Monkeys, Cave Temples and a Fortress in the Sky

This first leg of our Sri Lankan adventure had my husband and I venturing into the center of the country. The roads winded like blood vessels, carrying us closer to the beating life force of Sri Lanka’s ancient history. To Dambulla, where monkey’s danced within arms reach, caves were carved into temples, and rock fortresses dominated the sky. To Dambulla, a place that contained the magic, heart and mystery of Sri Lanka itself.

We whizzed along rice paddies and foxtail palms on flat roads, drifted into the jungle’s mist and unruly overgrowth on hilltops, and passed cragged red rock and indigenous communities on our descent. The scenery blended into an infinite panorama of life, our destination a single star in a constellation of biodiversity.

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A drizzle crept overhead as we inched along the outskirts of Kandalama Reservoir. It felt like the car was tiptoeing, so as not to disturb the adjacent wildlife. We slowed to catch a glimpse of the illusive black water monitor, who would have blended in with the pavement were it not for the incessant flicker of her rosy pink tongue.

A rustle in the brush motioned us from ahead. Curiosity even found its way to our driver, and as we drove towards the commotion’s source, none of us could hide the smile on our faces. A small group of scavenging monkeys had found a stash of ripe fruit within the shrubbery, and at this point they looked more like chipmunks than primates.

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The Toque Macaque is endemic to Sri Lanka, and these little buggers happened to frequent our hotel as often as the tourists do. With a monkey see no evil, monkey hear no evil, monkey do no evil lineup on our balcony every single morning. Being only a stone’s throw to the watering hole meant the surrounding area bursted with life. We darted through bats in the hallways, stopped for crossing frogs in the common areas, and listened to the birds rise and fall with the sun.

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The next morning we met the Golden statue who greeted us with inquisitive eyes. Gatekeeper of the mysterious cave temples, the enormous Buddha had a stare that never left your side. We paid homage to its brilliance and began our ascent, darting between feral cats and spunky macaques up what felt like the world’s longest staircase. The brimming hedges masked the secret heritage carved within the rocks, until the pathway deposited us into a galley-style courtyard that revealed a sanctuary built within the mountainside.

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Our bare toes crossed the threshold, brushing against the very same steps the solitary Buddhist monks used during pre-Christian times. Although the actual number of caves reaches close to eighty, five of them are open to the public. A contrast of complex white against natural stone. We ventured into the damp portals, the interiors shrouded with over 150 Buddha sculptures and paintings, blues and reds so vibrant it was like the walls opened to the heavens.

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Sigirya loomed in the distance, a masterpiece of an ancient bloodline that truly ruled from the clouds. Tempted to spend our day wandering the caves like a monastic recluse, we almost watched its glory from a distance, but this towering piece of history was just too fascinating to pass up. We jumped in a cab, the only hint of urbanization we’d felt in hours, and 30 minutes later arrived to a page straight out of the Jungle Book. Monkeys chased each other to our left, deciduous forest swayed to our right, and a prehistoric citadel lay ahead.

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Something magical happens when you lock eyes with Sigirya. Weaving closer through its vast network of gardens, lily ponds and pebbled pathways, the undercurrent of possibility dances with the pollen in the air. It’s like a volt of electricity strikes your veins, and no matter that she’s 660 feet tall and 1,200 steps high, Sigirya grants you the power to conquer. As if her beckoning runs wild with the wind, she coaxes you closer:

The Lion’s Gate is the entrance which you seek. It is there that leads you to the palace ruins along the highest plateau.

Beyond the Lion’s Gate, now crumbled to nothing but two enormous lion’s paws, lies the entrance to King Kashyapa’s world. A once flourishing monarch that reigned from the highest tier, this vantage point provided 360 views of the surrounding territory, a true advantage for any undesirable ruler.

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Like all great pieces of art, the beauty lies within the details. The climb up Sigirya is littered with defining moments, ones that you cannot witness unless you explore every curve. A Mirror Wall that in the old days was polished so thoroughly the king could see his reflection in it. A gallery of frescoes with over 500 depictions of women, their presence as mysterious as the artists themselves. A fully functioning hydraulic system that feeds from a man-made reservoir atop Sigirya’s summit.

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Dambulla blends the gift of raw nature with man’s gift of urban planning, creating a world both striking and terrene. As we descended in the footsteps of the ancients, the watermarks splayed against a hot November sky, our pulse joined the capillaries that beat into the heart of this ancient metropolis.

The Spirit of Sri Lanka

I never could have guessed what would take hold of me as I descended upon the mysterious land of Sri Lanka, dark birds fluttering against the prowess of the jets and into the rippled summer sky. My pulse raced with the quiver of their wings, my heart beat along the roar of the engine, and my hands sweat against the surge of the adrenaline. As soon as I stepped off that jetway and the humidity cradled me like an organic blanket, I knew I had been wrapped in the warmth of Sri Lanka’s magic.

A jewel within the Indian Ocean, this island country has it all. Vast rainforests, sprawling mountains, ancient ruins, white sand beaches and a booming Metropolis. With a striking resemblance to the Garden of Eden, there’s this unspoken sense of adventure that pulses in the air. You see it as you corkscrew down the broken roads beneath the jungle’s dark canopy, past mountaintop temples and Buddhist caves, swerving to miss the prehistoric water monitor…  This is a country built upon divinity and mystery and life’s sheer beauty. Home to some of the world’s most ancient cities, you feel as though you’re tracing the steps of the kings who lived during their mightiest reign. I know it’s not fair to play favoritism but with Sri Lanka there’s this feeling, like a lightning bolt of energy that charges your soul, and makes you want to stop, listen, and revel in its magic.

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My husband and I spent our two week journey in the central and southern provinces, shaping our itinerary around the plains, the highlands and the sea. With culture as diverse as its regions, each location offers its own unique experience from landscape to lifestyle to cuisine, representing a collective unit that hums with the vibrancy of life.

Decked in exotic flora and unusual fauna, Sri Lanka hasn’t always been the beauty in green. For a while it was bathed in red, as civil warfare and political unrest besieged the country. Despite 25 years of conflict, the Sri Lankan people are some of the friendliest you will meet. With outstretched hands and dimpled smiles, their demeanor is as beautiful as the landscape. Open and excited to share stories about their heritage, they are are happy to show you a window into their lives, just be respectful of the past that is still healing and avoid the delicacy of politics.

In my next blog post follow me to the heart of Sri Lanka’s history, where you’ll be captivated by the sacred grounds of Dambulla, soar the highest heights at Sigirya and dance with the monkeys at Kandalama.

 

A Day in Fort Kochi

When you have 24 hours in one city, it’s early rising. But that’s okay because in India, it’s easy to say goodbye to those extra 2-3 hours you’d normally spend snoozin’. Sunrise is one of the most magical times of the day. Stirring to the rhythmic song of morning prayers, stretching your arms amidst the vibrant call of the roosters, opening your eyes to the stilted rays of the tangerine sun… There’s nothing quite like it.

Fort Kochi is a fishing village that lies at the Northern tip of Kochi proper in the state of Kerala, India. It was gifted to the Portuguese by the Kingdom’s Rajah in 1503 for their support in battle against the Kozhikode forces. Within this designated area, the Portuguese were allowed to build their settlement and put up a proper fort to protect it. It remained this way for 160 years, until the Dutch came and spoiled that stint. Although the Portuguese never got Fort Kochi back in their possession, karma worked in their favor and the British came and stole it from the Dutch’s hands in 1795.

Today Fort Kochi belongs to its home country, India. Walk down its crumbling cobblestone streets though, and you can still see its European influences in the steepled Catholic churches and scattered colonial architecture today.

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My husband and I arrived to Fort Kochi just after our lackadaisical trip down the Alappuzha backwaters. Those moments of serenity on the water translated to moments of restlessness on land, so we were ready to explore. Like sloth bears attracted to honey, the ocean’s tidal forces pulled us towards the water, and we started our day with a morning walk on Mahatma Gandhi beach.

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Darting between tide pools and trash, the beach held a peculiar sort of beauty. Half sand and half weeds, we balanced over fallen logs like tightropes and chased feral goats like wild geese. Distracted by our imaginary playground, we didn’t notice the weathered fishing boat until its crew’s excited cries superseded our own. As if caught by an invisible fishing line, they reeled us in with a bait of curiosity and before we knew it, we were grabbing their outstretched hands and hopping on board.

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We exchanged smiles and quickly learned this wasn’t a boat at all, but a rickety wooden platform suspended above the shallows that hosted a semi-mechanical roping device called a Chinese Fishing Net. Introduced to Kerala’s shore around the 1400’s, the whole process was designed around a cantilever system, with heavy rocks used as counterweights on one end and hammock sized pieces of net to catch fish on the other. For such a simple task it seemed a pretty big operation, and took four people to operate one net!

Stepping in for one of the fisherman, I joined the others in raising the rope to reveal our fresh catch of the day. Together we heaved, ho’d and at the end of a few minutes hard work came face-to-face with our fishy friends. While only a few of us spoke English, we all spoke the universal language of laughter and gave it another go, delicately dropping the net into the water and raising it once more to reveal our saltwater captors.

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After our plight with the fisherman we headed inland to the colorful umbrellas along the shore. These were the marks of the Kamalakadavu Fish Market, where the same anglers lugged their fresh catch to sell to perusing tourists and hungry locals. Mixed between the stalls of giant prawns and bright red tuna were brightly colored linens sold as beach blankets, day dresses and purses.

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After a hearty sidewalk lunch of big eyed shrimp and fish curry, we strolled back into the Fort towards our next (official) stop, the Indo-Portuguese museum. Our journey took us through teal alleyways and past stalls of chestnut spotted cattle – I admit, we may have purposefully darted through the unmarked streets just to get some extra sightseeing in. There’s so much beauty in this city though, it’s hard to stick to the course.

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The Santa Cruz Basilica met us halfway with its looming double spires and ornate golden craftsmanship. Built by the Portuguese during their moment of reign, it’s one of eight Basilica’s in Kerala. Its ironwood doors are still open as a place for devotion and gothic inspiration today.

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The Indo-Portuguese museum was constructed by Dr. Joseph Kureethra, the late Bishop of Kochi. It’s a fairly modest structure, with crumbled stone columns and weathered yellow paint that make it look more like a royal palace than a preservation of history. That was because this was actually part of the Bishop’s house, we learned, and he turned it into a museum in efforts to preserve the heritage of the local traditions and Portuguese culture that influences it.

Inside you can go from art to sculpture to ancient relics within the museum’s five sections: Altar, Treasure, Procession, Civil Life and Cathedral. To us, the building itself and the compound it rests on were just as interesting as its innards. My husband and I found ourselves slowly drifting down its spiral stone staircases and lounging on the grassy knoll far long after the standard tour.

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From there we flagged a tuk-tuk and headed the opposite side of the Fort, to a little slice of spice heaven within the heart of Jew Town. Before you even walk through the doors of Cochin Spice Market you experience the rich variety of colors, fragrances and flavors… The incense wafting throughout the street, an aromatic cloud hovering over the rooftops. This, this was the spice haven that Christopher Columbus had hoped to discover.

It was a day for ginger, thousands of pieces laid out to dry in the South Asian sun. While the spices satiated my nose the tribal colors satiated my eyes. Ginger, clove, turmeric. Red, yellow, blue. An intense ecosystem of senses, the feeling was almost supernatural.

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The evening concluded with the same varietal of hymns it began with. This time carried out for a watching audience instead of unsuspecting passerby’s who happened to catch its drifting melodies in the wind. A guttural sing-song of voices, this classic form of Indian performance relayed one of the major Hindu legends through dance, music and sign, its essence captured under the roof of the Kerala Kathakali Center.

Kathakali uses a combination of acting, costume and musical patterns to tell stories about Hindu mythology and spirituality. The most distinctive feature of this cultural art form are the elaborate ensembles the actors wear, from their make-up made out of local ingredients like rice flour and soot, to their parasoled dresses that take up half of the stage when standing. This art form is unique in that the cast is typically all male too, even for characters that would be considered female.

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Walking home amongst the fireflies that evening, the sun may have set but the vibrancy of the city did not. Our path lit not be street lamps but abundant piles of smoldering trash, the smoke whisked towards the open night and cascaded across the pot marked street. Wading through the haze, the phantoms of the past mixed with the illusion of today, a blend of heritage and progression. And even though it felt like magic, it had every aspect of something real.

I See a Black Moon Rising, and it’s Calling Out My Name

“I see a black moon rising, and it causes so much pain.” ~ Black Sabbath

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Black Moon, photo credit: NASA Goddard Flight Center

Our annual lunar cycle almost perfectly lines up with Earth’s calendar year, so we can expect the same show: One new moon to start the new lunar cycle, one full moon to conclude the current lunar cycle. With the exception of nights like tonight, where we’ll be blessed with the presence of something different. A black moon.

Typically new and full moons don’t occur twice in a single month, so when they do, they get special attention. And even nicknames! Full = Blue, New = Black.

Like a black sheep, the black moon is extra shy, and is a very rare sight to (not) see. A new moon occurs when its Earth-facing side is in full shadow, so unfortunately for moon gazers, this means the black moon will be invisible tonight.

But just because you can’t see the black moon doesn’t mean you can’t feel it.

Unlike the blue moon, who’s indigo hue has captivated people for centuries, the black moon remains dark, hidden and mysterious. It intensifies the curiosities in the deeper parts of our mind, drawing on our intuitive, less explored qualities that want to be known but have yet to be unlocked to their fullest potential. The black moon is associated with the Goddess Lilith, who’s known to flirt with these inner desires.

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The Goddess Lilith, photo credit: Wikipedia.com

Lilith was first depicted 5,000 years ago in Sumerian mythology as a handmaiden to the Goddess Inanna, the Queen of Heaven, and it was her duty to gather men from the fields to perform the sacred rites. In another, perhaps more well-known Hebrew story, Lilith appeared in the Garden of Eden as the first wife of Adam. And let’s just say, they had a difference of opinion on how a housewife should behave. Refusing to be tamed, Lilith replaced marriage with independence and ventured out on her own. Her rebellion cast her her fortune and she was forever stigmatized as a dark power who gave birth to demons and stole babies from their beds.

Lilith’s connection with the black moon is their intense nature to live outside the norm, accepting themselves for what they are. Opening up an unexplored side of ones self, letting go without retaliation. Not conforming to cookie-cutter standards, but embracing one’s quirks with grace and confidence.

Taking the road less traveled, people will misunderstand you, and judge you, and compare you. The black moon shows that it’s okay to carve your own way, as long as you do it with dignity, do it with purpose, and do it to better yourself.

September is already the start of something new. A new school year, a new season, a new shift in priorities. The black moon reinforces that this is the time to take charge of your desires, embrace your life’s passions, sever ties with negative influences, and be yourself to the fullest extent.

Have you started to feel the black moon’s calling?

“I see a black moon rising, and it’s calling out my name; I see a black moon rising , and it causes so much pain.” ~ Black Sabbath

Legend of the Hidden Temple

Going to an Indian temple festival has always been a dream of mine. To witness the ancient culture, reborn through the ornate ensembles of the gold plated elephants, carried through the rhythmic sounds of the beating nagada, hiding within the cracks of the crumbled temple walls… Who says time travel doesn’t exist?

Immersing myself in decades old tradition is where I find the source of the magic that persists.

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Call it fortuitous that my husband and I arrived to Fort Kochi during the height of Kerala’s festival season. We learned the closest one was about an hour ride outside the city, in the old kingdom of Tripunithura. There lay Sree Poornathrayesa, the epicenter for elaborate celebrations. This temple is one of the greatest in Kerala, so naturally it hosts one of the biggest festivals, Vrishchikoltsawam. This eight day, 24 hour extravaganza kicks off the festival season and draws people from all over the region to participate. Including us.

A temple festival isn’t something you buy a ticket off Eventbrite for. It’s not something you find at the foot of your hotel door. It’s a sacred, antiquated space that lies beyond the outermost reaches of the walled city, and took quite a bit of conversation with the locals and some negotiation on a tuk-tuk.

There’s something equally inspiring about the journey getting there. Cutting through tilted alleyways, speeding over brown mouthed rivers, unsettling the dust of time-warped communities. While my adrenaline sped up it felt like the rest of the world sped down. I heard the trumpets first, followed by the unified sound of elephant trunks. My head was on a swivel, taking in all it could as I bounced over the uneasy gravel, my hair sticking to my lip gloss in the windowless back seat of our tuk tuk.

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As our driver stealthily maneuvered into what San Francisco would deem an authorized tow-away zone, I could feel the burning sense of fulfillment at arms reach. And in my nose, thanks to the heaping pile of elephant dung we parked next to. Swatting through the gnats and crowds of people, we made our way to the mouth of the temple under the spell of captivation.

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Entering the heart of Sree Poornathrayesa, in our direct line of sight was a row of about 20 tusked elephants, adorned with jewels and gold trunks. They carried the temple’s deity, Lord Vishnu, who blesses childless couples that pray in his presence.

I didn’t pray that day.

They also carried a group of young men, clad in white cotton robes, who swayed tinseled silk parasols, white tufts and fans made out of peacock feathers to the tempos of the unified trumpets, high above the crowd.

I watched the customs of our great ancestors come to life in the shadow of the hidden temple, a witness to the magic reborn. I felt it buried in the hot Indian sand, I heard it blend with the highs and lows of the orchestra, I saw it gleaming in the reflection of the elephant’s ruby caparisons. I opened my soul to the experience, enraptured by the wonder and the manifestation of the dream I’d always had.

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That Universe…

That Universe is at it again.

Just when I’m feeling down on my luck, it’s there to pick me back up. Just when I feel like giving up, it’s there to remind me there are things worth fighting for. Just when I feel like I’m stuck in a rut, it’s there to encourage me to follow my dreams.

This time, it whispered:

“It won’t matter that 10,000 doors might be slammed in your face, Victoria, because when door number 10,001 flies open, revealing pathways of jade and gardens of love, with flowers dancing, fountains sparkling, friends blushing, moonbeams glowing, and abundance abounding, you’ll completely forget about all the other doors.”

Thank you, Universe.

(and the wizards behind my daily dose of inspiration from tut.com)

Adventure by Backwater: 5 Tips on How to Book Your Kerala Houseboat

There’s a reason the houseboats of Kerala are so attractive to tourists – it’s one of the most beautiful, serene trips you will ever take in your life. However I’ll admit, when initially researching this trip getting there seemed impossible. Let’s not have you in the same boat! Here are 5 tips to help you set sail through the magical backwaters of Alleppey.

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1. Know what you’re looking for in a houseboat. 

A quick “Kerala houseboat” Google search will bring up a plethora of sites where you can review all different types of boats. When browsing, make note of what you like and don’t like. Tie it back to what you would look for in a hotel room. Some questions you might want to ask yourself:

  • Do you need A/C or will a ceiling fan do the trick?
  • Do you want a second level viewing area or will one level work?
  • Does the entire boat need to be enclosed, i.e. glass panels or mosquito nets, or is it necessary for only certain areas like the bedroom and kitchen?
  • Is an open living area with a variety of seating options more your style or are you happy with a table and a couple of plush chairs?
  • Are you comfortable sharing the houseboat with others, or are you looking for something private?
  • Can you go completely off the grid or do you need electrical outlets, TV and/or radio to keep you company?
  • How many meals do you want per day? Is the basic three okay, or do you like to snack?

You might not know exactly what you want until you get to Kerala (shoot, we didn’t) and that’s okay. But it’s important to at least think about it beforehand, so when you hop on that first boat to take a look around, you’ll already have a starting point.

2. Don’t book in advance.

Being Miss Planner, for me this was the hardest rule to follow, because it breaks all my conventions. Unless you’re thinking about sailing over a major holiday like New Years or Christmas, there’s no reason to book a houseboat ahead of time. A couple of reasons:

  • It’s more expensive, since you have to pay agency fees on top of the price of the trip.
  • Things can look very, very different online. A “quaint two-bedroom” with a “natural breeze” can sound charming, but really mean small as hell with no fans or A/C.

The best thing to do is get to Alleppey Boathouse early in the morning (~8-8:30am), walk the dock, choose your top picks and go from there. If you’re feeling extra cautious, head down the day before you plan to sail and reserve something then.

3. Channel your inner Inspector Gadget.

Don’t reserve anything until you’ve walked the houseboat and are completely satisfied with what you’ve seen. Keep that initial list in mind and mentally check the boxes while you’re touring the space. When you find something you love, don’t forget to barter your little heart out!

4. Don’t look for the bare necessities, bring them!

Once that anchor is pulled up and you’ve drifted away from the dock, the opportunities to stop at a convenience store are slim to none. Some items to keep you happy:

  • Bug spray – Seriously, don’t mess with this one
  • Cash for tips – ~Rs.750  per day for three staff members
  • Books – Did someone say young adult fantasy?
  • Playing cards – You can’t go wrong with Gin Rummy!
  • Snacks – Having some extra junk food on hand never hurt anyone
  • Beer and soft drinks – It will be hard (and expensive) to find this after you embark
  • Camera – Capture the beauty at every moment you can

5. Prepare to have the most relaxing day(s) of your life. 

While you’re on the boat, there’s no wifi. There’s nothing but the endless stretch of canals in front of you and the infinite rows of rice fields beside you. Floating down the backwaters, you really get a glimpse into what life is like in Southern India. It’s bathing in the fresh water river, the women washing clothes alongside the angler’s casting their fishnets. It’s aquatic birds singing, dropping in and out of the mirror-like water. It’s the locals projecting chants of worship throughout their collective villages, echoing off the surface of the backwaters and drifting into your ears. It’s the sun rising over the numerous palm trees that line the waterways, early morning rays illuminating last night’s fishermen kayaking back to their houses.

It’s an experience you’ll never forget. I can’t tell you how much money to spend or how many nights to stay, what kind of houseboat to get or how many meals per day. What I will tell you is that you’ll unplug, reflect and truly remember what’s important in life.

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Gone Honeymoonin’!

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I hate to disrupt my South Asian adventure series (not that I’ve been great about consistent posts lately anyways, hehe) but I have a valid excuse! Over the past couple of months my main focus has been my wedding, and I am happy to say I am now officially a Mrs!

Hot off the heels of our ceremony, my now husband (!) and I are taking a Latin American honeymoon so naturally, I will be out of pocket for the next few weeks.

When I get back, expect to pick up right where we left off, and I’ll be providing my top 5 tips for selecting a houseboat for your Kerala backwaters journey!

Cheers,

The new Mrs. Carnathan

Relax, Reflect, Rejuvenate: Sailing Down the Kerala Backwaters

From the moment I landed in India, as the woman in the seat next to me spoke no words and thrust her crying baby into my arms, I knew I was in for an adventure.

I have that magical November’s eve to thank, that night the Indiana Jones explorer’s hat was placed so thoughtfully on the kitchen table, full of hopes and dreams and most importantly, my destiny. With just one quick gesture and a small piece of paper, India and Sri Lanka were embedded into my future. Geographically it was so clear where I was supposed to go, but I never could have guessed where my heart would end up in those three weeks exploring the Indian subcontinent.

Our first stop was a place of myth and wonder. Nicknamed “God’s Own Country,” Kerala sits along the Arabian Sea, shrouded by palm trees and the sweet scent of salt floating off the sea. This region is unique in that it has this extensive network of waterways that seeps deep into the countryside, which you can explore via houseboat. To reach these intricate backwaters, my fiance and I took an air conditioned taxi from Cochin International Airport to the docks of Alappuzha aka Alleppey aka “the Venice of the East,” which took two hours and cost ~1,700 Rs ($25 USD).

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There were dozens of adorned houseboats to choose from. Some with balconies, some enclosed in glass, some double story, whatever you could wish for! Like snowflakes, no two houseboats were alike. After some negotiating, we picked a one bedroom with an open patio, enclosed dining space and rooftop deck for ~16,000 Rs ($235 USD).

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We had a few hours before exodus so we took a stroll through Alappuzha city while the crew prepared the boat. Wide eyed and bushy tailed, we looked at everything. Listened to every sound. Smelt every smell. This place was like nowhere we had ever been before. Vibrant, eclectic, ancient and inspiring.

They say stay away the street food, but I’m going to be brutally honest here. When you’re standing on the corner and a man is mixing nuts with a blend of honey and spices in a hot wok right before your eyes, the bitter and sweet aromas wafting into your nose and gurgling your stomach… You try and say no.

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Back at the boat we were welcome by a smiling captain, grocery bags full of booze (that had been bought on the black market – it was Sunday), and a platter of freshly fried plantains (we emphasized how much we like snacks!). The boat rocked beneath us as we maneuvered onto the main waterway. Where we were going, we had no idea. Did we care? Absolutely not. All that mattered was that we had each other, a great crew, and of course, this view for the next couple of days.

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Relax, reflect, rejuvenate. We bird watched and napped during the day, and listened to the temperate wake at night. Outside of these activities, there weren’t many pit stops. As we navigated through one of the busier channels, we paid homage to a local fisherman and picked out a couple of fresh lobsters for dinner. Mid-stay we caught a break in our lazy routine and posted up at a remote village for a couple hours, visiting the local craftsmen and stepping into Champakulam Church, one of the most elegant structures I’ve ever seen.

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The environment is unreal in Kerala. The unity between the sky and the water makes it seem like one endless hue of blue. The sounds of the jungle captivated our ears, until song-like prayers erupted from hidden villages within the adjacent palms. Every inch of you can’t help but feel inspired by its beauty.

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What’s great about renting a houseboat in Kerala is you dictate what the itinerary looks like. If you’d go stir crazy sitting on a boat for a couple days, take a day or overnight trip! However coming hot off the busiest time of year for me, spending three days drifting through the Indian countryside with nothing but a book, a stack of cards, a camera and my fiance was just right.

A Date with Fate… And a Hat

It’s quite a thrill, picking something out of a hat. And a bit humbling, to think how flimsy pieces of paper have the power to dictate your life.

Whether it be whose name you are going to draw, what number you are going to get, what adventure you are going to pick… The uncertainty can make a grown man feel giddy, the randomness can make even the coolest cat sweat. And there’s always that one strip of paper you’re gunning for, that holds the key to your inner desire. Is it by sheer luck you get what you pick or do the stars align, and your choice just happens to be fate?

I like to think fate. (It’s way more fun). I like to think I was destined to do things. Destined to go certain places, destined to meet special people. My latest date with both fate and a hat came on a mellow, couple-y evening in. I know, I’m not setting the stage for a theatrical scene here, but that’s the beauty of it all. Something so powerful came from something so simple. All it took was a hat, a crinkled piece of printer paper and a little dance with uncertainty. Okay, the hat might have been Indiana Jones style… And that might have made a little bit of a difference.

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Before my partner and I knew it, our steaks were getting cold and the clatter of cutlery was replaced with frantic scribbling. Paper was ripped left and right and trips were thrown into the hat like dunk shots. There were strips ranging from art walks through Germany, Belgium and Amsterdam to jungle exploration in Bolivia, Peru and Chile. Knights of the Templar tours in Portugal and pyramid spotting down the Nile. After a breathless round of conceptualizing our wanderlust and an inflation of disposable adventures, we threw our hands up in triumph, and just looked at one another.

Something had caught hold of us. Something that combined the spirit of adventure and magic of the unknown, and for those 10 minutes, whisked us away. We weren’t in our kitchen brainstorming countries around the world. We were in Bolivia, Peru and Chile. We trotted with the Knights of the Templar and stuck our fingers in the Nile. The ideas bewitched us and hypnotized us in a way that only happens when you’re in exactly the right place, at exactly the right time. When fate is literally dangling from your fingertips, beckoning you to pursue.

Where did we end up that night? Everywhere. Nowhere. Exactly where we were supposed to be.

…Where did we end up six months later? Relishing in an experience that stemmed from nothing more than a split second thought, a hat, and a twist of fate. To the other side of the world. To a land of romance, a land of mystery. A place so sacred, spirituality rises like smoke and legends paint the walls. So quickly, India and Sri Lanka had become our destiny.