How about an ordinary, no-frills boat trip to Alappuzha Town? We start the trip from Kottayam Kodimatha boat jetty. A boat starts off for Alappuzha town at 7 am sharp, be on time, or you will miss this chance. A simple indeed and cheap trip, but nevertheless, a journey that will keep you happy and satisfied.
It was just another laid-back Sunday when we take this trip. We were a bit late to reach the jetty and we saw the boat slowly moving away from the shore. But, it was our lucky day. On seeing the sorry threesome that we were, the boat driver steered it the back to pick us up. We were admonished by the man on the entryway, but the three of us - my friend Geethu and my three year old child Angela were happy to make the trip. The people on the boat were mainly fisherfolk and a handful of tourists. Armed with our tickets, we head towards our seat, right at the back of the boat. The background score for the trip; the steady chug chug of the engine.
The boat chugged on the Kondoor river. The blue skies, a smattering of green here and there, dreamy, little feathered friends on the branches and the lovely little ripples woke us up as the boat moved ahead. Meanwhile, people kept embarking and disembarking at the different stops.
Little Angela befriended a German couple seated beside us. She points to the pictures of flowers and monkeys from their guide book and regales them with whatever little information she has.
The fisherfolk in the boat - the ones with the fishing rods and tiffin carriers slowly get on with their act. Passengers kept getting on the boat and getting off at their destinations. The boat stops for a short fishing break. A fisherman jumps into the water and comes up with a basket full of Pearlspot – the prized catch of the day. The boat is immediately surrounded by different coloured birds that have come to share the happiness of the catch, but they fly off just as fast, disappointing the tourists who were slowly taking out their cameras.
The boat moves on, and we are in no hurry to reach anywhere. This is not our first trip to Alappuzha, but the fleeting frames that we see are like no other. My mind travels back in time. Memories. Those of Vallamkalis, a sadya arranged by a friend's father, Kappa - fish curry on a paddy field ledge, escapades in a guava orchard, a mighty slip and fall session, and a Coolpix camera that bubbled its way deep into the lake bed. Some memories linger!
We pass through Kuttanad, the parts of which is steeped in history. These lakes we are passing by were once farmlands. Let me tell you the story. Just after the World War II, the then Travancore kingdom faced severe shortage of food. The government intiated a 'Grow More Food' campaign. Enter Thomman Joseph Murickummoottil, also called Murikkan, a visionary and a social worker. He reclaimed land from the Vembanad Lake around Kuttanad and cultivated paddy.
The paddy fields were named Chittira, Rani and Marthandom as a token of gratitude to the Travancore Royal family. Kuttanad became the rice bowl of Kerala, and Murikkan was honored with the title 'Krishi Raja' (the king of farmers) by the then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
On the banks of the Chittira Kayal, there is a beautiful church which looks straight out of picture book. This church, Chittirapally, is also known as Murikkan's church. Long long ago, people used to come here to see how the paddy could be cultivated by building a bund across the lake.
Once the land reforms happened the fields were taken by the government. Now not much of it is cultivated and slowly the lake is reclaiming what used to be its. There used to be a lot of migratory birds which used to come here to nibble up the paddy, they do not visit too.
The 2-hour trip is almost coming to a close and we see our destination a little ahead. There are three boat services back to Kottayam; 11.30 am, 2.30 pm and the last one at 5 pm. We decide on the 2.30 one to get back. After breakfast, we get on a private bus that will take us to the Arthunkal St. Andrew Forane Church.
The church is crowded with those attending the Sunday Mass. We sit on the white sand for some time. The scorching sun drives away any idea we may have about venturing onto the beach nearby. We get on the next bus to Alappuzha from Arthunkal. It is almost lunch time, but we aren't hungry, so we settle for a juice-lunch.
Well, we reach the boat jetty right on time. The return boat goes only till Kanjiram. And because we are on time, we get to pick out seats. As we sit there waiting for the boat to fill up, Angela's friends, the German couple finds us. They are back from their Alappuzha town tour too. They are delighted and rather loudly shout out 'Hi Angela!' Everybody else on the boat turns around to know who the little star Angela is. We are squirming in our seats with a sheepish smile, so there is no mistaking!
The journey back to Kottayam seemed faster. The fisher folks that got down on little islands earlier, get back on the boat with overflowing bags. All head home with the satisfied smiles of a day well spent. A hearty boat trip that we could have almost missed, if not for the endearing boat driver and the forgiving co-passengers!