Sarang of the Water Lily….

They all said in their singsong accent that I haven’t seen the real Kerala if I haven’t seen the backwaters. I only smiled at the stranger mallyalis knowing that my tour schedule is governed by a headmaster and does not permit me to decide much!

And then the God decided to surprise me in his own country!

Our return railway tickets remained unconfirmed till the last day. Now I have no other choice but to spend a night on a house boat in Vembanad Lake, Kumarakom, Kerala, until my return commute is arranged! Yeey!!

A seen-in-pictures type “kairali” houseboat stood swaying serenely at the jetty, with its dried coconut leaf mats and a bronze plate bearing name “water Lily” gleaming in the evening light… Mr Thomas Abraham greeted us with a toothy smile and a pet name longer than his first name, “aniyan Kunju” meaning little brother.

This little brother owned a few paddy fields in the backwaters along with a houseboat (costing app. 40lakhs) his plain white mundu and modest smile did not hint about being rich!!

While we settled aboard, a silent boat crew of two burly mallyalis took the sailor wheel. I was too occupied with the coconut orchards and tiny houses tucked here and there, that were passing swiftly behind as our boat sailed away from the jetty…into the wonder filled enchanting world of the Lagoon….

Standing unaided on the top deck, feeling soft moist wind and glow of setting sun on my face….. I could almost imagine what Jack Dawson must have felt… like being the king of the world!!

These boats are highly equipped for luxurious stay which probably means a dish TV and air conditioned bedrooms with smart compact attached toilets, fine upholstery and a hidden kitchen! Dinner on a houseboat is a long event, with finest fish fries arriving at the table, wine glasses glinting and conversations that last a long time. Finally I could smile and bid a goodnight to everyone and escape from the dinner deck….

The top deck was bathed in moonlight…. I could see the entire lagoon rippling and throwing slivers of moonlight in many directions… like molten silver holding the boat afloat! There was soft mist around the silhouettes of coconut trees at some faraway shore…

Last few savory sips of wine and a book of Kairali short stories was left completely forgotten beside me. I was non-existent, molten away in the moonlight…. Flowing in the rippling lagoon….swirling in the misty horizon….There was an unexplained mysterious smile depicted in my surrounds and I smiled in reply, smiled at the way I was brought here….to this night on a deck. Knowing that the beauty of this night came not from the water, moonlight or the boat… but from something within me….

I just sat still…..not knowing if my eyes were closed or open… not knowing if I was awake or asleep… till the dawn touched on eastern horizon… leaving a dreamlike night in my misted memories for lifetimes.

The morning was fresh and strikingly alive with all kinds of birds chirping trumpeting around the boat. Ducks, herons and many water birds had started out their day. And a solemn looking bee-eater sat on a dried twig taking an apparently random unexpected flight once in a while and returning to his perch with a fat dragonfly in its beak!

The sun was glowering by the time our wafting coffee mugs were empty and taken away. It was time to head home… a painful reminder that this wasn’t a home after all!

I descended to the sailor’s deck, where our boat crew, Sajjivan and Antony had prepared the boat for its return. I asked Sajjivan the word in mallyali for the boat-driver! He replied, “Sarang”.

Sajjivan gave the sailors wheel in my hand, teaching me to move the propellers the right way, winding through the small islands of waterweeds. We chatted about the life on and off water… He loved his job and life on a lagoon. His family lived in Kottyam. His daughter “Anusree” was attending one of the engineering colleges, (which are abundant throughout the kerala!)

The “water Lily” swayed back into the jetty under expert hands of her “sarang”… And as I stepped on the terra firma, I had to smile with an effort, waving a goodbye to the smiling pair of Sajjivan and antony standing on the deck.

I was left with Sajjivan’s parting words,

“Sarang… The one who steers…”

Sarang… the one who steers me into a torrent of experiences, revealing his silvery self reflected in the vessel of the world….

No wonder saints often described God spiritual literature as,

Sarang… The one who steers the boat of spirit, from mundane of earthly life into the depths of divine love….

Divine Abode of Ambadi God’s House at Thekkady

Munnaring Tourist A Stroll through the hills of Munnar

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Divine Abode of Ambadi…

Thekkady is famous for its pretty location on the fringe of Periyar tiger Reserve. Gigantic bamboo clumps forming an intricately towering canopy over roads will welcome you to Thekkady. An occasional Malabar giant squirrel scampering overhead can be spotted here if you prefer gazing into the thickets than in tourist shops!

Our next stop was Ambadi resort in Thekkady. Ambadi literally means the home of Lord Krishna. (ref: our headmaster tour guide) Though I don’t see any historical trace to it, I can gladly accept this beautifully designed hotel as Krishna’s own home!! He’d love the stone pathways, fine-carved, polished wood paneling, and excellent designs of timber-joints in sloping roofs! Warm earthy brown terracotta flooring and heavy wooden furniture with witty lights twinkling through bamboo lamp shades!

What a divine home it was!

The headmaster had whisked away every other tourist to boating and some spice garden cum shop. I bunked to stay in this divine Ambadi and took a long luxurious Abhyanga bath! My little cottage was silent… allowing only the squirrels to chirp relentlessly! There was a cozy sit-out in the front facing a wild cluster of bamboo… Lounging with a hot cup of “kaapi” I watched the sun showering its last flecks of gold for today from behind the dark silhouettes of arching bamboo….wrote notes for the blog, feeling like I was already sharing the happiness of being alive with you all, my loved ones!

Slowly the sky went dark and lights from the pathway started to illuminate the bamboo upward… Rested and “coffeed” comfortably I set out to stroll around the tiny settlement. I just walked on roads, met strangers, and made friends with little girls selling heaps of jasmine….

There were little shacks of art studios and local restaurants with excellent appam-sambaram menu! Beautiful pieces of wooden artwork lined the roadsides of a bustling market. I watched a wood artist at work, wearing a traditional white mundu wrap, his face austere with tense, intent thought behind is sharp sparkling eyes…. It was like walking into some timeless world where the artists chiseled gods into existence… I swayed back to my cottage feeling like an audience of some enchanted magnanimous movie that was being set on the world stage….. The glimpses of thekkady will always jump at me at the mere mention of kerala…. Surging like a living element inside me, never letting me succumb to a lifeless life.

Sarang of The Water Lily A night on a lagoon

Munnaring Tourist A Stroll through the hills of Munnar

Munnaring Tourist….

I had heard so much about the god’s own country that a rushed, exhausting, crammed-in-a-tourist-bus type of trip could not do justice to the description.

So after the first day of site seeing through Munnar that was in fact spent in a traveler bus, I decided to do a bunk! Our tour guide was nearly as strict as a headmaster of school for juvenile criminals! So years after my schooling got over, I got a chance to experience the thrill of bunking!

Now I had all the time and freedom to do anything I wished! So I walked through unknown roads of those unknown places… watched people… real, walking, working people who lived behind the face of a tourist destination…

I zoomed around in local auto-rickshaws, felt like a mute and deaf trying to understand mallyalam!! And I watched their buildings…. It was a painful struggle to bind a natural and rugged architecture into western definition of modernism… and hopelessly failing at it.

They build glass facades because city people like it that way… and city people pay for the tourism industry…. Through the infection like crowd of faceless steel and glass boxes of luxury hotels there would be a little shack put together in rough stone, hidden behind clump of trees…. Like a tribal child peeping curiously!

One must cross a couple of hills to leave the market and tourist area behind. There I walked through simple cobbled streets of a local settlement flaunting wonderful, graceful, old stone-wooden houses. These houses definitely outlived those who doubt durability of wood and stood there mocking the fragility of glass boxed hotels!

I watched little songbirds soaring through the valley and imagined their songs were about the elite forest that once existed where rolling hills bear a disciplined monotony of tea gardens. Ecology has overpowered my aesthetic judgment a long ago. Mono-plantation of a tea estate does not appear beautiful when my mind is trying to grope the beauty of an ancient forest that was…

Though many bollywood heroes have pranced through these gardens…. I believe the tea gardens are supposed to be beautiful to most eyes….

While leaving Munnar, I concluded that I was unfit to enjoy famous hill stations…. Though the soft fog wrapped memories of the lofty Western Ghats will stay with me forever… for the elegantly mysterious forests of Anaimudi ranges…

PS: Forgive the lack of pictures, my faithful camera is in need of battery repair.

Next Post will be about Divine Abode of Ambadi in Thekkady…