A Morning’s Kayaking in Kerala

We turn our kayaks down a narrow channel. Fifteen feet across, it’s lined by small houses, glimpses of verdant paddy fields between them. Children in immaculate school uniforms race along the paths on either bank, shouting ‘Hello, hello! Whatsyourname? One pen, one pen?’ The steps leading into the channel are busy. Woman pummel clothes against the stone:  Swack! Swack! Maidens – there’s no other way to describe these ethereal beauties – stand waist deep in water, wet saris clinging to their curves, washing their long dark locks.  Young mothers soap up naked, slippery babies.  Behind them, the fathers lounge on plastic chairs, engrossed in newspapers. Everyone greets us with surprise and smiles. We glide along calling out Hellos, and answering the constant question, ‘Where are you from?”

The bird watchers among us are distracted by iridescent kingfishers flashing past, by pond herons, snake birds and cormorants, by Brahminy kites soaring overhead and parakeets fussing up in the big palm tree leaves. There’s a stop for a duck crossing: at least a hundred of them, just released from their pen, waddling down a ramp to swim free all day and forage on the weeds. They gather in one big flock, and after some dithering and lots of quaking all set off in the same direction.

This feels like paddling through paradise, a place of simple abundance and lush beauty. So reaching a big channel is a shock:  noisy motor boats plying to and fro, and  a bridge with rumbling traffic. Going under the bridge we look up at hundreds of bats, settling in for the day’s rest. Even they seem to regard us curiously.

On the far bank, our support boat is waiting, drinks and snacks at the ready. We rest for a while, watch the world go by then set off to find the next tiny channel in this vast maze of waterways, the next perfect paddle of the day.

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