KUMARAKOM on the Vembanaad Lake
God's own retreat in God's own country.
Prime Ministers, sports stars , la-di-dah socialites all squeeze in a kumarakom- holiday , like ,the little black book is not really dishy enough without this entry in it.
The name is all over the place so much so that we were almost driven to put in a three day retreat there. If only to find out what all the noise is all about.
Ah ! believe me, all that noise is fully justified. Kumarakom is verily God's own de-stressing resort !
Multi starred fancy spas jostle with faux-rural ( reverse snobbish) hutments. Plenty of lodgings to choose from. We settled for the middlepath . A nice colony of wooden houses on stilts sprouting amidst a maze of artificial canals meandering through thick copses of aged trees. Set far away from the highways. Run by the Tourism Department of Kerala. On the bank of the Vembanaad. Silent. Cool. Cut off from the world. Perfect.
The Vembanaad Lake is a wonder. Almost like a sea.
Did nothing all day. Just sat there and watched the fishing-boats and boathouses glide by. Watched the slothful egrets, fattened on the catches found in the neighbourhood paddies. Watched the vast open sky going from brilliant blue to yellow to orange to an unbelievable purple. Watched the robust patches of water hyacinth and algae cruising around like mobile islands in the wake of passing boats.Watched the crabs keeping busy between the straggly roots of mangroves. Just sat and watched.....even the air.
The temperature never rose beyond 21 C. The rain never strengthened beyond a cool drizzle.
A stroll through the thick jungle path connecting the resort to the highway was most enjoyable. Unseen birds fluttered and sang. Unknown insects chirped and whirred by. Undetected, some reptiles slithered noisily over fallen leaves. Just sounds of innumerable lifeforms to whom the place was their own home, before humans drove in with bricks and timber to lay claim on their, and god's , own country. The only creatures we actually saw were a dozen frisky chipmunks scrambling giddily all over the trees, shrieking like overexcited kids. And a lone rhesus monkey sitting on a culvert wall, casting insolent looks at us . We felt like tresspassers !
Ofcourse , there was that mandatory boatride . Again, and yet again, I was amazed by the size of the " lake ".
The little hamlets dotting the banks did look picturesque and timeless. But i couldn't help wondering if they were happy villages or neglected villages. Do those villagers see the same soothing beauty that we, visitors, see in that water, sky and jungles ? or do they despair of underdevelopment and inconveniences and wish for autobahns, highrise buidings and shopping malls ?
We did not visit the Bird Sanctuary nearby. Nor did we stir out for some "cultural show" advertised in the reception lobby.
Ayurvedic massage ? But , of course ! No salvation without that ,declared the husband!
The menu proffered by the wavy -haired girl at the Message Hut listed close to 10 kinds of services. The right side coloumn contained impressive numerals too ! A quick hop and jump away from the Rs.5000 comprehensive panchakrama package brought his finger to rest on a Rs1000 herbal massage.
The procedure began at 10.30 am.
90 mins. later, he staggered into our cottage and hit the bed.
He was still in a comatose sleep at 6.30pm. and had to be dragged to the restaurant for dinner.
I was treated to a full gushing account of the wonderful massage only the next day. And this is what I gathered from the profusion of hyperbole.
He was stripped down to a white cotton figleaf and laid out on a wooden board ; about 5 litres of honey brown oil (smelling a medley of green leaves,camphor, crushed hibiscus and old copra ) was poured all over him . And then, a kindly young man with toned muscular limbs rubbed, patted and kneaded him up , drummed on his head, clutched and shook his hair, twisted and turned his arms and legs, flipped him over and trampled all over his back, loaded oil into his ears and nose, stretched his fingers and toes and generally inflicted whatever third degree treatment i usually reserve for my chapatti dough. After most of the oil had miraculously vanished ( partly into the wooden slab, partly into the customer ) he was given a bath in medicated hot water , made to drink a mug of some peppery potion and conveyed to the cottage wrapped in a thick bath towel. Did i care for a session too ? No thank you !
One more day of doing nothing and watching the water. Vembanaad continued to awe me.
Appam & stew. Jeera rice & onion raita. Crunchy sprouts salad and lemon tea. Smiling wavy-haired girls. Humming waiters. "The Week" and "Onlooker" in the reading lobby. Time stood still. Yet very soon, it was time to leave !
Checking out of the place and entering the city almost caused a culture shock. Three days in an unreal real world had disoriented us !