Imagine a highway of rivers, where rush hour brings two or three houseboats silent slipping by one another, wide lanes, casual waves, and families relaxing about long leisurely lunches. Rest stops require tying up and include shopping for necessities-freshly caught fish for your dinner and sips of coconut water-freshly plucked from trees lining the highway and the rice paddy beyond. Life on the banks feels virtually untouched by modern India; women wash clothes, men fish and children skip about the jetty at play and catch water taxi’s to and from school.
After Part One in Kochi for the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, we drove through villages, growing thinner by the kilometer until at last 70 kilometers when we reached a small, dusty lane. At the end of which we were greeted with a small glass of cold fresh papaya, watermelon and orange juice where we waited by the shores of Lake Vembanad for our private house boat, set to arrive in just ten minutes. Meanwhile, we gazed out at the empty horizon, the water nearly the same shade of dusty blue as the sky, a welcome and unexpected respite from our colorful and sometimes chaotic days spent in Chennai.
For the next 24 hours Paul and I would roost on top of the only contemporary, converted rice barge on the backwaters, sipping cold Kingfisher and watching with the same fascination as my first ride on the Small World ride at Disney, the shore life pass by. A staff of four, captain, driver, chef, and server would slip silently in and out of the majestic scene as needed, but remained remarkably invisible on our romantic respite as we read, watched birds, sunbathed and menu planned for our upcoming fete back home.
As the palm shadows grew long, we pulled into another property of the Malabar House family, a duo of lake-side cabins, full of history, and the very same heritage-modern flare the family is known for. We planned for dinner on the top deck at 7:00pm and took the next few hours to walk into the village to explore local snacks at roadside huts and admire the rich ways in which backwater life rolls by.
Dinner would be served by candlelight, starlight and to the sounds of Chinese fishing nets gently dipping into and out of the lake: A terrine of fish, malabar prawn curry and paratha. Eventually we retired below deck to read and write in the living room and eventually settle into the air conditioned master bedroom to let the gentle rocking of the lake lull us to sleep.
Sunrise brought a flaming crimson ball to my blank backwater horizon, parrots, fisherman in dugout canoes and a beautiful breakfast complete with fresh fruit from our village shops before a morning cruise back to Purity for Kerala Part Three. Next week. Right here.
Have a great weekend!