Romu leapt back like a gazelle, startled by the rapidity with which I had sprung out of my car and enthusiastically grabbed the coconut he was holding. The tall, swaying palms that surround Marari beach, hiding it away from the mainland, also provide coconuts—and coconut water is an ideal welcome drink for the sweaty traveller who has just battled the heat and the aggressive traffic on the roads of Kerala.
A hotel management graduate and trainee at the Marari Beach Resort, Romu had been standing in the portico, ready with the welcome drink, and once he had overcome the shock of my leaping at the coconut, he pulled himself together and welcomed us to Mararikulam—the correct name of this little seaside hamlet lying between Kochi and Alleppey.
Formalities completed and traditional garland welcome bestowed, we were passed on to Midhun, another member of the staff, who escorted us to our thatched roof cottage.
He was a little taken aback at the swiftness with which we changed into our beach gear. Models scrambling to change outfits backstage at a fashion show would have found us tough competition.
Seeing our fervour to hit the beach, he remarked, “But sir, you are from Mumbai and they have beaches there, no?”
Which is true, but we couldn’t ever imagine lounging on a Mumbai beach in swimming trunks or a bikini.
But here in Marari, doing this comes naturally. The little beach is deserted save for a few fisherfolk who are busy repairing their nets or sprucing up their boats. When we left our cottage, the sea was sending tantalizing invitations by way of sunbeams bouncing off it and twinkling through the palms that border the beach.
The palms were leafy enough to provide shade to relax under with a book, with regular breaks to take dips in the Arabian Sea.
Marari is a shelving beach and slopes down quite sharply, so you do have to take care when the tide is going out, because the pull of the sea can be quite vicious. But when the tide is coming in, this is one of the most fantastic beaches in India for a swim. The sea is clean, blue and gentle.
Drop anchor: (from top) The Marari Beach Resort; toddy bottles; a fisherman mends his net on Marari beach and a boatman in the backwaters around the beach (right). Photographs by Rishad Saam Mehta
We spent that morning shifting down a gear and going into relax mode. The regular drumming of the waves on the sand, the twittering of birds, and the occasional fishing boat passing was the only activity around.
After half a day spent sprawled on the beach with the barman’s speciality—a cocktail called “East India”—for refreshment, and some pulp fiction for company, we headed to the poolside for brunch—a sumptuous club sandwich and fresh lime soda.
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By the time the sun started dipping on the horizon, we realized that the transition from the bustling activity of life in the city to absolute lethargy had been a little too rapid. A part of me, used to meeting deadlines and making the most of my time, kept thinking that so much relaxation was illegal.
So at 4pm we borrowed cycles and went for a ride around the village. If you look it up on the map, you’ll see that it’s surrounded by patches of blue—a network of backwaters that run around the beach. Behind these backwaters lies the largish Vembanad Lake. Bounded by beach, backwaters and lake, Marari is relaxed, almost lazy—nothing happens here except fishing, and some cottage industry.
We cycled past villagers about to wrap up their work in the paddy fields, and past young men who were climbing almost vertical palm trees to check on their toddy collection containers. At the temples, with their lifelike and sometimes ferocious carvings, the village devotees were offering thanks for a good day. Other villagers, a little less pious and a little more thirsty, were making a beeline for the toddy shops, where those who’d started early were exiting with a slight swagger in their step.
Having seen everything there was to see in the village, we parked our cycles against a palm tree and went for a little sunset cruise in a rice boat on the backwaters.
By the time we cycled back through the resort’s main gate, my rear had started to tell me that it wasn’t really accustomed to an hour on the restricted surface area that was the cycle’s saddle. To make things worse, Kerala’s humidity had drained me. This time, though, Romu was ready, and stood his ground when I leapt for the coconut he had ready.
For those who savour seafood, this is a place where it is the freshest. It is a little south of Marari that the Arabian Sea meets the Indian Ocean and this means that there is an abundance of sea life. Boats going out to sea return with prawns, squid and other fish which is served up hardly 12 hours after it is caught. So that night our dinner consisted, among other things, of butter-garlic grilled tiger prawns.
Next morning, we found that the humidity had reached saturation point; it had rained through the night. The palms wore a freshly washed look and Smithamol, the local girl who served us our morning tea, had an extra radiant smile. “Sir, these are the final showers of the monsoon.”
The rains had also cooled the land and there seemed an infectious buzz around the air to show that even the birds and bees shared Smithamol’s jubilation at the monsoon’s last sigh as it rolled away over the Western Ghats.
We spent that morning spa-ing. Our fishermen friends from the previous morning were taking a newly repaired boat out for a trial spin, and invited us to come along in the afternoon.
Floating on the sea with silence all around and the swaying palms of Marari beach on the horizon, the frenetic pace of urban life seemed a lifetime away. Of course, tomorrow we’d be right at its epicentre, but right then, we were happy to let Kerala work her magic on us.
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