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Published: March 6th 2016
U-Turn at the southernmost end of Indian Peninsula brought us back on the NH-47, Kanyakumari–Kochi Highway …. the road we had taken on the previous day. Some of the vistas we missed during the short intermittent naps could be revisited., with eyes wide open. The day was warming up and the sun was on the ascent. Our today’s night halt was scheduled at Kovalam and the destination was about 90 km. The density of traffic was quite high till we crossed Nagercoil.
To beat the insufferable ambient heat, there were lot of vendors selling, Nungu, the local palm fruit. This deep blackish purple fruit is grown in dry tropical regions of southern India and the trees are ubiquitous throughout the coast. It is difficult to open and cut this hard-shelled fruit for us. The vendors have the requisite expertise of carefully extracting each pod from the shell. Skillfully they hack away the shell, start from the top and then slicing the purple, fibrous shell away from the middle to separate gelatinous pods from the white skin. Each fruit yields 1-3 pods and at times even 4.
The gelatinous casing of liquid, inside the fruit, has a texture like lychee;
its jelly-like consistency yields easily at the first bite to give sweet taste. This gelatinous pod has refreshing, sugary liquid akin to coconut water. The kernel inside the fruit is mildly sweet, and has a texture resembling a water chestnut. Nungu provides the desired hydration and has a good balance of minerals and sugar for the body on sultry afternoon.
On this coastal highway, the Nungu vendors mesh the extracted pods, and then add some locally made flavored colorful sugar syrup. We preferred to have it in it’s natural form & flavor, which was very refreshing.
The vibrant multi-color flex banners honoring the chief minister of Tamil Nadu stopped appearing on the highway. We re-entered the state of Kerala. As the temperature was rising, the human activity alongside the streets thinned.
As we moved on, I needed a break to satiate my carving for nicotine. There were hardly any shops which exclusively sold cigarettes or tobacco. I could procure a packet from a shop which inter alia sold foodstuff, soaps, detergents, shampoo, packaged eatables, vegetables and fruits. When I lit my cigarette, the people around me were staring at me as if an alien has landed there.
While exhaling rings of smoke, I was wondering as to what the matter was. The pit-stop and back in the vehicle, the driver informed that the local police is very strict about public nuisance. If any lady around complains about passive smoke, the police will book me for causing public nuisance … so I better take care. The driver too can be booked for abatement. Though ignorantly guilty of violation of law, I was impressed with efforts and dedication of the administration. I could not spot a single paan or tobacco shop and the paan stains were non-existent. It’s Swatch Kerala, in its true sense.
The Odometer of the car was showing that we were nearing the destination …. with hardly 15 km to cover, we should reach in next 20-30 minutes. But suddenly, on the narrow road, the speed decreased and the vehicle came to a standstill. There was a long queue of vehicles ahead. For the next one hour, we did not move an inch. Only after hearing police whistles, the movement started. Later, from the colorful arches, we came to know that there was some sort of function, religious or political, few meters away. A
large number of private buses had converged and road was occupied fully by the participants of the function. This too happens in Kerala.
Jeevan Beach Resort, on Hawaa Beach was our today’s base camp. The driver was receiving navigational advice from the hotel receptionist. After a very sharp descent, we reached Hotel Searock …. at the dead end of the road. A bellboy had come to receive us with a large cart. The bags were loaded and he started moving on the pathway lining the beach. We meekly followed him. That afternoon, the walk seemed unending. The distance turned out to be 600 meters. After crossing the restaurant on the beachfront, we reached the reception.
The rooms, Sea-Shell Rooms, as mentioned on the website, were supposed to have Partial Sea-view, Air-conditioner, Mini-fridge, Modern Bathroom with Shower, and Hair Dryer. The room shown to us was in old building, with absolutely no Sea View, non-operational mini -fridge, broken shower, and hair dryer or no hair drier did not make any difference. The room description on the website, “SEA SHELL ROOMS are situated just few meter away from the sea. From the private balcony of Direct Sea facing Room you
can get a feeling of watching the sea from very near and take you in to a feeling that you are standing over the sea and you can get a nice and closer view of sunset” …. far away from the ground reality.
The housekeeping was pathetic. All good rooms in the new building were full and allotted to international tourists. Unfortunately, the domestic tourists were being given step-motherly treatment. The booking was done sufficiently in advance and full payments made. Except the proximity to the beach, there was nothing that could he highlighted. The staff at the reception lacked any authority and did not have any regard or respect for the customers. The fatigue forced us to accept, whatever was allotted.
We reluctantly checked-in and went to the restaurant to have our lunch. The rates, from Indian point of view, were highly overpriced. All fish dishes were APC, …. as per the catch, which in my view are far from transparent. The formality of consumption of food was completed and we proceeded for a short nap. Throughout the afternoon, AC functioned on fan mode. The remote was not made available. In the evening, it was difficult to
control the temper and the GM was appraised of the difficulties. Leave, aside an apologetic behavior, all possible excuses were given for discrepancy in the service. In an otherwise hospitable state, this hotel turned out to be a black sheep.
The evening was spent mostly on the beach. The international tourists outnumbered the domestic tourists. The crowd at the beach appeared to be very friendly and enjoying the moments in their unique way. Senior citizens with headphones taking a brisk walk; young children playing with the waves; parents shouting for caution; honeymooners discussing the future with their newfound soul mates; younger groups jumping into the sea with a roar; some foreigners playing with the dogs; police keeping a vigilant eye on the tourists; boatmen soliciting customers for the speedboat ride next day and many of them just gazing at the sky and the setting sun. Overall very soothing experience to see happy people all around.
As the sun set in the west, we changed the track to the pathway. The pathway was lined with restaurants. The seating was arranged in such a way that the view of the sea remained unhindered. Most customers were sipping their evening drink
…. sip by sip …. slowly …. the night is yet to arrive. A light western music was in the background. The waiters were busy lighting candles on the tables. Each restaurant had a counter outside displaying fishes of various types and sizes. The captains kept themselves busy in inviting customers, holding large fishes in hand. All fresh from the day’s catch .…. so was the claim but difficult to comprehend. The curiosity to budget the dinner expenses drove me to check the pricing. In rupee terms expensive but in dollars and pounds reasonably priced. In the end … we shortlisted Coconut Groove … just next to our tonight’s abode.
For freshening up … with spirit and water .. we returned to the room but not before reminding the room service to set the AC right before we return from the dinner. The view outside the room was so pathetic, gas cylinders, empty beer bottles, cartons, washing material lying scattered, waiters ferrying food from the kitchen to the restaurant. We decided against seating in the balcony and watched Pro Kabaddi Match during the ‘spirited’ session. The Coconut Groove was a nice quite place, with friendly staff. The candlelight dinner
consisted of Tiger Prawns, marinated with fragrant local spices and chilly. The fish curry with the coconut in abundance was really lip-smacking. The service deserved a generous tip and a friendly goodbye.
The beach had become deserted. The pathway looked bright and illuminated, by the blinking neon signs and signboards. The lighthouse was intermittently beaming signals and rendering unearthly charm to the beach. Some insomniacs continued to take a walk on the sandy beach. The waves maintained its routine of hitting the shore unabated. There was no other sound in the environment except the light music in the restaurant and overpowering roar of the sea. We returned to our room after a brief walk on the pathway.
The nightmare came to be true. The AC was running on the fan mode and fan churning out hot air. The opening of the windows would mean a feast to mosquitoes. When it became unbearable, I walked down to the reception. The room phone, which was a mere decorative piece, did not function ever since we checked in. Only a bellboy and the receptionists were on duty for the night and both fast asleep. They regretted their inability to sort out
the problem till morning and we regretted for having entrusted the task of booking the accommodation to the local agent.
Next day, before the breakfast, we had kept our bags duly packed for an early check-out. The tolerance had crossed all limits and we could no longer spend any more time there. We called out local agent and briefed him about the inconvenience that we were subjected to. The solace was he promptly arranged for an alternative …. Hotel Searock. The location of this hotel was very good and it was right at the beginning of Hawaa Beach pathway. The polite happy staff welcomed us and offered clean sea-view rooms, on a higher place. Oh! What a relief. The housekeeping standard was quite high and staff attentive.
On the beachfront, a fisherman’s boat had just returned with the catch. The net was being systematically twisted and pulled by a large number of fishermen. The crowd of tourist onlookers had gathered to watch the find. Many pairs of expectant eyes were focused on the net. The last part of the net was pulled out of the water and onto the sand. It contained a lot of silver, shining, flipping,
wiggling and aquatic vertebrate making a last ditch effort to survive. While their struggle was being captured on cellphone cameras, their valuation and disposal was taking place simultaneously. Within minutes all was over.
Later, we decided to explore Kovalam and headed for the Light House. This 30 meter high structure, painted in Red & White, is located on the top of the southernmost Kurumkal hillock. The observation platform rendered panoramic view of the area surrounding Kovalam. The Light House beach has a vast stretch of silver sand lined by numerous green palm trees. The cold breeze with rhythmic roar of the waves was truly enthralling. While, the tourists were enjoying their swim and sun bath, locals catered to their every need. We preferred to take a stroll and lookout for a place to have our lunch. The choice was plenty and offered wide variety. We settled for Karimeen Pollichathu, the spicy marinated Pearl Spot Fish, wrapped up carefully in a banana leaf, and shallow fried. The plain rice with the mango pickle and papad were the accompaniments. The Kingfisher Premium spiced up the afternoon.
The afternoon was reserved for a nap and relaxation. The earlier day’s loss of
sleep quota was required to be replenished. After the much sought after sleep, a cup of tea at Puppies Café, was invigorating.
We had not made any arrangements for backwater cruise at Poovar. To book online or to opt for on-the-spot booking was the dilemma. There were contradicting views on the issue on the internet. After much deliberation, we opted for the later and came down to the in-house restaurant at Searock Hotel. Since the location was right at the center of Hawaa Beach, there was a constant movement of tourists entering and exiting the beach. We watched the setting sun from the gallery of the restaurant and ordered for starters, just to see the time fleeting by.
Light dinner and before we could bid good night, small stroll on the beach was comforting. Out of the blue, in the darkness, we heard somebody yelling, taking long strides and jumping into the sea. Swimming is strictly prohibited after the sunset. An alert policeman on duty, without loosing a minute, nabbed the swimmer, who was apparently under the influence of alcohol, created the ruckus. The sense of responsibility, on the part of the policeman, at this hour, was highly
praiseworthy. The system, the administration, and the public servants … hats off.
As the new sun was rising on the horizon, the local fishermen were getting ready for the day’s sail. A large group was pushing their country craft in the sea. A lot of strength, stamina and co-ordination were required in this group activity. A thick wooden log was tied at the bottom of the craft and in unison they moved the same in 360 degrees. The log was dismantled and tied onto the other end. Similar rotation, dismantling and attaching the log continued a number of times and the craft touched the waves. Every time the rotation took place, the boat moved few feet closer to the waves. All of them chanted some song or slogan together, which helped them in coordination. Then there was a final rigorous push. The boat started gently floating on waves.
A few members from the group, apparently the fishermen, jumped onto the boat, armed with flatbed wooden oars. There were three on each side of the boat, who swiftly locked their oars to the rowlocks. They leaned backward towards the boat’s bow, with the blades of their oars, swept the
water towards the stern and propelled the vessel into sea … against the current. Within minutes, the boat went out of the sight …. far from the shore. The entire operation and its methodology was a treat to curious eyes.
We quickly retreated to the restaurant to feast on the complimentary breakfast. It was simply delicious fusion of continental and Indian cuisines. The service was quick, efficient and friendly. The driver has arrived and we set out to our next destination of the day ….. Poovar, backwaters and estuary.
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