From here on, this travelogue takes a different turn. Since I remember very little of the sequence apart from the fact that at every given point there might have been a sore backside, I refer to Bhai’s rather effective diary. This he would take out at every break longer than a traffic signal duration’s and make a note of every detail.
For example, an entry for the “27th of December, 2k8” says, “Soda break at Koodapuzha @ 12:15 pm”. He also adds his meter reading next to it. I honestly don’t remember the soda break.
We left for Allapuzha in the afternoon after having an unnecessarily expensive lunch at Fort Kochi restaurant. The RX-Z suddenly had no air in its front tyre. We stopped at a mechanic’s for a potential puncture treatment. But since it doesn’t make it to the diary, you would know by now that it was just a quick stop. No puncture. Fill air. By evening, we were in a dusty, busy, brown town. Along such roads ran wide streams strewn with the greenest of somethings. There were houseboats everywhere. This was Allapuzha.
I being the most useless of all passengers, had the unenviable task of finding hotel rooms. I went to one which was called Rai-ban, I think. It reminded me of the much-ridiculed hostel section which was reserved for non-engineering students in the highway town I studied. At Rs. 400 or so for a big dormitory, the deal wasn’t bad. The hotel was. We then got into Raj Residency for Rs. 600 a big room. The only thing remarkable about this place was a group of Bengalis cooking just outside our room. “They come here every year,” the hotel guy told me. Really?
In the evening, as part of locality exploration, we went to the beach. There was a big celebration on with music and dance programmes at a faraway stage. Bhai thinks this was a beach party. What it did to the beach would be visible next morning.
Some places tend to look beautiful in the morning, dusty in the afternoons and pleasant after dark. Allapuzha is one of them. The early morning sunlight, the railway tracks you cross, the joggers, the yoga practitioners… the shitters. All add to the beach, whether you want it or not. Last night’s celebration had left a large collection of used plastic paraphernalia. The air smelt neutral in most regions of the beach.
Some were used as open toilets and it was disgusting. Just as we kept far away from the stink and tried wading in the water, we saw a buffoon urinating into the beach. And to think this is a state which can compete with West Bengal for the strikes and rallies count.
Backwaters and bullet rice
Like waiting to see snow for the first time, I had waited to take a boat ride on the backwaters of Kerala. No, not as part of a honeymoon. Someone told us that approaching boatmen directly would get us a decent rate. Rs. 1600 it was for four hours of boating. There is a strong flashback to this as well. We had the great idea of travelling on a passenger ferry to Kollam (which was to be the next destination) with the bikes, thus saving at least 50% of the cost. It would also mean that we’d travel on the backwaters, proper.
In Allapuzha, private and government boats take turns to do this voyage. On that given day, the scheduled private operator’s boat was too small to carry vehicles.
So we did go on the backwater tour. The fun lasted exactly 10 minutes from the start. After that we began counting down. The boat was good, the boatman was fine and the scene outside was precisely how one would expect, but it was so boring, so same. The most interesting part of this ride was when we stopped for food. The boatman asked if we wanted toddy, “Toady, saaru?” I was more keen on the coconut. Kerala backwaters, tick… Kerala coconut, tick. At lunch, Kerala bullet rice, tick. Brilliant.
All the while that we were boating, our bikes and bags had been kept safe by a very fine, tennis-playing uncle that Arvind had befriended. Thanks to him, we had saved on a day’s room rent. While with our poor social skills we were discussing whether this act of goodness needed to be paid for, he bid us goodbye by giving us his card. After Allapuzha, Kollam beckoned.
The sunny interlude
It is amazing how you meet certain people who make others’ travel easier and memorable. I cannot imagine myself being such a good host even though at various times during this trip and more so during the north-east trip, I’ve had the fortune of being helped by someone completely strange and someone without an ounce of business interest in my travel. The tennis-playing man in Allapuzha had been one such.
Once out of Allapuzha, it was a busy rush of traffic towards Kollam. It was also afternoon going into evening. Someway up the journey, Naga noticed that we were running parallel to the shore. For some quirk of fate, Bhai had sped ahead of all of us, while Mukunda and Arvind were lagging behind. We noticed that at one strategic point, the road broke away from the shore and just before this point, there was a wonderful opening to watch the sun set.
After making some phone calls and getting everyone to stop at this place, the cameras came out. This was the best view of a sunset we would see. Only later we asked about to learn that the place was called Thottampalli.
Swirling coconut trees, the brilliant colours of the setting sun, the algae-adorned rocks and the sizable crowd that gathered in no time: photographs enough to make others envious.
Wrong colour at Varkala
The sun set by 6:30 pm I’d think. Maybe earlier. And Kollam wasn’t too far off from there. But Bhai’s diary says we reached our hotel in Kollam only at 9:30 pm. That was true, but I can’t recollect why we had been that late. I do remember that I was loyal to my duty and found a place called De Orient. It looked like a badly done star hotel, but for the money we paid, it had a stunning reception area. The guys at the reception looked like MBA students doing their internship here. The in-house restaurant was beautifully decked up, but was empty. “We’ll be open till 11,” they said.
Choosing to scout for a better place to eat, we strolled around the deserted streets. About three restaurants were physically open, but necessarily shut. Only one was ready to serve food. Some northy joint, the guy only spoke hindi and the lassi was good.
Early next morning, we checked out of De Orient and I went in to hand the keys back. The same MBA-intern-looking guys were there. They had been sleeping in the reception area. Now that has to be a tough way to do a semester project. One of them never really woke up, but it was good of him to sort our bill out in his dreamy melancholy.
Some 40 plus kms from Kollam is Varkala, a beach beside a cliff, just off the main highway that leads to Trivandrum. It also has a temple which is quite popular by itself. We reached in time to see some religious rites being taken care of, hordes of yellow sari-clad women and yellow shirted men had congregated. If this side of the Varkala was all religious, a few meters further down the beach were foreign revelers sunning themselves in the sand. Varkala is the best beach I have seen; clear water, clean as can be and a fairly good atmosphere.
As we strolled along towards and past the foreigners, one part of the beach was marked as dangerous with red flags on small staffs. So we went past that section and jumped into the water. A few white kids were frolicking by themselves. From nowhere, three big, goonish locals came ordering as off that part of the water.
“It is too dangerous, saar.”
“But these kids are swimming alright.”
“They are experienced, saar.”
Half expecting this treatment at Varkala, we were still taken aback at the blatant commercialism, or racism if you want to call it so. These guys were private operators hosting plenty of foreigners and it was bad advertisement for them seeing Indians sharing aquaspace with their dollar-spending visitors. Still, we did keep swimming there.