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Looking for crabs on the beach

Amongst the many activities that one must do in Kerala when on a beach, ‘Looking for crabs’ can sound a bit of an oddity. Yet it can be sporty as well as atherapeutic pastime. You can break into a sweat as well as get rewarded if it is a big catch with some gastronomical delights later.

For those making their first trip to the sub-continent, apart from Goa and the East, there are some spectacular beaches in the Indian South especially the Malabar Coast. One thing about tourist places that can get a bit tiring in the age of Instagram and Facebook is the sheer number of people that one bumps into. It defeats the purpose yet the compulsion of the tourism industry in a strange way is to showcase places already on the grid.

So,if you are in Kerala and not knowing what to do or say where to head keep one thing in mind.The South of the state is popular but it is the North that is unexplored. Kerala is one of the top ten places to visit in India. From lush, verdant hills to serene backwaters and pristine beaches; this state on the western coast of South India is bounteously endowed by nature. What completes it as a holistic tourist destination is its rich abundant culture. It is no wonder that Kerala was named among the ten best destinations in the world by Lonely Planet in 2014, and was ranked eighth on the list of ’12 Destinations to Watch in 2017’ by The Association of British Travel Agents. In 2017,Lonely Planet rated North Kerala at the third position among the 10 best destinations to visit in Asia in 2017. “The beaches around Kannur, Thottada and Bekal are pristine, and a string of homestays and resorts have sprouted to give in-the-know travelers on all budgets a beachfront view that should make Goa’s hoteliers weep,” the Lonely Planet writes, describing Northern Kerala. The travel guide also says, “Northern Kerala has long been the underrated half of the state, concealing its backwater charms and emerging slowly like a butterfly from a chrysalis.”

The tourist brochure of Kerala by the department of tourism might however not mention one of the hidden gems like Valiyamparamba Island, where Vretreat is nestled between the backwaters and the beach. A Wikipedia search will show you that the best holiday spots around here are where the land mass narrows to a strip and the beach almost embraces the river. Sometimes a list of popular backwaters in Kerala can miss this hidden gem.

Just 12 kilometers from Payyanur and only 4 kilometers from Trikkaripur, Valiyamparamba Island can be the best holiday one can have if solitude is on the mind. North Kerala and the Malabar Coast escaped the mad rush when tourism flourished in the South, with Kovalam, Varkala and Cherai became the hot spots. But rampant tourism can sometimes take the charm away from a place. It loses its idyllic nature and falls prey to all the ills that an overburdened tourism centre can get entangled in. One must not forget in this scenario that it’s better to go off the grid. The North Kerala Tour packages might highlight the boutique and star hotels. The best tourist places especially are those that are not touristy and are found sometime in traveler’s guides. Vretreat, earlier Valiyamparamba Retreat has found its way in the Lonely Planet Guide a few years back. This perfect holiday homestay can bring to you the tranquility and serenity you have been looking for with now even better amenities now and few fun activities like looking for crabs on the beach, to begin with.

When we got down at 5 am in the morning at Payyanur, my first visit in this side of the country though I have been living like 300 kms away for a decade, I wouldn’t have imagined the beauty of this place. It was the morning after Christmas and by 5:30 am, it was still pitch dark this being the West.

Between sips of hot piping tea, we looked on our phone screen and realized through Google maps the sea is not far and with a smile on my face told my good friend Vinod, finally we are away from a destination holiday. Vinod is a Keralite but born in Chennai, then Madras and brought up in Bangalore, now Bengaluru. Well, cities change identity, but thankfully the place we were headed was too modest and retains its originality from eons. As the Auto lurched ahead on the winding road and dawn slowly broke in as we passed the still sleepy town of Tirakkapur. Devoid of the usual Kerala Tourism Photos, or hotels and shacks announcing a swimming pool, bar and what not, the place gave a feeling which was between reassurance and ease. Holiday spots in Kerala are dime a plenty but not all can boast the treasures of this picturesque location. As the auto stopped in front of the property all that my vision could stretch to was water. Soon the Sun rose from behind the coconut tree like a huge ball of fire. The birds were chirping and it reached a crescendo. The fishing boats soon appeared with their red nets, now floating on the quiet river. Soon a ferry passed by creating ripples of gold on the water.

A brand new day had just begun. We came back now to rest our tired bodies in our room but the sound of the waves crashing in the back and the morning breeze just pulled us like a magnet towards the beach this time. Holding our teacups we slowly walked on the rock pathway of the properties backyard. At the edge of the wall was a small passageway with stairs leading us to the beach.

As I took the second step the clear blue horizon emerged and I noticed a flurry of activity this side as well. There were innumerable fishing boats, blue, red, green, white with the engines revved up and the continuous drone and the crashing waves made a heady cocktail. I sat on the soft white sand and soon found shells, thousands of them washed ashore by the high tide at night. Then like few feet away from me I saw a small claw emerging far hole. The wave crashed and then the small hole was filled. As it receded the claw emerged again. I got up and to my surprise, this was a feast that I was as not prepared for. As the water receded hundreds of crabs emerged from their hiding and make a dash for the land but by then another wave hits and they swim and float, some disappearing back into the holes. I tried running around and catching one big fellow but I soon realized when it comes to maneuverability I can never beat a crab. Thus started my morning routine for the next close to one week I stayed nestled between the sea and the river in this beautiful homestay in North Kerala.

The routine was simple. ‘Looking for crabs on the beach’ In the next installment,

I will write about the many sightseeing places one can visit when here and the not to miss ‘Thaiyyam’ a traditional dance famous in the temples of North Kerala and the Malabar region.

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