We all struggle to meet our work deadlines, arrive in meetings on time, impress existing and potential clients and spend the rest of time with families. I guess we all forget to do what we all love doing so much- Traveling and spending time with our inner selves!
Those who are fond of traveling would agree with me that whether one travels solo or with family or with a group of friends, one does find a few moments to spend alone and ponder, doesn’t it? Traveling consisting of new experiences fires up the mind and stirs the soul. Whether you are driving at night or are waiting for someone to catchup with you on the long trek or simply just gazing through nature’s marvels. These moments, no doubt, increase the propensity to introspect and enable one to have a broader perspective.
This time, the nomad in me went to Kochi to attend Kerala Homestay and Rural Tourism fair 2017 organized by Kerala Homestay and Tourism society (Kerala HATS). Kerala HATS is an NGO that aims to act as a consortium of Homestay and travel promoters for effective coordination with the state.
About Kochi or Cochin
Kochi is also referred to as the “Queen of the Arabian sea”. It is a cluster of islands on the vast expanse of the Vembanad lake and is considered one of the finest natural harbors of the world. Here, you can witness the Portuguese, Dutch and British architecture as well as a Jewish synagogue built in 1568. Though we all know the Fort Kochi but few would be aware about the St Francis Church, India’s first European church built in Kochi in the 15th century. Kochi is also home to the historic Dutch cemetery.
Bens Homestay and Houseboat
I had heard a lot about the Bens Homestay and houseboat and I planned to stay in a houseboat for a night. Though Alapuzzha or Alleppey is better known in Kerala for houseboat of all kinds but since I had heard a lot of good things about Bens houseboat in Kochi, so I thought I should check it out.
I planned to have paid dinner there and doze off. The houseboat had 2 theme-based rooms. My room was the blue colored Chinese fishing net-themed room having a Television, Air conditioner, a cupboard, a study table and an attached toilet. The other room was a green-color coral-themed room with the same facilities. It had a common dining area for the 2 rooms where guests can befriend each other over a breakfast.
It was my first time in a houseboat and I felt overwhelmed by the amenities on offer, especially because with amenities of an equivalent 4-star or 5-star hotel, the room was spacious and I could keep by bags at ease!
I am a poor eater and the dinner served to me was a lot in quantity, Prawns curry, Egg curry and Rice. I was about to have dinner in the common dining area, when Mr Benny Xavier, owner of the Bens Homestay and houseboat turned up. A warm personality and soft spoken, we chatted with each other during dinner and shared thoughts about topics ranging from the new and dynamic Tourism minister of India Mr Alphons, the Incredible India Bed and Breakfast (BnB) scheme, my experience in the Kerala Homestay and Rural Tourism fair, about tourism in Kerala and how he is carrying forward his family’s legacy through his homestay. He told me that besides the modern 2 room houseboat and homestay, he owned a traditional houseboat and a cruise. We also talked about his vision of tourism in Kochi and how he wanted to spread awareness about Kochi and its houseboats. He wanted the travelers to know that not only Alleppey but also Kochi has equivalent houseboats.
He shared the method of cultivating Pokkali and discussed prawn cultivation at length. Though I was aware that Pokkali is an environmentally sustainable practice of paddy cultivation but he told me how it is symbiotic in nature. “While Rice resides is a feed for prawns, the prawn excreta forms fertilizer for rice. Thus, we maintain optimum level of water and due to Geographic Indication attributed to Pokkali, we make a fair amount of profit”.
I admired the pearls of wisdom from a person who wears different hats- prawn farmer, Pokkali cultivator, BnB owner and a Hospitality provider! A perfect example of an environment conscious entrepreneur! Even though I am a poor eater but by the time our conversation was over, I had gulped down the sumptuous dinner!
The next day he offered to take me on a boat cruise to a nearby island from where he had to tow his boat that needed repair. At 9 30 AM I was served breakfast by the maid (she knew hindi and English) accompanying 6-year old Carol, Mr. Benny’s daughter. Carol’s innocent face and a shy “Hi” totally lit up my day! The breakfast was again amazing, consisting of Chapati, Egg curry, and banana sprinkled with sugar. As usual, I gulped it down!
At 10 30 AM, I helped Mr Benny open up and ready the traditional houseboat for the cruise and off we went to a far-away island.
He was generous and let me drive the houseboat (without license!) for a while. He showed me the different islands along the way and told me about a mobile hospital, that treats old age citizens for just 1 Rupee. Once we reached the island, we met Cyrus, Mr Benny’s son, who studies in 8th standard and helps out his dad. We towed the damaged boat and started on our way back. Cyrus had a good music sense (actually, better than mine) and he put on some songs by Charlie Ruth and Justin Timberlake.
Conversing with Cyrus
So, I asked Cyrus- “What do you want to become.
Cyrus- “I don’t know”.
“You are in 8th standard, do you have a stream of studies in mind- science, commerce or art?”
Isn’t that the ideal way in which childhood should be spent? Far away from the rigors of life and with a carefree attitude! We joked around as Mr Benny and Cyrus drove the boat turn by turn. Soon we had arrived at the homestay.
At 12 PM, I left for Fort Kochi in a cab arranged by Mr Benny. I concluded my trip by catching flight back to Delhi in the evening.
My first trip to the city of Kochi was marked with hospitable people and memorable experiences. Just what i needed! A day on the houseboat in Kochi with Mr Benny is a must if you are looking for an offbeat destination and away from worries of the mortal stressful world.