘tourist’ is a losing word. Consider this: Aleppy to Kottayam tourist boat takes full day, includes a meal on board, and costs Rs.800 per person. Same route, local boat takes 2 hours, apparently goes through more beautiful way and costs Rs.24.
We booked a short duration boat, called ‘sunset ride’. It cost us some Rs.300 p.p. A 4 hour boat ride that would ride through scenic backwater, giving you glimpse of the life of people living in nearby villages. Or so they say. But more on that later.
A note for groups: Private boats ferry the same route for 300rs per hour for maximum 5 people. If it is a machine boat, then prefer that option over the government boat one, as it is more compact, perhaps faster, and you will have privacy of your group. Select a boat with a cover for your head; otherwise you will turn up all roasted up in the sun at the end of the ride.
We got ourselves a nice map of Aleppy, and headed to Beach View point. It was unbelievably hot already, and only a nut head can go to beach at that time, that too on motorcycle. We being the ones complied. The small roads twist and turn sharply around canals, and sooner than you know, you are riding besides the sea. Even though it is hot, it sure made a good spot for a quick photo shoot.
There was this View point specially developed by the local authority. It looks outstanding, especially from the point where you get down the gate of the location.
But all is not well, and this is the same canal shot while standing on a bridge on opposite side of the view point.
While roaming around, we noticed there are many coir shops around. We ventured into one really shabby looking one. Turned out it was a front end to a much posh factory. Unluckily, they didn’t have the shipping option to Mumbai or Pune. There could be other companies that may ship to other cities, but we didn’t check. This is one thing that we pushed on to later, and much to our chagrin didn’t find similar shops anywhere else. The prices were good, and anyone going to Aleppy/Ernakulam can have coir product shopping on their list. Only be wary of government shops, they are there to fleece you.
We searched for a good hotel for a while, and settled for an appearance wise acceptable one. When you travel with a lady, meals break as well as nature breaks need to be planned well. There is this level of acceptance which is way above yours, and anything below that level is flatly rejected. When I used to roam alone before marriage, I never remember scouting for hotels for meals was part of any agenda. If the hotel had a stove, it would be good enough for me. Sigh, not anymore! Here we noted that in lunch time, good amount of ladies-only groups would come. Also, many women too were happily having lunch alone. Such sight is rare in the cities I hail from, and it felt good to see the self reliance of Kerala women.
After the lunch constituted by mainly rice and rice products, we dashed to the area ahead of our hotel, to see this side of the Aleppy town. Turned out that there were many hotels just ahead, and are uniformly spread till the area where land meets the lake. There are many Massage clinics, and some looked definitely dicey.
We rushed back to the boat jetty, in order to arrive in time for the ‘Sunset ride’. There were about 10 people already booked for the ride, few being foreigners. When we were told to enter the boat and be seated, I noticed an interesting phenomenon. Without having anyone to tell so, the Indians sat on one side, and foreigners on the other. As if by natural selection, the birds flocked to their respective places!
About the boat ride, well don’t have too high hopes for it. The boat runs at the lowest rpm possible. So a constant dug-dug-dug-dug of diesel engines filled our ears. It was my third visit to Kerala, and this one was after a gap of 6 years. This year, I felt that the back water ride is somehow losing its charm. There are so many boats prodding the backwaters around Aleppy, it is difficult to frame a shot without one creeping in the scene! Add to that a huge infestation of water hyacinth. It was there previously as well, but somehow I felt this time they were more omnipresent than ever. All the diesel boats constantly riding in the water, it’s hard to believe that the waters would be non-polluted. Sure we rode through all the bullet points on the brochure, and sure it was different from our normal life, the magic touch that I used to feel was not felt. Maybe because I was used to it, or maybe because something was overseen in pursuit of money.
A few pictures of the boat ride:
Farming below sea level
We reached back at around 6.30, and rode fast to the beach in hope to catch last rays of sun. Sun was gone before we could point our camera towards it, but the light was wonderful. In photography terms, the time of half hour before sunrise and half hour after sunset is called magic time, because of the quality of light present naturally. Being a Sunny man myself, I haven’t had gotten around first experience many times. But the later is experienced many times, and this day too was no exception.
It was a soothing experience to sit at the beach and chat our hearts out. Mobiles switched off, no deadlines to adhere to, no reporting to anywhere, it was a great cooling down that we looked forward so much towards. We left after it was half dark, in order to be at the right side of safe Vs sorry.
We had dinner at Lonely planet suggested hotel – Hot Kitchen. Its name is changed now, and they display both the names on the hoarding, understandably to lure the people like us who come looking for old name. It’s a good hotel; one can definitely visit for a meal or two in Aleppy.
Back at hotel, while lying on the bed, reflecting on the events of the day, the day started rolling like a fast forwarded movie on old VHS tape. As for the riding, buses and autos are licensed to kill, just as Pune. One can never be too safe to be alert. The highway is really too crowded, and being a two lane rushed road with no dividers in between, it was no surprise that bikers were among the least priorities of the bigger vehicles’ drivers. The persons we interacted with were nice but came across as aggressive. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what made me feel so, but more caution while riding on highway, and more flexibility while interacting with people, were the two lessons for pondering. The night was filled with dreams of riding on motorcycle through the water hyacinth filled canals!