25 April 2007

Two days in heaven

“The man talks nonsense” said a visitor after hearing the Master speak. Said a disciple “You would talk nonsense too if you were trying to express the inexpressible”

- From ONE MINUTE NONSENSE by Anthony de Mello

The merchant of dreams
Some days are routine; there are no memorable events during the day. They are the ones which don’t stay in the memories for long.

And some days are different; you remember them for a long time.

It was one of those days; I was on the terrace of my rental flat in Bahrain with my friend. Those were also my final days in Bahrain.

We were talking this and that and with out any preamble my friend asked – “How do you feel to be on a cruise - only with your wife?”

I have heard cruises for a group but only for a single couple? “That would be romantic”. I said.

“Would you like to go for one?”
“Is it in Venice? That would be expensive” I said.
“No, it is NOT in Venice, the place is Kumarakom”

I could see the traffic on the exhibition road. It is the most crowded place in Bahrain.
I can also see the sea, Bahrain is a small Island; sea is never far.

“Where is it?” I asked.
“It is in Kerala! I have a friend, who can arrange..”
So it was not a totally altruistic suggestion!

“What are you selling my friend?”
“Ravi, I am selling you two days in heaven!”

The Package
The package was for 2 days and 2 nights on the houseboat for a couple. There will be 3 additional crew members to manage the houseboat. Food will be cooked and served on the boat it self!

I was never on water for 2 days and 2 nights anytime!

Friends in need
When I told my friends about my Kerala visit, they discouraged me like anything! Their point was: Kerala is very much similar to Mangalore; A Mangalorean won’t find anything new in Kerala!

“You will be the first Mangi to visit Kerala!” they said. Mangi is the short form for Mangalorean! It took me almost 30 years to realize that I am a Mangi!

Chances are more that you are a Mangi yourself, but have been enlightened by this fact just now!

A Promise to mom
“Promise me, you won’t go near the water!” My mom asked me just before leaving. I hate all the guys who don’t listen to their mom, no matter what!

In my case it was an impossible promise because the whole thing was on water.
“What is your definition for NEAR?” – I asked.

“Don’t start that jargon, just be careful!” she said.

I usually carry a book for the journey. This time it was THE PRIZE, by Irwing Wallace. I don’t know, does anyone read him now a days - he was famous during the sixties and seventies. Nevertheless he is one of those writers who do their research well before writing a book.

THE PRIZE is about the Nobel Prize: It has all the trivia information and inside stories.

Alfred Noble, on whose name these prizes are given, was a bachelor, inventor of dynamite, millionaire, and an atheist who read his bible daily!

The noble prize is not awarded posthumously! There is no Nobel Prize for mathematicians.

I am sad; my all-time-favorite Gandhi didn’t get a Nobel for peace! Even Tolstoy who was Gandhi’s Favorite (and mine too: A=B=C!) didn’t get one.

Surprisingly I found Irving Wallace books at Mangalore railway bookstore, which I was not able to find at crosswords! It’s a good omen; I bought two of them.

On the train
I reached Mangalore station one hour early with Reema (ex-girl friend, current wife).
Malabar express was already waiting in the station. Indian railway may be the only thing which is on-time or before-time in this country.

Lot of things in the railways have been changed, except for the food. Railway food is the one thing which is not changed in decades, it is not horrible but very close to it!

I saw a mouse on the train, a real one not the computer mouse. Other than the mouse, nothing much happened on the train. At Cochin, an old woman boarded – she had an upper berth. I was on the lower. It was difficult for her to climb, so I switched the berth with hers.

She said thank you! It was a real THANK YOU, you can recognize it. I hope someday when I am old, some young punk will switch seats with me!

I could not sleep the whole night; there was an AC vent directly on my head. That much for helping an old lady!

Day 1
We reached Kottayam station on time at 5.00 am. Kumarakom is 15 KM by road from Kottayam. The pickup car which was supposed to be on the station with a placard was not in the vicinity!

I called my travel agent; it finally arrived at 6.15 am.

“Why so late?” I asked.
“Sir! There was an incident yesterday!”
Unless you have a white paper on X-Rays and Nuclear Gamma Rays from Fast Particles with theory of alpha rays or something similar to your credit, you need to be very careful about the guys who call you –“sir”!

Obviously they have to sell something, which is not worth it. Else why would they call you – ‘SIR’?

“What incident?” I asked.
“There was a car stolen yesterday and police is checking every car in the morning!”

This can be as true as Shah Rukh Khan performing in the next Yakshagana at Kinnigoli bus stand!

Houseboat and the crew

I had never seen a houseboat and didn’t know what to expect. I think I was expecting a small typical boat just to manage - a two day tour. But what a surprise was in store for me!

We were waiting for the boat on the banks of the canal when I saw a huge boat coming towards us. I was expecting a small boat behind the huge one, turned out the huge one was ours!

A typical houseboat looks like a giant Armadillo. This is a wrong example because there are no armadillos in Kinnigoli or in India. Nevertheless it looks exactly like a giant armadillo!

Kettuvallam (Houseboat) or ‘boat with knots’ - is so called because the entire boat is held together with coir knots only - no nails! The boat is made of planks of jack-wood joined together with coir. The facilities on board include trained crew with hotel like ambience. There will be a living room, Kitchen, two bedrooms with attached bath and a raised central deck for lazing on cushions while watching the world go by!

There were three people with us, Vivek the Chef, Sasi and the captain Sagi.

“Where are you from?” – Captain asked me
“Which place in Bangalore?”
“Not Bangalore – Mangalore - Mangalapuram” He got it!

Houseboat, as the name says is a real home on water! With deluxe rooms and state of the art facilities, it’s a grand experience.

Missing my sister
Our crew was fluent in Malayalam, no Hindi – only passable English. Even with the language barrier they managed beautifully.

One person I missed on the whole trip was my sister; she is the only one in the family who can speak fluent Malayalam!

She was with a mallu gang for a long time, instead of teaching the gang Konkani – she has learned Malayalam. Shah Rukh Khan is no more her favorite. She needs Mohanlal or Mammootty, else she won’t watch the movie!

Incidentally Malayalam is the most difficult language in the world. It is also a palindrome that means you can read it from both sides. For a long time I was under the impression that MALAYALAM is the longest palindrome, till I came across meaningless - TATTARRATTAT!
As of now TATTARRATTAT is the longest palindrome, It was coined by James Joyce of Ulysses fame! I am sad about this guy, he was such a famous fellow I don’t know what made him to coin this stupid meaningless word just to make it - the longest palindrome!

I don’t know what is stopping somebody from making a bigger palindrome by adding 2 A’s in the beginning and end resulting – ATATTARRATTATA!

In Malayalam, words are not pronounced as they are spelt!

God’s own country
Like an elephant, houseboat moves gracefully with a gentle speed. You can relax in the front hall and enjoy the scenery unwind.

Rise fields as far as you can see, coconut trees with huge coconut bunches, ducks racing to out speed you, Lotus flowers popped out of water, immersed algae and nameless water plants you can see, as you majestically move forward.

Fishermen fish in the canal. Smaller boats wander selling coconuts, fish, flowers and other day to day items.

There are so many canals, constructing roads is difficult. Hence there are passenger boats. Instead of bus stands there are boat stands!

The water around is twelve to fifteen feet deep. It is not very clean.

There are fellow tourists traveling in other houseboats. They are mostly foreigners, with least amount of clothing possible - a pièce de résistance!

They are friendly, some of them waved at me I waved back.

“Welcome to God’s own country!” – I shouted to a couple traveling in the adjacent boat.

“Merci beaucoup” they said – Thank you very much!

Food was divine. I am a glutton, I know when it is divine! Exotic dishes like pineapple curry, black fish curry, Banana fry and oyster chilly without the shells!

My mom never removes the shells from the oysters, just because removing shells reduces the quantity by one tenth!

We had a certified Chef. For the food, you have a selection between North Indian, Keralite and Continental. Whenever you are on tour, it is always suggested that you should try the local food. We opted for Keralite delicacies.

They put lot of oil and coconut in every dish! Just like Arabs who put dates in everything!

Years back I had a fascination for paneer, till I went to Delhi on a project. I noticed in Delhi, they put paneer in everything except - tea! That’s how I lost taste for paneer. Now I avoid paneer.

Last thing on the first day
First day at around 1 am we decided to sleep.
“Do they have hidden cameras?” Reema asked.
“What?!, For Gods sake these guys are professionals. They won’t think doing such a thing.”
“Let’s check anyway” she said.
“I think you are paranoid.”

Only a fool will argue with his wife just before bedtime on a romantic cruise! Hence checking for the hidden cameras was the last activity for the first day. We found two hidden cameras - got you there - just kidding!!

Day 2
Lady on the water
I saw a lady rowing a small boat single handedly.
“Are you not afraid of water?” I asked her.
“I was born in these areas” she said.
“My mom is very much afraid of water” I told her.
“In fact, Water is safer than land!” she said. For a moment I was wondering whether it was Plato, Kafka or Camus. But then I think she was just joking.

Champakulam Chundan
Champakulam Chundan is nothing but a snake boat. Kerala is also famous for boat races. These are held in the second Saturday of August every year.

Nehru came to Kerala in 1952; fascinated by the game he suggested it to be a yearly event. There is a Nehru Trophy on his name, every year.

The event is telecasted on Doordarshan and in 64 countries.

A typical snake boat is 130 feet in length and Breadth around 70 inches; with 100 – 150 rowers, it is the world’s only game having so many team members at one side!

Ayurvedic Massage

I also tried the much hyped Ayurvedic massage. Massaging is very famous among the Arabs in Middle East. Even though I was there for almost 3 years I had never tried massaging.

One hour full body oil massage was exotic. After the massage, took bath in a top-less bath room, surrounded by cocoa trees.

A cocoa pod has a rough leathery rind about 3 cm thick. It is filled with sweet, mucilaginous pulp, enclosing 30 to 50 large almond-like seeds that are fairly soft and pinkish or white in color.

Cocoa is the dried and partially fermented fatty seed of the cacao tree from which chocolate is made.

Aleppy beach

We banked near Aleppy and took an auto till Aleppy beach. It is very clean compared to Juhu and less crowded.

It is also very steep. I may be the first Kinnigolian to visit Aleppy beach but surely didn’t want to be the first Kinnigolian to drown there - hence didn’t go far from the shore.

Saw the sunset, it was a normal sunset - not romantic, I am not a poet!


If you are the kind of person who likes to travel hundreds of miles - to take pictures of ground nut offerings to monkeys at a zoo; house-boating is not for you! If you like to take snaps besides medieval sculptures – feeling a kind of euphoria and content - don’t think about backwater cruise!

Instead if you are someone who is bored with the fast-life, concrete jungle and management jargon and someone who finds recreation by just watching the nature and fish in water, do try the house boat experience.

I hope I am not sounding nonsensical by trying to explain the unexplainable!

Most of the time travel agents show illuminating, flashy things on the catalogue but when you actually see the place it will be a totally different experience!

So the holy life saving pond of yester years, is nothing but a waterless hole with tadpoles. And the king’s winter resting palaces are nothing but dog sheds!

But cocohol (my travel agent) is not like that; in software terms, the whole package is WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get!). The whole experience was more than expected and more than promised!

If you are like me who would like to eat idli or vada sambaar for breakfast instead of croissants; may be you can wind up the whole thing in 15,000 RS for a couple.

I wish I get some kind of compensation for the article from my travel agent, but alas life is not that beautiful!

Following are the contact details of my travel agent incase if you decide to give it a try. Just give it a try, believe me it’s worth it!

Roshan Philip
1st Floor, SRL C 54,
Sankar Lane, Sasthamangalam P O,
Trivandrum - 695 010,Kerala, India.Off: 0091 471 2318452Mob: 0091 9847833089email: roshan_philip@cocohol.com

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