Chechi’s house is a few yards from the Ration Kada jetty - the closest jetty from Vretreat. As dawn breaks every day, I have seen the first boat of the day make its way past creating ripples in the simmering golden waterfront. The arms of my wrist watch always pointed to 6:20 am. The boats I noticed were not just regular with the timings but it followed a certain pattern. Most people were seated and it also honked when it needed to stay clear of the many fishing boats that dot the waterfront.
It’s day four of my stay here and I am a bit impatient to try out the waterways. I had ventured out in the morning with Raju Chetan, Chechi’s husband who owns a canoe which permanently rests between the two coconut trees in front of Vretreat. I had some pictures to click before the sun rose and Raju Cheta in spite of not understanding what I speak or me understanding a word of his was pretty helpful when it came to taking me to the exact spot where the light would be just right. A big huge ball of fire rose from behind the trees in the monkey forest and Raju Cheta had a wide grin on his face as he gestured to me with one thumbs up. I went clicking few more frames as he turned the boat slowly so that I get all the compositions I need. It’s as if he can almost read my mind. Just at that very moment the ferry appeared in my frame. It crawled slowly into it and a dull drone like noise filled in the morning cacophony or rather an orchestra of birds chirping and the shlokas floating in from the temple in the other side of the river from the amplifier. It seemed like the beginning of a perfect day. The Valiyamparamba backwaters are one of the third largest backwaters of Kerala. It also houses the largest fort of Kerala, Bekal fort. Since my childhood, boats, steamers and ships have fascinated me. Water has a certain element of intrigue for me as one can never fathom how deep a place is. It’s mysterious and my mind was filled with questions. When I made my first overnight journey by ship from Bombay to Goa (Konkan Shipping in the 80s) as a little boy with my father, mother and my little brother I remember standing on the edge and trying a hands wide open gesture. The movie Titanic was still few decades away and I was too young to have been smitten by anything, love being the last. For a second I had felt like standing on the edge of Raju Chetan’s boat and recreate the famous Leonardo and Winslet open hands flying gesture. I stood halfway and the little canoe rocked violently and Raju Chetan gestured me to not try any more circus.
Post our sumptuous breakfast we asked Chechi on the ferry timings. She was more than happy to help us and even nudged us to get ready and head to the ferry stop by 11:30 when the Jetty from Payannur arrives and heads towards the stop Valiyamparamba. We were at the Ration Kada stop by the appointed hour. There were no passengers yet and the noon sun created a surreal light on the water. It was a glittering array of green and yellow dancing on the surface. Soon a family reached holding shopping bags with local town names. The little children wore colorful frocks and had their hair oiled and combed neatly into plaits. They had a curious expression on their face seeing our camera and lenses. Vinod and I then sat down on the cement benches of the open ferry stop with numerous graffiti on the walls proclaiming love, political affiliations and other assorted elements of life. Dot at 11:20 I spotted the ferry, approaching slowly towards the jetty from the other end. Everything seemed to be happening inslow motion. There was no relative measure of speed and that was the beauty of a life that is not hurried. Time seemed slow yet things moved around punctual here. The intrinsic hurry of deadlines we have in a big city was missing here. The Ferry arrived with a honk, docked and the conductor held the rope around an iron pole. He got back after the passengers had alighted and the ferry floated away with the engines revving up towards the bridge beyond which was the last stop. Vinod and I took seat on two sides. The young French man (as I got to know after our introductions) next to me was bit lost and asked me on the last boat back to Payyanur. I enquired around and passed him the details. Being lost is one of the best parts of travels I thought. Our ferry with the number A61 belongs to the Kerala State Inland WaterTransport Corporation. There are few life jackets kept on the rack on top. The seats are hard with use and the sitting area is neat but has an overall weather beaten look and feel. The smell of kerosene from the engine and the dull drone made me feel sleepy but as I was about to catch my 40 winks the Jetty docked into another stop. This time there was a bevy of activity. Families, small traders and even students boarded the ferry and the family which had come aboard at Ration Kada alighted. We then steamed or propelled towards Valiyaparamba, the last stop. It went past the new bridge connecting the mainland with the island. We were headed towards the other end now. The entire stretch was dotted with small islands. Some looked like mangroves without any inhabitation and the bigger ones had few houses with the coconut trees forming a canopy around. The Frenchman had fallen asleep. We had paid the Rs.7 ticket each for the journey and at times everything seemed so still and quiet that it felt the ferry isn’t moving. Soon the last Jetty swung into view. The motorman made few complete circles on the wooden steering and with few rings the ferry anchored at Valiyaparamba our last stop. It was almost 12:30 so the journey from Ration Kada took us an hour. We were bit hungry and made a dash for into the Bekal Travels Restaurant. It was yet to open. While Vinod trudged around clicking pictures I marveled at the Houseboats and few yacht of Bekal docked there. With all the fancy assortments on board they seemed ready for a party or a lazy ride in the backwaters. Hunger bells had started ringing by then and Vinod and I walked into a small restaurant where we found the crew of the jetty having refreshments. I settled for Kerala Paratha with a curry and fish fry along with tea. Vinod was happy sipping just the tea. The Frenchman walked past smiling. I asked him if he had refreshments. He gestured in affirmative as is with the French at times and then told me softly he was headed North by the same boat that dropped us. This is Pullimoth Point where the backwaters meet the Sea, few miles downstream. We walked out of the restaurant. It was past one and the afternoon sun was it its zenith. The skeletons of few old unused and abandoned Ferries were lying around supported by wooden planks. There was a Board with green signage Valiyamparamba. By then a motley crowd were about to board for the journey back. The Middle aged uncle who was sitting with his wife and kid at Bekal Travels was now clicking selfies of him at every point he was standing as he got onto the boat. Even his family seemed irritated. I smiled and looked out towards the vast expanse. The cool breeze caressed my face and the humidness now seemed to wear off. The conductor pulled the nylon string on the top and the ferry floated off with a slow mesmerizing drone towards Payyanur, dropping us at Ration Kada Jetty.