A Mukherjee World View



The next day we visited Hosdurg Fort and were disappointed to find it occupied by modern buildings and not at all worth visiting. Next, we went looking for Valiyaparamba, which was supposed to be one of the most serene backwater stretches in Kerala, dotted with islands. Our quest did not get off to a propitious start. When we asked for directions at our favourite food plaza, we got curiously mixed reactions.

"Valiyaparamba? Is that in Kerala?"

"Yes, Valiyaparamba. It is 30 km away, the signboard says."

"Valiyaparamba? Don't you mean Thaliaparamba?"

"NO, not that, Valiyaparamba, see here, on the map"?

It was no use, so we set off by bus in the general direction, namely, south.

At the next major town, Kanhangad, we enquired again, and faced similar reactions, until a man behind the counter of a bakery at the bus stop took a look at our map and told us to head for Chervattur. This we did, and found to our relief that at Chervattur, they had heard of Valiyaparamaba, but appeared remarkably reluctant to go there. We had seen a sign indicating that it was 4 km away, but that, it seems, is a different Valiyaparamba.

One autowallah finally agreed to take us, and it was certainly more than 4 km away, and in a different direction at that. When we reached, after another long stretch of lonely inland country roads, there was nothing there: just a little shack, which our driver ignored. To our great astonishment, he proceeded to go racing off through the palms, parallel to the water. A little way down, he stopped. There was a hut there, among the coconut palms, a stone's throw from the water. The driver made enquiries of a man standing by the hut, then took us back to the shack. This was the jetty, he conveyed to us, and that there was the ferry.

There was, indeed, a ferry there, but it was difficult to believe that this ferry was going anywhere, since there was no activity and nobody seemed inclined to ferry two crazy, backpacking tourists to the middle of nowhere, which this definitely showed every sign of being.

But the shack sold a few essential supplies to some of the local people and then everyone boarded the ferry, which actually started more or less punctually at the scheduled hour of 2.15 p.m., and chugged off down the quiet water. It stopped periodically at deserted jetties, where people got off and disappeared down little paths between the coconut trees. We were already wondering what on earth we are going to do here - there seemed to be absolutely nothing for visitors to do - when we arrived at the last stop: Valiyaparamba.

As we disembarked onto the tiny island with a few houses and fields amidst the coconut palms, we wondered if we should just turn around and get back on the boat again. It was a wonderfully peaceful boat trip, true, but now what? When we hear another ferry coming by a couple of minutes later, we actually turned and run back to the jetty, but surprised bystanders told us that this one was going elsewhere, not back to Panda, where we had come from.

In the event, we spent the afternoon doing absolutely nothing. We found ourselves a shady cove, with a grassy floor and palms towering overhead. We consumed our small stock of munchies, and water, and enjoyed the charming vista of quiet water, glistening in the slanting rays of the sun, framed by the drooping leaves of palms at the water's edge. This could be paradise: why would we ever want to leave?

At five, eager not to miss our boat after all - what would we do if it rained? And we couldn't possibly spend a night here, no sleeping bags, no food left (and no toilets!) - we roused ourselves and headed for the jetty to wait. We waited and waited and waited, and then... we waited some more. No ferry. In fact not a sign, or even a whisper of a ferry. I put a serious scare into Amit by suggesting that the ferry may be on half-day holiday due to Vishu. Finally the ferry appeared, and as we get ready to step aboard, we were told to wait: The ferry was going to the next jetty and would be coming back in a few minutes.

So we waited some more, but this time the little boat didn't even disappear from sight before heading back and picking us up.

Soon, we were back on terra firma, caught up with catching and changing buses, finding meals, asking directions - all the usual activities that make up a traveler's life. But away in the back of my mind, in one little corner of my heart, a small piece of Valiyaparamba had lodged itself, an enduring memory of an idyllic afternoon spent on a deserted island in the middle of nowhere.

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