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Published: March 10th 2016
The fishermen at Hawaa beach were busy pushing their country-crafts into the sea on a bright sunny morning, when we set out for Poovar. This southernmost paradise lies little before Pozhiyoor, which marks the end of Kerala. The distance from Hawaa Beach was about 18 km and the estimated travel time was 30 minutes.
Since we had started immediately after the sumptuous breakfast at the hotel, the density of traffic on the highway was low. We could cover the distance much earlier, than expected. Our chauffeur, who had self-assumed the role of our guide, continued to churn-out valuable inputs about our destination. We encouraged him to continue so as to upgrade our database with bare minimal efforts.
In the early 18th
century, the Maharaja of Travancore, Marthanda Varma, was in exile in Pokkumoosapuram, the place later came to be known as Poovar. He found himself cradled in the arms of nature, on this little piece of paradise. During the spring season, the Kovala trees, on either sides of the Neyyar River, were blooming with beautiful red flowers. These flowers fell into the river making it more picturesque. On seeing this pleasant vista, the king commented that this was Poo-Var
a conjunction of the Malyalam words for "flower" and "river”, meaning a stream of flowers. And this beautiful place got a befitting name. Poovar is also known to be a major trading center of timber, sandalwood, ivory and spices.
Just before the bridge that crosses Neyyar River, there were number of signboards directing and advertising backwater cruise. Bright red board of Leela Backwater Craze drew our attention and we decided to check on their itinerary and the pricing. It needed a little of bargaining skills to settle for 2-hour cruise by motorized boat at Rs. 2,400/- for 4 persons. Probably our anxiety, to be onboard, resulted in a quick deal. The boat was clean and in good condition. We were provided with indigo blue life jackets. It needs a special acknowledgement that all personal safety standards were religiously adhered to by the backwater cruise operators. I have seen at many tourist destinations, where safety norms are blatantly violated and additional source of illegitimate income is created for the regulatory ‘authority’.
The cruise began from the Leela Jetty and moved gently in the emerald green tranquil water of Neyyar River. It passed through the fishing villages and mangroves. There
were number of species of aquatic birds with different sizes, shapes and colors in these unexploited and unspoiled backwaters.
The boatman ensured that our boat glided gently & silently, with minimal engine sound, towards the edges of mangroves. This facilitated us to watch, the birds on this pristine aquascape, from much closer angle and also to capture them on our cameras. There were Egrets, Kingfishers, Cormorants, Water Crow Cranes, White Cranes, Kookaburra, Halcyon and many other bird species, which we couldn’t identify. The route was lined with coconut groves and banana plantations, complimented with exotic flowering trees. Though the boat sailed slowly, the time was fleeing fast … or so it appeared to us.
As we moved forward, suddenly the horizon widely expanded and an island with golden sand sans habitation came into our sight. The Neyyar was seen rushing passionately to embrace the roaring Arabian Sea. Through the estuary, cutting the golden beach, the azhure blue sea was violently swallowing the emerald river. The boatman glided our boat onto the beach, for us to take a leisurely walk on the beach to enjoy the scenic beauty and magical ambience. We left our life-jackets in the boat and
disembarked onto the island.
The scenic beauty of this place was simply awesome, where the sea, the lake, the river and the beach meet the land. At the noontime, the ultramarine waterscape was simply a treat to the eyes. Except few vendors, selling tender coconuts, bottled water, chocolates, biscuits and munchies, in the makeshift shops, the gorgeous clean island had no other habitation. We took some photographs and quickly jumped onto the boat to seek respite from the unbearable heat.
The boat proceeded toward a tiny island, with a rock having a shape of an elephant …. named Elephant Island and later towards a little larger island. A prominent cross was visible from a distance. It had a large statue of Mother Mary holding Infant Jesus. On Sundays, devout Christians converge here for prayers, the boatman informed. It had a nice small church-like structure and was closed to visitors, when we passed by. The boat circled around the island and headed towards the floating restaurant.
At the lagoon, there were a number of floating restaurants and cottages attached to the adjoining resorts. These cottages offered unhindered view of the estuary from the sunrise till the sunset. The
atmosphere was very romantic and tranquil. Our boat was anchored at the floating Leela Restaurant, run by the cruise operator. The freshly cooked snacks, with a limited option, were available. We opted for Onion Pakoras with Masala Tea. The intervening time was spent capturing the waterscapes on the camera for memories.
The Pakoras were fresh and hot but tasted too ordinary. Nothing great about it .. the Masala Tea too did not match up to the expectation. However, during an escapade from the routine work, stress, tension, deadlines, rush hour traffic and all that daily chores that makes life hectic, it was refreshing. Probably the ambience compensated for it. The friendly boatman, helped us in embarking onto the boat and with the life-jackets on, we moved on.
The boat took a sharp diversion and moved onto a narrow canal. The speed was drastically reduced and the boat was navigating though thick and dense mangrove forest. The birds appeared much closer to the boat. The landscapes were just the frames cut out from the films, on nature, often seen on the National Geographic channel. At the noontime, there was hardly any penetration of sunlight through the thick woods and
the mangroves. It seemed that the evening had untimely descended, in this part of the beautiful world creating a twilight zone.
There were boats coming from opposite direction at regular interval. The boatmen had perfect understanding and coordination to allow the passage of the oncoming boat. It was truly an awesome experience cruising along the unexplored canal, listening to the songs of birds, and sound of the leaves from the coconut groves. The chirping of birds became louder and sounded like an orchestra in perfect harmony conducted by Mother Nature. The birds, oblivious of the presence of the tourists, jumped from bushes to bushes, in the submerged marshy land, in search of their prey. Suddenly, a Sea Eagle glided and soared and Cormorants dived to get their fresh meal.
There were many small bridges, connecting two ends of the shores, to facilitate the movement of tourist staying at the resorts. We did not realize as to when we reached Pozhiyoor, the end point of Kerala and started our return journey. It was difficult to say whether we were in Tamil Nadu or in Kerala. The cruise was crisscrossing both these neighborly states. At a certain point, we decided
to switch on our camera on video mode, and the decision was not regretted. Some of the best aquascapes got captured in the megapixels, which can be rewound and seen … again and again to relive the beautiful moments.
Reluctantly, we returned back to the jetty .. with a resolve to return to Poovar soonest for a much longer stay at the estuary … with an appropriate video equipment. The boatman lent his support to disembark and we were back to the place from where we had started few hours ago. The manager solicited our feedback on the cruise service. There was nothing to complain about … except that the cruise got over … little too soon.
Only after the mystic tour got concluded, we realized our body needed solid food for our survival. . It was nearing 2:00, and we were extremely hungry seeking immediate recharge. There were not many good restaurants on our way back to Kovalam. What we were searching for was a small eatery, which would feed us simple local fare. With watchful eyes, scanning both sides of roads, we continued with our journey.
As we were passing by, Vizhinjam, the chauffeur, in
his inimitable style, appraised us about the major infrastructural development in this part of Kerala. The natural fishing harbor is now of getting developed as a transshipment hub with a deepwater international seaport. It will result in the overall development of this entire belt. I sincerely hoped that the development should not have any adverse impact of the serene environment and natural beauty of this paradise.
He also spoke with a pride about the unique tidal wave energy pilot plant there, which converts energy from waves to electricity. The electricity so generated is fed into the local grid. In a power-starved nation, it is a great initiative and must be replicated in the other parts of the coastal India.
While, the information, about the local development, was incessantly pouring in, our search for a good eatery continued unabated. Our chauffeur spotted a small roadside eatery. He was unsure about its suitability for his urban passengers. From the external appearance, we were convinced that, this is what we were looking for. The small place, which had crowd, mostly consisting of sun-tanned natives, attired either in spotless white or blue & green lungis. This restaurant served only meals and each
plate had a mound of rice, gravies and other accompaniments.
As we entered this restaurant, we became a sort of center of attention. The waiter guides us towards an empty table. The names of the available dishes, were handwritten with a chalk on a big blackboard placed near the counter. Some names were struck-off apparently indicating that those items have been exhausted. We could not decipher anything from the board except the rates written in roman numerals. There was no printed menu-card, apparently they did not need it and were happy with the business generated in the absence thereof.
The person seated at the counter called out some name and asked him to receive our order. He promptly came and kept empty plates on our table and asked as to what we would like to have, in a great hurry. The only language he could converse in was Malyalam and none of us could respond to him. He reported the matter to the person seating at the counter, who instructed him to send somebody from kitchen. The hunger pang was overpowering and the delay was causing great irritation. The person from the kitchen, who had working knowledge of
English, recited the menu. The issue was far from resolved. The names of dishes were in Malyalam and we were unsure as to what they meant and the composition of the dishes in the offerings.
Ultimately, we had to gesture with our both hands and communicate that we need a large fish – fried. And then … point out to the neighboring table to communicate that whatever is served to them is needed by us too. He smiled with happiness that he has been able to comprehend as to what we desire. He muttered something to the person at the counter and vanished in the kitchen.
While the order was being executed, we glanced through the restaurant. It had two-rooms of which, the smaller one served as kitchen. The shed had galvanized roof and a purposeless solitary ceiling fan. The PVC tables and chairs offered flexibility to change the layout as per the requirement. The place was quite clean and buzzing with the preparation, the service and the consumption of food on a continual basis. The food was served much before the anticipated time.
The offerings were hot, freshly cooked and simply heavenly. …. the best meal,
we ever had, since we landed in the God’s Own Country, a week ago. The smile on the waiter’s face indicated that he was feeling privileged to serve us … which in the reality was the otherwise. The succulent Karimeen fish was well marinated, and it took hardly any time for us to devour it …. a few refills of aromatic spicy dishes and done with. The bill was the biggest surprise, it was a fraction of what we have been paying at Kovalam.
With all senses having derived utmost contentment, since the morning, we retreated back to the hotel for a short nap, before we hit to the beach, yet again.
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