Subscribe Feeds

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A drifter's life - An afternoon at R Block

Leaving behind another life, I am in Kerala. Here, now, all around, an all pervasive calm, in spite of the chatter of our motorboat. It really is very beautiful, far more than tourism hype can tell. Kerala in the time of the monsoon, green, green and wet, a season for solitude and contemplation.
We’ve been here a few days now exploring the Alleppey region. Today the backwaters beckon. We chug past paddies set below sea level now flooded with the monsoon deluge, palm lined bunds, through alluring canals that snake through the blanket of lucid green, past children diving into the water and splashing about with squeals of laughter and admonishing mothers busy with afternoon chores, to arrive at our destination this afternoon, a toddy shop euphemistically called R Block.
The toddy shops of Kerala are famous throughout the state with personal favorites among the people. The better ones are spaces for social interaction where families will gather over glasses of toddy and exquisitely spiced food. The toddy shops in the backwater region of Alleppey are special and located in stunningly beautiful surroundings.
Toddy or ‘Kallu’ hardly intoxicates when it is fresh off the palm tree and is said to possess nutritive properties. There are three kinds of toddy served; ‘madhurakalllu’, sweet toddy tapped early in the morning and leaves behind a pleasant glow, ‘andhikallu’, toddy tapped in the evening that is mildly intoxicating and ‘muttankallu’, tapped the previous day and fermented, that can deliver the kick of a mule.
 The culinary merits of the R Block are legendary through the realms of the Vembanad. Plastic chairs are laid out around a stone table overlooking a canal. The smiling proprietor, a portly, bald man, bare bodied, in a singlet, arrives with a bottle of sweet toddy and glass tumblers. The clouds overhead, part for a moment to reveal the sun. A skiff goes by, loaded with bananas, another draws up to the pier. The boatman leaps out with bunches of succulent shrimp and pearl spot fish. A motorboat with jabbering tourists, cameras voraciously taking in the scenery, passes with a hoot of its horn.
A couple of sips of toddy and I lick my lips in anticipation. Life is looking up. The food arrives. A boat empties a group of people who settle down in another table and place their orders. A gentle breeze blows in from the sea. I have decided that I am going to sample a little of everything in the menu. The meal is composed of Rose Matta rice accompanied by pumpkin in curd, a coconut based gravy, delicately spiced and flavored with turmeric, cabbage fried with spices, a chutney with raw onions in curd and diced raw mango pickle. And then the epicurean delights of the kitchen arrive in a procession devoid of ceremony. Sautéed beef, curried sardines, roasted prawns and turtle meat, fried crab, roasted duck and frog legs all served on squares of banana leaves.
The collective soul of a people is often to be found expressed in the food of the land. I am now a backwater gourmand and the meal a symphony for my senses: there is not a moment when the senses are still, titillation follows satiation. Textures follow succulence, spices leap at the palate, aromas play a subtle accompaniment, all lulled momentarily by sips of the sweet sap.
A drifter’s task is never done, the feet were meant to move, to search for the next horizon. I depart from R Block with my genial host waving goodbye. This has been an unforgettable experience, feasting on the delightful cuisine of the Kuttanad region amidst the spectacular beauty of the monsoon landscape. I carry another bottle of the sweet toddy for the hour long ride back to Alleppey. I am being slowly lulled into a gentle stupor, I promise myself, I shall return, someday. In the meanwhile, there are miles to go and more promises to keep.

Our meal set beside a backwater canal

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path. - Buddha

Monday, April 23, 2012

An incredible Indian - we could all learn a few things from this story

A little over 30 years ago, a teenager named Jadav "Molai" Payeng began burying seeds along a barren sandbar near his birthplace in northern India's Assam region to grow a refuge for wildlife. Not long after, he decided to dedicate his life to this endeavor, so he moved to the site where he could work full-time creating a lush new forest ecosystem. Incredibly, the spot today hosts a sprawling 1,360 acre of jungle that Payeng planted single-handedly.
It all started way back in 1979 when floods washed a large number of snakes ashore on the sandbar. One day, after the waters had receded, Payeng , only 16 then, found the place dotted with the dead reptiles. That was the turning point of his life.

"The snakes died in the heat, without any tree cover. I sat down and wept over their lifeless forms. It was carnage. I alerted the forest department and asked them if they could grow trees there. They said nothing would grow there. Instead, they asked me to try growing bamboo. It was painful, but I did it. There was nobody to help me. Nobody was interested," says Payeng, now 47.
While it's taken years for Payeng's remarkable dedication to planting to receive some well-deserved recognition internationally, it didn't take long for wildlife in the region to benefit from the manufactured forest. Demonstrating a keen understanding of ecological balance, Payeng even transplanted ants to his burgeoning ecosystem to bolster its natural harmony. Soon the shadeless sandbar was transformed into a self-functioning environment where a menagerie of creatures could dwell. The forest, called the Molai woods, now serves as a safe haven for numerous birds, deers, rhinos, tigers, and elephants -- species increasingly at risk from habitat loss elsewhere.
Despite the conspicuousness of Payeng's project, Forestry officials in the region first learned of this new forest in 2008 -- and since then they've come to recognize his efforts as truly remarkable, but perhaps not enough. "We're amazed at Payeng," says Assistant Conservator of Forests, Gunin Saikia. "He has been at it for 30 years. Had he been in any other country, he would have been made a hero." - Courtesy Stephen Messenger

Sunday, April 15, 2012

From our chef's cookbook:Cabbage and Egg Thoran

Cabbage - ½
Onions - 2
Green chillies - 4
Grated coconut - 1 cup
Turmeric powder - 1 teaspoon
Eggs - 4
Coconut oil - 2 tablespoon
Mustard seeds
Curry leaves
Salt to taste

Slice the cabbage into fine slices and wash. Slice the onions and chillies. Pour a little oil in a pan and heat it. Add mustard seeds, curry leaves and 2 green chillies and saute till they become slightly brown in color. To this add the cabbage, turmeric powder and grated coconut and stir it well. Keep stirring until the cabbage is soft and residual water has evaporated completely. Add salt to taste. Remove it from the flame and keep aside.
To prepare the scrambled eggs first beat the eggs along with the diced shallots and chillies and salt to taste. Turmeric powder may be also added to give it some colour. Heat the oil and scramble the eggs. Add the egg to the cabbage thoran and mix well.  Your Cabbage and Egg Thoran is now ready. Excellent accompaniment to a plate of rice and curry.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

"If morality had naturally no influence on human passions and actions, it were in vain to take such pains to inculcate it; and nothing would be more fruitless than that multitude of rules and precepts with which all moralists abound." - Hume

Picnic on Pathiramanal Island

The area around the Kayaloram Lake Heritage Resort abounds in many delightful and secluded spots that are ideal for family and group picnics. Pathiramanal, meaning’ sands of midnight’, is a picturesque 10 acre island on the Vembanad Lake that is one such spot, an hour’s boat ride away from the resort. A local myth recounts that a Brahmin once took a dip in the lake as he offered his evening prayers and with the power of his devotion the sands of the island rose from the waters of the Vembanad Lake.
The island is uninhabited and home to a fascinating array of migratory birds from different parts of the world. One can also get off the boat in the course of a house boat cruise and explore the island or go there in our motor boat and spend a few hours there on a picnic. Besides the possibility of spotting migratory birds such as Siberian storks in winters, Pathiramanal is also home to a wealth of indigenous birds such as common teal, parrots, night and purple herons, cormorants, Indian shag, gulls, large egrets, stork-billed kingfishers, whistling ducks, cotton pygmy geese and monarch flycatchers among others.  The best times to explore the island are June, July and August during the monsoon, and the ideal time to spot migratory birds is between November and February. Picnics are best undertaken between January and April and between October and January.

Set amidst the canopy of overhanging branches of tropical trees, shrub and grass are clearings that are ideal spots to set up a picnic.

Please speak with our resort manager if you would like to avail of our picnic package. He will be glad to assist you make arrangements for your picnic.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Will we choke the Vembanad Lake?

The consequences of tourism and rapacious 'development' on the fragile ecosystem of the backwaters of Kerala have long been known. Political expedience has overtaken the need to preserve the incredible riches of this ecosystem. Ham handed efforts to manage the dynamics of the situation have often resulted what might be termed comic governance if the consequences were not so tragic. The circus goes on. We quote this piece from today's The Hindu newspaper:

A study conducted by Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), a Bangalore-based non-governmental organisation, in association with the Lake Protection Forum, an organisation of fishermen, over the first three months of this year on the Vembanad lake has shown that the level of Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) has increased and the level of dissolved oxygen has decreased over these three months.

The total TDS which was just 200 to 1200 milligram per litre (mgl) in January rose to 1000 to 4700 in February and varied from 1000 to 4600 in March. The temperature of the lake has shown an increase over the three months. The temperature which was just 24 to 25 degree Celsius in January, increased to 28 to 29 in February and to 31 to 33 in March.

The forum workers had tested the water samples taken from eight points in the lake in the laboratory of the Socio Economic Unit Foundation in Alappuzha.

The water of the lake has turned alkaline with the ph value in March showing 8. K.M. Poovu, secretary of the forum at Muhamma says that if the shutters of the Thaneermukkom barrage were not opened immediately, the repeat of the 1983 incident when a large number of fish died in the lake will occur. The opening of the shutters will let saline water enter the Kuttanad area including its paddy fields.

The barrage was to be opened before March 15, as per the report of a committee prepared a decade ago. But the monitoring committee consisting farmers, fishermen and the district collectors of Kottayam and Alappuzha has not been convened so far. The committee decides when to open and close the shutters of the barrage, he said.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

A honeymoon in Kerala?

Kerala is a veritable honeymooner’s paradise with exquisite geographical beauty, ancient traditions, vibrant cultural expressions, a sense of all pervasive serenity and people for whom hospitality is intrinsic to their nature. Honeymooners in Kerala can rejoice in their romantic inclinations by traveling to some of the most beautiful locations in the world. Kerala has it all, fabled backwaters, secluded beaches, tea and spice plantations, mountain ranges with exquisite biodiversity and places of great historical antiquity. LOOK OUT FOR KAYALORAM'S HONEYMOON PACKAGES.