After leaving the fabulous Alleppey, we reached Cochin, nearly 50 km from Alleppey. Cochin is one of the most important port cities of India. It is situated in Ernakulam district of Kerala, with name Ernakulam normally applied to mainland part of the city. Cochin is the home of the Southern Command of Indian Navy and state headquarters of Indian Coast Guard. A major trading center in the Arabian Sea since ancient times, Kochi was famous as Queen of Arabian Sea. 

Cochin has rich colonial heritage. Cochin remained the main seat of Portuguese colonies in India during the initial part of their stay in India, later it was Goa. During Portuguese rule, Christianity rose to prominence in Kerala, although it existed in Kerala right from the first century. Many churches were built during this time. Portuguese rule was followed by that of the Dutch. Dutch exchanged the Kochi with the United Kingdom in return of island of Bangka. Kochi remained a princely state till freedom of India. After Indian independence, Kochi became the first princely state to willingly join the Union of India.

The first area that we visited in the city was Fort Kochi. Contrary to its name, you will not find any fortified structure or huge palaces in Fort Kochi. This was the first place where European colonialism started in India. When Portuguese landed on the Malabar Coast, they were invited by the king of the Kochi as he felt threatened by the neighboring kingdom of Calicut. Later the king of Kochi was deprived of his powers by Portuguese. Today Fort Kochi is a peaceful and good-to-roam-around city. One could sight medium to large ships going to the harbour.

The Chinese fishing nets caught our attention in Fort Kochi. Called cheena vala locally, these nets were fixed on land. The two arms of the nets are so balanced that weight of a man can cause the net to dip in the sea. These nets are then taken out of the water by using ropes, and fishes so caught are collected. These are famous tourist attractions now in Kerala. Earlier it was believed that these nets were introduced by a Chinese traveler Zheng He, but recent researches have shown that these were introduced by Portuguese settlers from Macau. During our visit, we did not see too many fishes caught by these nets, in contrast to the effort and number of people employed in a single net.

We went to St. Francis Church, which was under renovation for the upcoming Christmas season. Built in 1503, it is oldest European church in India. The church was built by Portuguese explorers with the permission from Raja of Cochin. The first European - Vasco da Gama - who set sail to India, died during his third visit to India. He was buried here until his remains were returned to Portugal fourteen years later. The Church remained intact even during the transition from Portuguese to Dutch to British rule.

We also went to the LuLu shopping mall, the largest mall in India when it was built, currently the second largest. After this, we boarded the train from Ernakulam Junction. Thus ended our long trip to Kerala. While looking back, all the places seem so diverse and so beautiful. These days will always be present in my memories.

This post is a part of the series Kerala : God's Own Country.

Here nature has spent up on the land her richest bounties. Alleppey, the Venice of the East. (Lord Curzon)

sunset at Alappuzha beach in Kerala
Alappuzha Beach in Kerala
After driving for more than 80 km from Kollam, we reached Alappuzha, also known as Alleppey. Our driver left us at the starting point of boat cruises, where we could see hundreds of houseboats. Alappuzha is one of the oldest planned city in the region. Due to its extensive network of backwaters, Lord Curzon, then the Viceroy of India called Alleppey, Venice of the East, fascinated by its scenic beauty. After spending a day in Alleppey, we felt that the place does justice with its reputation.

With house-boating in our mind, we went to the nearby state government houseboat booking counters to gather information. We came to know that the counters do not open every day and chances of getting houseboats from there were thin. The only plus point of booking houseboats from these counters was that the charges were reasonable. A person sitting at the inquiry counter advised us to go from one boat to another and ask for the charges and availability. Most of them were already occupied as tourists who come here pre-book these houseboats to avoid last minute hustle. Timings for an overnight cruise was 11 am to 8 am next day and that for a day cruise was 11 am to 5 pm the same day. After negotiating with few houseboat owners we settled for a day cruise keeping in mind the time constraint, as we had to visit Fort Kochi on the following day.

At scheduled time, our houseboat left the shores. These houseboats had all the facilities one might require for a luxurious stay. They had spacious bedrooms, music system, drawing room arrangements like a sofa and dining tables, breakfast, and lunch facilities. Costliest of these houseboats had air conditioners installed, all running on batteries which also drive the propeller motors. These houseboats have a staff of three to four including the one who is in-charge of the helm. The boats going for overnight journey halt at a pre-decided place. There you can see a long line of houseboats providing a view of clear sky away from city’s lights. There they provide the cable connections to watch TV programmes. All this we got to know after having a conversation with the houseboat staff.

Shortly after our boat left we were provided a light breakfast. After that, we came on the upper deck of the houseboat. Slowly the canals became broader and broader and after an hour, we were in the canals surrounded by fields leaving behind the city of Alleppey. We stopped at one place to buy snacks. There the staff had lunch. We got beautiful views from the boat. With slow winds passing by the boat and sun shining at its maximum we were enjoying the lush greenery surrounding the backwater canals. There were small houses along the canals and almost all of them had their own boats. We jokingly thought that in these lands, these small boats owned by those families were status symbols of these households as bikes were elsewhere.

If one observes closely, one would find that the water level of these backwaters was few feet higher than the surrounding farm fields. It means that these fields were formed by land reclamation. In land reclamation, the land is regained from sea, riverbeds or lakes by creating dikes along the coast. This is particularly popular in Netherlands, where one-sixth of the total area of the whole country is reclaimed land. A marveling labyrinth of shining lakes, canals, rivers and rivulets was separated from bright green fields by dikes. A representative of rural lifestyles, this area is called 'rice bowl of Kerala' because of its paddy fields. These backwaters were also famous for snake boat race organised annually in the first week of august. 

We reached Vembanad Kayal, the largest lake in backwaters of Kerala. Covering an area of more than 2000 sq km, this lake is the venue of the celebrated Nehru Trophy Boat Race. For a moment, paddy fields disappeared, all we could see was water. There were other houseboats visible now in the lake. If one can see this from air, these would appear as tiny little dots in the blue background. Our houseboat started taking a U-turn, it was time to traverse back the path. We were provided lunch in the houseboats. For a while, we were at the helm, the wheel controlling the direction of boat's movement. Yes, turning the boats the way we wanted was a nice experience. 

When our boat cruise ended it was already evening and it was time to go again for a sunset at a coast, this time at Alleppey beach. For years, I have wondered, why people like sunrise and sunset. For its sheer beauty, sunrise against the backdrop of a mountain and sunset at a sea-coast should be a must do for everyone. I think people like sunrise because of its promise of a new day, a new beginning, with fresh air and chirruping of birds in the background adding to that effect. People like sunset because it gives them time to think on something after a hard working day, reminding of the ultimate finality of everything. Obviously, all these feelings occur with an eye-soothing view of the red sky.

Alleppey Beach is situated facing the Laccadive Sea. The remains of Alappuzha Sea Bridge reminds us of the golden old days which the city had as an important seaport in the colonial Kerala. Today this bridge is in ruins, but is a sitting place for birds, providing a nice opportunity to click these birds with the red sun in the background. We thought not to go into the water this time, instead preferring to enjoy from a distance, but we could not resist the temptation to play with the waves and as a result drenched our clothes. After sunset, our journey to Alleppey came to an end. We left for the final destination of our trip, Cochin.

Aerial photos of Kerala's backwaters:

aerial photos of Kerala's backwaters

aerial pictures of Kerala's backwaters

Venice of the East: Kerala's backwaters

See Photos of Alappuzha, Kerala also. Find pictures of Alappuzha on Flickr here.

This post is a part of the series Kerala : God's Own Country.

Alappuzha or Alleppey is also called the Venice of the East because of its extensive network of backwaters here.
houseboats halt in alleppey backwaters

One can roam around in backwaters in a houseboat. 

houseboat cruise in kerala backwaters
Vembanad Kayal is the largest lake in the backwaters of Kerala. Boat races are held here annually. 

at the helm of houseboat in alappuzha
A picture that was taken from our houseboat in Vembanad Kayal.

Houseboat in Alleppey
An afternoon in Vembanad Kayal in Alleppey.
sun and its reflection at vembanad lake in alleppey backwaters

vembanad lake in kerala backwaters, alappuzha

vembanad lake in alleppey backwaters
Pictures of Alappuzha beach.
distant view of sunset at alappuzha beach

Sunset at Alappuzha beach

sunset at alappuzha beach

sand, waves and bridge at Alappuzha beach

The ruins of the bridge, which was used in the past when Alappuzha was a major sea port.
distant view of sunset at alappuzha beach

close shot of sunset at alleppey beach

sunset at alleppey beach

after sunset at Alleppey beach, Kerala

See Alleppey : the Venice of the East also. Find pictures of Alappuzha on Flickr here.

This post is a part of the series Kerala : God's Own Country.

A view of Varkala Beach, Kerala
A view of cliff and beach, Varkala, Kerala
fishermen at varkala beach, Kerala
Accepting the invitation by sea, Varkala Beach, Kerala
Beautiful Varkala Beach, Kerala
sunset at Varkala Beach, Kerala
saluting the setting sun, Varkala Beach, Kerala
Restaurants on Varkala beach, Kerala

See Kollam and Varkala Beaches: 'kahin door jab din dhal jaye' also. Find pictures of Varkala on Flickr here.

This post is a part of the series Kerala : God's Own Country.

sunset at Varkala Beach
Sunset at Varkala Beach
After wandering in the wilderness of Periyar National park and Wildlife Sanctuary, we reached Kollam around 10pm. While we had plans to go to the beach at night, we abandoned that after local people told us that beaches remain closed during the night. Next morning, we went to Kollam beach. One must concede that mornings are not the best time to visit beaches unless you want to experience the rising sun in the distant horizon, which anyways was not possible on the western coast of India. The beach was looking deserted and there was no one present except us. In a park made nearby, few people were doing pastime under a hut-shaped roof. We could see embankments created in the sea to facilitate fishery by forming Tangasseri backwaters. 

Kollam beach, a beautiful one, is formally known as Mahatma Gandhi Beach. The sea was roaring and waves were oscillating to and fro. It seemed that the waves were inviting us to play with them. We accepted the invitation happily and after few moments, we were in the waters. Soon we were running on the sand against the waves. While we were enjoying this, a person came and told us that police did not want us to be there at this moment. Apparently we were not allowed at this time when nobody else was present on the beach. He told us to go to nearby Thirumullavaram beach which was safer. 

We packed and left Kollam beach and arrived at Thirumullavaram beach. This place had more people in its vicinity and there were small tea shops too. This place has an altogether different look than Kollam beach. There were coconut trees near the beach. In short we found a beach which we had imagined after looking at pictures before coming to Kerala. Also, large stones were put along the shore to prevent erosion. This beach provided excellent opportunities to click pictures of the sea. Named after Thirumallanmar, the bodyguards of a former king of Travancore, the beach hosted the king who used to spend his leisure time here. We also visited Thangasseri beach lighthouse, a 144-foot tall lighthouse erected in 1902. One can go inside the lighthouse after 3 pm.

After that, we went to do boating in the backwaters of Kollam. In a small boat, we traveled in the narrow tracts of water, similar to canals, spread like a net in the Kollam. In what looked like a rural Kerala, we saw people working on small farms and in ponds, created to culture tiger prawn which is widely reared for food. There we saw people making medium-sized boats. Life can be so beautiful when one gets to live in such a village situated in a network of canals, where one works and then eats sitting beside the canal, as we saw few families doing that. Coconut trees surrounded the waterways. There were ducks swimming so skillfully but would go away whenever our boat approached them.

Then we left for our next attraction of the day, Varkala beach. Also known as Papanasam beach, Varkala beach is situated in Thiruvananthapuram district. This is the only beach in Kerala where a cliff is found adjacent to a beach, otherwise, most of the other beaches in Kerala are flat. This beach is particularly popular among foreign tourists. We could see few of them sunbathing under small makeshift tents. Unlike Kollam beach in the morning, this was a lively beach filled with people. Almost instantaneously we went into the sea. This was ideal for swimming. Continuing our child-like fun from where we left at Kollam beach, we realised that we could go deeper into the sea because of flat seabed and presence of lifeguards.

The Varkala beach provided an ideal place to watch the sunset. The boats in distant horizon and sun glowing red over them was a nice view. The red sun had colored everything in its own color, from sea to clouds to sky. Seeing the setup, suddenly I remembered one of my favourite songs picturised over Rajesh Khanna in a Bollywood movie 'Anand':
'kahin door jab din dhal jaye
saanjh ki dulhan badan churaaye chupke se aaye
mere khayaalon ke aangan mein
koi sapnon ke deep jalaaye deep jalaaye'
Such a beautiful scene in front of your eyes and such a beautiful song playing inside your head, what more one can expect from the life.

After sunset, when darkness was engulfing the whole area, boats of fishermen in the distant sea lit their lamps to help in the navigation. That was very scenic, closely resembling a city on Diwali night, when you watch it from a high point. After that, we had dinner at a restaurant near Temple Junction. It had been three to four days since we had proper north Indian food. We found the owner of that restaurant very welcoming, with whom we had a nice little conversation without a language barrier. After having a wholesome dinner, we left for our next destination Alleppey, Venice of the East

See Kollam, Kerala in Pictures and Photos of Varkala Beach, Kerala also. Find pictures of Kollam on Flickr here and that of Varkala here.

This post is a part of the series Kerala : God's Own Country.

Thirumullavaram beach, Kerala
a home at Thirumullavaram beach, Kerala
full view of Thirumullavaram beach, Kerala
Arabian Sea from Thirumullavaram beach, Kerala
coconut trees at Thirumullavaram beach, Kerala
men at work, Thirumullavaram beach, Kerala
roaring sea at Thirumullavaram beach, Kerala
sitting at beach sand at Thirumullavaram beach, Kerala
a respite from blazing sun, Thirumullavaram beach, Kerala
thangassery Light House, Kollam, Kerala
A house along Kollam Backwaters, Kerala
Boating in Kollam backwaters, Kerala
Rural Kollam, Kerala
Kerala Backwaters, Kollam
boating in Kerala backwaters, Kollam
Villages in network of canals in Kollam, Kerala

See Kollam and Varkala Beaches: 'kahin door jab din dhal jaye' also. Find pictures of Kollam on Flickr here.

This post is a part of the series Kerala : God's Own Country.

हर जगह एक ही चर्चा है आजकल
सुना है कोई देवदूत आने वाला है।

सुना है
उसके स्वर्गलोक में सब खुशहाल हैं
वहाँ राजा प्रजा का
बहुत सौहार्दपूर्ण सम्बन्ध है,
वो बेदाग सफेद वस्त्रों में
धरती पर कदम रखेगा
और पूरी दुनिया को बेदाग बनाएगा।

अक्सर गली नुक्कड़ में
अख़बार को दस भागों मे बाँटकर
उतने ही लोग उसको देखते हुए
भविष्यवाणियाँ पढ़ते हैं
कि उसके आने से
समाज की गहराई में व्याप्त हर बुराई
ख़त्म हो जाएगी
असुरक्षा का एहसास जो इनको-उनको है
उसके आने से सब बदल जाएगा
जो समरसता का अभाव कहीं है तो
उसके आने से भाईचारा बढ़ जायेगा,
वो अपने सुख दुख
स्वर्ग की विलासितापूर्ण जिंदगी सब छोड़कर
लोगों के सुख दुख बाँटने आएगा
लोगों के आँसू पोंछने आएगा।

उसके आने की उम्मीद मात्र से ही
लोगों की उम्मीदें कितनी बढ़ गयी हैं
लोगों ने साँझ को घरों में
दीपक भी जलाने शुरू कर दिए हैं
रास्तों को फूलों से सज़ाकर
उसे लुभाने की
खूब कोशिशें भी की जा रही हैं
लोग टकटकी लगाए
बस आकाश की तरफ देखते हैं,
अपनी समस्यों की सूची के साथ
वो उसके शीघ्र-अतिशीघ्र आने के लिए
प्रार्थनायें भी करते हैं
कि वो आएगा
और उनका बेड़ा पार लगाएगा।

ऐसा भी नहीं है कि सिर्फ़ एक देवदूत की चर्चा हो
अलग अलग इलाक़ों मे
अलग अलग देवदूतों की चर्चा है
समीकरणों के हिसाब से
विशेषज्ञ अलग अलग देवदूतों के आने की संभावना
एक दूसरे से बढ़कर बता रहे हैं
जबकि लोग समीकरणों से परेशान होकर
सीधे हल पाना चाहते हैं।

वो जो देवदूतों के समर्थक हैं
अपने देवदूत की तो गाथा गाते हैं
और दूसरे देवदूतों को
असुरों के सदृश बताते हैं,
ऐसे ही किसी मंगलवार के दिन
मंदिर की सीढ़ियों पर बैठा हुआ
एक व्यक्ति पूछ ही बैठता है,
भईया, बताओ तो सही
सुना है कोई देवदूत आने वाला है,
सच में एक सामान्य मन में
आशा की पैठ कितने भीतर तक है,
मैं सोचता हूँ उसे किस देवदूत के बारे में बताऊँ।

हर जगह, हर समय
चर्चा बिना किसी निष्कर्ष के
बराबर चलती रहती है,
चर्चा का विषय वही है,
सुना है कोई देवदूत आने वाला है।

tribal home in periyar Tiger Reserve, Thekkady, Kerala
grasslands in Periyar Tiger Reserve, Thekkady, Kerala
All set for jungle safari in Periyar Tiger reserve, thekkady, kerala
the road leading to deep in forest at Periyar Tiger Reserve, Thekkady, Kerala
in Periyar Tiger Reserve, Kerala
in the mighty jungle, Periyar Tiger Reserve, Thekkady, Kerala
strange shapes on trees, Periyar tiger Reserve, Kerala
bright leaves at Periyar Tiger Reserve, Kerala

See Periyar Tiger Reserve: Into the Wilderness also. Find pictures of Periyar Tiger Reserve on Flickr here.

This post is a part of the series Kerala : God's Own Country.