We slowly row away from the shore, leaving behind the dim lights on our palm-fringed island in Kerala. The current in the backwaters sways our tiny kayak. After a brief show of resistance, we surrender and let it guide us. Small fish occasionally jump out of the water, creating ripples. A thousand stars shimmer in the sky above. These are the virgin North Kerala backwaters of Kasaragod. Silent, untouched and without a houseboat in sight.
I first visited Oyster Opera – this pristine island in Kerala two years ago, while charting out The Best Kept Secrets of Kerala trail for India Untravelled. When we impulsively decided to fly from Singapore to Kochi a few days back, I found myself craving the tranquillity of this little paradise. It is neither a resort nor a homestay, but just a place that perfectly encapsulates the languid way of life in these North Kerala backwaters.
On sunny afternoons, we swing on hammocks under the shade of coconut trees, watching public ferries collect people from islands that have no road access. On open boats, we sail along a labyrinth of islands with sleepy coastal hamlets, watching fishermen catch fish on their hardy wooden kayaks. Parts of these North Kerala backwaters are cordoned off for mussel farming, which was pioneered by our host, Mr Gul Mohammed, decades ago, inspired by a newspaper article! Mussel cultures are cultivated in these expansive backwaters, and the mussel extracted through wooden stick-like structures for export, creating livelihoods for 6000 coastal farmers.
We swim in the North Kerala backwaters (they are that clean!), and in the roaring waves of the Arabian Sea on some virgin beaches that lie undiscovered on these islands. Walking amid colourful houses hidden by coconut trees, we converse with shy, well-dressed kids, impressed by the standard of living and cleanliness in this remote part of Kerala. When a kid asks me where I’ve come from, I think to myself, from another world.
Have you experienced the North Kerala backwaters or an island in Kerala?