Canal town

The boat was moored to the left, right behind the tiny brick house. From the car, I could see two more wooden hulls swaying slightly in the greenish hue of the water. Every house, the ones painted in garish shades or the ones with the fading walls, had a boat tied at the back. Half-submerged stone steps led the way to the small backyards, where the women were either washing the clothes or drying them. A few kids were playing in the water. Some of them were walking over the tiny bridge joining the dust road and the houses. This was my first glimpse of Kumarakom, one of the backwater retreats in Kerala.

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A typical village scene, you might say, but what got me all excited was the small canal running through, where the boats were lined up. It wasn’t as fancy as the gondola rides in Venice or Giethoorn in Netherlands, which has absolutely no roads, but it was still a canal!

Over our three-day stay, I would imagine how it would be to do away with the dust road and the tiny bridge and just keep the waterways like Giethoorn. Then I would see the men and women climb down the steps and take out the boats and it got real.

The canal merged into the Vembanad lake, where the houseboats were docked. A shikara ride took us all around the lake, on the side of which were more houses and a bunch of kids waving hard at us.

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It was a simple town: where the paddy fields were more than twice the size of the houses, where coconut trees dominated the landscape and where the houseboats lingered.

Our hotel, right next to this village, was also built on the concept of a canal town. You had small cottages, with beams in water and the base built above the ground for the passage of a boat. The original owners also created a man-made canal here, which was filled with fishes. We would see small (palm-sized) tortoises slowly crawl out and hear the buzzing of a myriad insects. Around six when it would suddenly go dark, in a matter of minutes, it would feel like we were living in the middle of the forest.

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In the mornings, sitting on the veranda sipping the tea, the birds would come for a while. There was especially this huge white bird, like a stork, that would perch on top of a leafless coconut tree. Kumarakon has a bird sanctuary nearby, which is said to house migratory birds. But alas we saw more birds in the hotel than the sanctuary. The 2 km walk though is a good morning exercise and you realise that the tiniest creature, not even 1 cm, can make so much noise as to con you into walking further and further ahead.

During the nights, it would rain and the buzzing of the insects would fill our ears. But just as soon, we would cosy up in the blankets and fall asleep. And in the mornings, there was that bird coming to say hello again!

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Besides these simple village tales, a ride aboard the houseboat and the bird sanctuary, there is little else in Kumarakom. A small museum started by a lady who collected wooden sculptures from the Andamans after small tsunamis is another destination. Eagles, rabbits, crocodiles, the blowfish, plenty of things are on display that she claims were created by the sea and just given finishing touches by her hands.

And then there is the coconut water, the fish and of course the chips!

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A cosy and warm place, Kumarakom is a place to take that book and fall asleep whilst reading on the hammock. It is a place to rise with the sun to say hello to the birds and see the lake stretched out in all its glory!

Now only if they cleaned the lake and got rid of the roads…

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