Friday, August 20, 2010

Notes From Travancore - where there are salesmen, refreshments and murdered romantic notions


A town of salesmen

You have to go to YMCA? Left and straight – half a km” he said, and paused to add, “Do you need a houseboat for tonight, sir?”

As I park my car 5 minutes hence, another man walks over, looks rather conspicuously at my out-of-town license plate, and comes over, “Houseboat night stay, sir?”

Far, far away, some 15km from town. I’m taking an evening walk in a field off the Quilon-Cochin waterway. There is the vast emptiness of paddy fields around. There are but 2 houses visible in the far distance. A man walks from the village that lies 2km away, and moves away from me.

This man suddenly stops, turns around. There’s nobody else around – just the two of us. He asks, “Houseboat, sir? 6000 rupees only for 1 night”.

Just like Bombay offers sex to newly arrived visitors, Alleppey offers houseboats-by-night.


Finding refreshments

“Toddy?”, I ask.

“Bar?” comes the reply.

“No. No. Toddy.” I insist.

“Why toddy? Go to whisky, brandy bar. Next road only”, the man persists.

Finally, I decide to take my friend Samanth’s advice .”Shaaaaap?”, say I.

No avail. Perhaps I had missed the precise intonation that Samanth insisted was the key to success.

I try again , imploring, ”Kallu shaaaap?”

I immediately receive detailed, precise directions to the nearest toddy shop.

I also get dirty stares for being a car-driving, jeans-wearing toddy-shop visitor.


Where romantic notions go to die

After I’ve booked a place to stay in, I look up directions for getting there. I find, “We are not reachable by road. We are located on the Quilon-Cochin waterway.”

Wow, I tell myself, a place with enough attitude to stay away from the path of tourists. This, I tell myself, is precisely the sort of thing one writes about.

An hour before reaching, I call the resort to tell them about my arrival. The manager asks ,”What will you have for dinner?”.

“I’ll come there and order.”

“No, we’ll need to cook for you, so tell me now.”

Ah, I tell myself, here’s a place where they cook especially for guests, which doesnt have stocks of what could be leftover dishes. Here’s a place that isnt business-like in taking orders and mass-producing dishes listed on big menus. This really must be a place one could call quaint and nice. This, perhaps, is a place that is a house, but merely calls itself a resort.

I reach the resort, taking a 10 minute boat ride across the waterway to get there.

There are but two men there. One’s in the kitchen, the cook. The other man, who’s driven the motor boat, and also mans the reception, is the manager. There are just 2 other guests in the resort tonight.

See? Quaint is just the word, I tell myself. Very nice and non-commercial. This is the way resorts should be. Owner runs the place, talks to guests, manages everything. No corporate management, no indifferent staff. Owner relaxes and lives happily because he doesn’t have to sweat himself to death about ‘scaling up’.

Romantic notions, alas, die a cruel death.

As I chat with the manager over dinner, he laments, “So many staff are on leave. The boat driver is taking a vacation. The MD wants me to handle all the work.”

At least, I tell myself, the place maintains its peaceful seclusion. It’s not for everyone, just like any place with any notion of pride should be. It’s so far away from the town, only the most intrepid, only the worthy come here. See how un-crowded it is?

That notion, too, dies an ignominious death.

Sometime later, he says, “This is a very busy waterway. Boats pass all day. We pick up guests directly from Alleppey. Sometimes, we have houseboats stop by for parties at our resort. Today somehow we hardly have guests.”


“Sometimes, people book the entire resort and hold parties and bonfires here. They have a great time. Especially software engineers from Bangalore.”

Well, so the place didn’t quite match up to the exalted levels of chastity I demanded. Oh well, at least the place was memorable enough to make me want to stay two extra days. One cant have everything, can one?