Saturday, October 30, 2010

Time to meet again. Bangalore to Alleppey trip.

When Anand sent another group mail with the heading “Time to meet again”, I was not sure if it would happen. After all, it had been five years out of college and lot of my classmates were either getting married or slogging in the US trying to buy that dream 3 BHK apartment in their hometown. After a week of chit-chat 10 guys were game for a trip to Alleppey, a picturesque town of canals, backwaters and beaches or as some folks like to call it “The Venice of the East”. Just like providence giving from one hand and taking away with another, my leave got rejected after everything had been finalized. Wished the guys luck and got back to mundane stuff like making a living writing code.
Partly in disappointment and partly to make up for this trip I was scheduled to miss, I applied for a week’s holiday during Diwali. With no clear plan in mind, I was hoping I would come up with a killer trip plan by then. Two days before my friends were about to depart, my manager broached the subject of my week long leave. “One week’s leave would be a bit difficult. We have so many things pending before the delivery next week”. Yeah standard IT dialogues. Without batting an eyelid, I bartered the week-long vacation for the one day leave that I really needed. The Alleppey trip was on for me as well.
Early morning fishing at Alleppey
Day 1:
After some frantic last minute ticket booking and hustle-bustle, I got on to the bus to Alleppey at 6 p.m. Friday night and a gruelling 12 hours later, reached the place which is around 600 kms from Bangalore. The skies looked like they were ready to send a shower at the first sign of provocation. Settled into a cosy hotel and ordered Idiappam with vegetable curry for breakfast. By the time I was done, the other guys from Bangalore had reached the railway station and we chilled out at the beach near the station waiting for the Chennai folks to arrive. With three SLR cameras including mine, we were spoilt for choice and set about taking pictures with the serene Arabian Sea in the background.

The majestic house boats of Alleppey
Ram who was entrusted with organizing this trip had booked a 3-bedroom house boat. These large boats rule the backwaters of Kerala and are the lifeline of a town dependent mainly on tourism. As we gazed at these majestic boats, I realized why man left the comforts and land set out to conquer the ocean – Adventure. Our captain was a well built guy with a pot belly that I am sure was acquired through years of consumption of toddy. With the little Malayalam that I knew, I convinced him to let us drive the boat for a short while during a straight stretch of water. It was surreal manning that large boat with the breeze on your face and the sight of the sun disappearing in the horizon.

Me with a house boat in the background
The in-house cook prepared a great lunch. The other guys tore into the fish with gusto while I and two other vegans savoured the vegetarian dishes. There were a few guys in small rowboats selling prawns and fish native to these backwaters. Our captain later led us to his favourite toddy shop. I had no desire to drink that stinky, sloppy coconut milk and decided to skip. This turned out to be a good decision in retrospect, considering the faces of the guys who tried! We ended the day watching movies, chatting and taking a lot of pictures of other boats passing us.
Sunrise at Alleppey
Day 2:
Come next morning, it was time for a traditional ayurvedic kerala massage. I was stripped naked, every pore of my being violated and they had the nerve to charge me for it. Actually the guy doing the massage didn’t seem to have an idea about the concept of nerve centres in the body or loosening up the knots in my body. Kerala massage seems to be all about rubbing in circular motions. Again this is my opinion. If you would rather prefer masochism, go ahead, give it a try.

Entire gang in the house boat. From Top Left: Pradeep, Muhilan,  Ram, Me, Vijay, Bas, Anand, Malai and Poochi.
Our next stop was the Kumarakom bird sanctuary, only it did not have any birds in the afternoon and ended up being a nice stroll. Our final destination for the day was the Vagamon hill station, around 100 km from Cochin, a series of hillocks, valleys and cascading waterfalls. It is an ideal place for trekking, especially in the Oct-Dec. The light was fading fast and we set about capturing some great shots in the twilight. Exhausted with the day’s adventures, we ended our day in the picturesque Hotel River Banks in Thodupuzha.

Vagamon Hill Station
Day 3:
Ram and I woke up early to indulge in some more photography in the wee hours. Our final destination of this trip was Thommankuthu, around 74 kms from Cochin and 18 km from Thodupuzha.  These wet evergreen forests are a storehouse of medicinal plants and boasts of a fabulous set of waterfalls having seven steps. Maniathadam to Thommankuthu is supposed to be a good trial with plenty of wildlife. But all we could cover was the waterfalls and we had plenty of fun doing it amidst the heavy rains. We left for Cochin in narrow roads flanked by rubber plantations and reckless drivers.
Early morning photography
 Every trip has its share of things gone wrong.  And we had plenty of those.  One lesson learnt was to plan your own trips instead of trusting tour operators. Ours did not book tickets for the Bangalore guys and booked tickets in the wrong train for the Chennai folks. Finally we managed to call our friends and book tickets from Coimbatore to our respective cities and made a mad dash from Cochin to Coimbatore to catch our buses. Pradeep  remarked “There is only so much tension I can take in a day” , retreated into his shell performing “Dyanam”(meditation) and further cramping all of us sitting in the back seats of the Tavera jeep.
We reached Coimbatore just in time to catch the bus and were glad to be inside the air conditioned buses after having more than completed our share of misfortunes for the day. But when it rains it pours and fate is not without a sense of humour. Our bus broke down after around 80 kms from Coimbatore. We spent the rest of the night miserably sitting on the floor of another bus we managed to hop on to.
But don’t let our bad luck deter you! Leave your homely comforts, pack your bags and visit God’s own country. There is no way you will endure as much adversity as us. Also there is no way you can have as much fun as we did!