Updated: Jul 6, 2018
The best way to reach the beautiful backwaters is not by train or bus, but by travelling up a backwater itself. But it took a bit of getting lost to find that route.
I had booked up to Ernakulam Town to the Kochi Muziris Binnale. But when the train took off, I felt like 7 days in Kochi was a waste of time when you are arms distance away from other Kerala beauties.
My train booking memory threw up a bit about Alleppey being 2 stations after Ernakulam. Well, I just had to extend my booking when the TC arrived later that evening. I even called a homestay off Tripadvisor and blocked a room in Alleppey. The TC, however, didn’t arrive at all that night.
I happily passed up on the Ernakulam station at 9 am, mighty pleased with the sudden spontaneity I'd infused in my travel. I would have preferred to get off at Ernakulam and take a boat down to Aelleppey. That’s only possible with private, touristy day trips, however.
My sixth sense told me to confirm which way the train was headed. When I saw the train crawling into the mainland instead of travelling further down the coast on Google Maps, my heart sank a few inches.
And, in what seemed like filmy timing, the TC bobbed up in the distance. Now, I was a ticketless traveller! I was about to be thrown out of the train. Or, heavily fined like those government ads warn. My first thought was to hide in the toilet till he passes. But what if the next station is close and I miss it. Or worse, what if the next station is far and I’m cooped-up in the filthy Indian Railways toilet, AC compartment notwithstanding.
I quickly Googled the next station for this train. Kottayam! Not Allepy, dear memory, that was another train.
There were buses from Kottayam to Allepy. But I scrolled down for possible water routes. Might as well make the most of the mistake. Hallelujah! There were water taxis! With departure times mentioned for 1130am. If the train reaches Kottayam by 1030. And, 1pm if it doesn’t.
The TC was overhead now. I guiltily admitted my mistake. He panicked more than I did. He consulted my co passengers in rapid Malayalam. Everyone were of the opinion that I should alight at Chengannur as the bus from there will safely and more importantly, quickly reach me ‘home’. I had just one question, “Are there water taxis from Chengannur?”
Bewildered looks met me. “No.” “From Kottayam?” “…Maybe…” Ok, I’ll take the ‘Maybe’. The TC looked positively stressed when I hit the ground on Kottayam station.
There was bewilderment at the information desk at Kottayam station. “Water taxi?? You want to go by water taxi?...” It was declared that they don’t operate from Kottayam. They used to, once upon a time, but now are only available from Kumarakom. “It’s better if you take the bus, you know. Bus stand is outside.”
As I scanned the city right outside the train station and several auto-drivers accosted me, a thought kept popping into my head like little bubbles in a fish tank, “But Google doesn’t lie.” A very sweet old security guard helped me with the bus number and where to get it. When I asked him about the water taxi, he didn't seem so bewildered. He guided one of the auto-drivers and bargained a slightly better fare to the port.
I told myself, as the auto wove through the morning buzz of Kottayam that at the worst I’ll be back from a spontaneous city tour to hail a bus.
25 minutes later it’s almost 1130 and the real panic sets in. What if there is indeed a water taxi and I missed it by a minute!
The auto turns under a low bridge and into a narrow path. Suddenly, there is an equally narrow water body next to the path. And two minutes later at an unknown, unmarked spot, there is a large boat waiting. No ticket counter. No boards. No driver. No conductor. Just a boat with flat, green cushioned seats that looked like they were stolen and fitted from BEST buses.
“Are you sure this will go to Alleppey?” I suspiciously demand of the auto guy. “110%, madam”. I loaded my bag into the boat and asked the woman who helped me with it the same question. She nodded vigourously to the only word she understood. “Alleppey, Alleppey.”
1150am which is 1130am Indian stretchable time, a khakhi shirted ‘driver’ and ‘conductor’ step in and I let out a long breath of relief.
We are off on the green, serene backwaters, the daily life and people of Kottayam presenting itself to me, washing clothes, utensils, gossiping, rowing their little canoe out of their backyards like we do our cars. The aquatic bio-diversity and the cool breeze in the hot sun embrace me and fill me up with happiness.
The conductor has the digital ticket machine and punches a few buttons when I say ‘Alleppey’. “Fifdee” he says, his English thick with a Malayalam accent.
I give him a Rs.50 note. He promptly returns Rs.35 and gives me a stub that reads Rs.15.
Just when I thought I couldn’t be happier that day.