Solo Travel to India Kumarakom
I caught the 9:30-11:30 am public ferry from Alleppey to Kollam (formerly Quilon), the capital of Kerala’s cashew industry. A terribly good value for 10 rupees (approximately 25 cents). After a short bus ride to the village of Kumarakom, I checked in at my lodging, which I thought would be a heritage home. But a wonderful surprise—instead, my booking was in a fabulous little bamboo hut on the back side of the property, right next to the Kumarakom Wildlife Bird Sanctuary. I spent the latter part of the day bicycling about the village and the surrounding countryside. Another bike with barely functional brakes, but such is life, or at least the life of a solo female traveler trying to submit to the whimsy of the universe (or near death experiences on a two-wheeled vehicle).
There was an amazing temple across the river, with intricate, multitiered candle lanterns encircling three sides of the temple. It was the first time in awhile I heard the evening sounds of puja, with lots of drums and chanting—only here, what sounded like canon blasts.
Alas, my cabin was called the lonely cabin and I came to understand why. There were lots of night forest sounds, things that went bump in the night, which made for strained sleep. At precisely 4:30 am, the temple started up with the what sounded like cannons (perhaps fireworks?), drums, and chanting. India is not a quiet country and the sounds of the devote are pervasive, even in the villages. In India, you never feel too alone.
I spent the morning walking to the not-so-notable Kumarakom Wildlife Bird Sanctuary (also called Vembanad Bird Sanctuary), a 14 acre refuge on Vembanad Lake and the banks of the Kavanar River. Perhaps I had poor timing—the best time is June until August—but without a doubt, the village of Kumarkom, was for me the best part of this destination. I had learned to avoid big cities—always chaotic, polluted and noisy—and hoped wildlife would be a bonus at this stop.
After the walk back to my lodging, there were some transportation twists. The hotel man insisted that the best way to get to Kochi was to take a bus to a city unknown to me, Chevula, then transfer buses to Kochi, rather than going back to Kollam, where I knew there were buses every half hour. It always seemed that Indian men were telling me (well, everyone) what to do and I was usually too polite to disagree. But those who know me know that I do not like being told what to do…
But I obediently hopped on the next bus to Chevula and some nuns waved me into a vacant seat. We exchanged the typical and increasingly boring conversation: where I am from; marital status; family statistics i.e., how many children, how many siblings and if my parents were alive; occupation; lie about where my husband is; and and lie about why I’m not traveling with my husband). I was starting to wonder if there was a central reporting authority and a bureaucrat somewhere was tabulating this data. There had to be a reason for this interview!
I must say the nuns here are always immaculately dressed (no pun intended). I know nuns are always spotless, but this is a difficult country for light colors; they sported a tidy light peach habit. Sister X was from Kerala and from a family of seven: one brother, but five out of six sisters were nuns. Our bus had a not only a picture of Shiva, but the holy family, Mary, Joseph and the Baby J. Everyone sported the typical garlands or marigold. Kerala’s population is reportedly twenty percent Christian, and it was definitely starting to show. The front of the bus was usually reserved for Hindu deities, but in Kerala, I was getting used to seeing the Christian deities.
After a few kilometers, the bus stopped, which made Sister X very uneasy. She seemed to be the only person on the bus who was concerned about what was happening—tight schedule? Then the conductor grabbed a water bottle from a big bucket; I assumed radiator troubles. He was gone about five minutes, then he waved everyone off the bus. Everyone lined up for a refund for the ten rupee fare, then they started walking in a matter of fact way across the bridge. I obediently followed the herd—I had learned not to question the why or the when. The rule of Indian transit is you get there when you get there.
It turned out that a political rally was blocking the road. There were a few members of the policia, but otherwise everything was very peaceful and orderly. After following the herd, I realized I should follow my instinct and go back to plan A, which was to go to Kollam. So, I walked the other direction across the bridge and away I went to the next stop, coastal Kochi.
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