We slowly row away from the shore, leaving behind the dim lights on our palm-fringed island. The current in the backwaters sways our tiny kayak, and after a brief show of resistance, we surrender and let it guide us. Small fish occasionally jump out of the water, creating ripples. A thousand stars shimmer in the sky above. These are the virgin backwaters of North Kerala’s Kasaragod district, silent, untouched and without a houseboat in sight.
Thoughts of Kerala often evoke images of dome-shaped houseboats traversing the backwaters, and neatly manicured tea estates covered in mist on the slopes of the Western Ghats. The lush green beauty of God’s Own Country has stolen many a hearts, a large majority of who flocked to the familiar tourist trail in the south of the state, along the backwaters of Alleppey & Kumarakom and the hill station of Munnar.
Away from the honeymooners & ‘first timers’, this is a Kerala of virgin backwaters, where the only boats you ever see are fishing boats, owned by residents of the sleepy villages quietly nestled on its palm-fringed shores. This is a Kerala of blissfully isolated white sand beaches, with no beachside shacks and no sunbathing fellow travellers. This is a Kerala of mist adorned tropical forests, where wild elephants can be effortlessly spotted as you drive along the main highway.
It is neither a resort nor a homestay, but just a place that perfectly encapsulates the languid way of life in these backwaters.
On sunny afternoons, we swing on hammocks under the shade of coconut trees, watching public ferries collect people from islands that have no road access. On open boats, we sail along a labyrinth of islands with sleepy coastal hamlets, watching fishermen catch fish on their hardy wooden kayaks. Parts of these backwaters are cordoned off for mussel farming. Mussel cultures are cultivated in these expansive backwaters, and the mussel extracted through wooden stick-like structures for export, creating livelihoods for 6000 coastal farmers.
We swim in the backwaters (they are that clean!), and in the roaring waves of the Arabian Sea on some virgin beaches that lie undiscovered on these islands. Walking amid colourful houses hidden by coconut trees, we converse with shy, well-dressed kids, impressed by the standard of living and cleanliness in this remote part of Kerala. When a kid asks me where I’ve come from, I think to myself, from another world.
Have you experienced the backwaters of North Kerala?