I am no water baby. I prefer water at a close but safe distance – close enough for me to be able to hear the myriad gentle sounds that water makes but far enough for me to feel safe about not drowning (yes, I know but we all have different fears). Cherai is perfect for me that way – just what the doctor ordered. The Cherai Beach Resort where I stay has cottages built around the water, and around the coconut trees – my room had a tree in one corner, growing out through the roof. From my room, I can see the backwaters stretching out blue and green, still but for the occasional splash splash of boats making their way across, or the sea gulls calling out to one another. And from the main gate, the beach is just across the road – Cherai, not yet Goa, not even Kovalam.
At dinner in the restaurant, a couple from Europe walk in with a Bisleri bottle filled with a thin white liquid – toddy. The restaurant manager freaks at the sight of the toddy, hurries into the kitchen and walks out with a sheet of silver foil. He proceeds to cover the Bisleri bottle with the foil, apologizing to the startled couple – no permit… cannot drink in restaurant… can give you tea cups… I overhear snatches of his speech, ears on their table, eyes on my book. He places white tea cups (with saucers, the terrible restaurant variety) in front of them, pours out the toddy into the cups and offers them the cups with a flourish. The couple is terribly embarrassed by now, and I am choking with laughter over my tender coconut water – drunk straight from the coconut, no tea cups for this one.
I could spend hours just staring the backwaters – and I do just that. Watching the birds swoop down to pick up their lunch – or evening snack, as the case may be. And the tiny fish go plop plop as they hop – or do they fly? – on the surface of the calm water. And the fishermen who paddle quietly across the water through the day. As I watch, dawns break over the backwaters, the sky slowly picking up the orange hues of the sun, the water reflecting the tones. Three fishing boats moving in synchronized fashion, they stop at the same spot, their boats forming a triangle of sorts, and spread out their nets at the same time, their hands flying out with the nets in some kind of fascinating water ballet. And then they move on a few meters along the water and the ballet begins all over again.
Another fishing boat comes very close to where I am standing, just by the side of the water inside the resort and I am able to see them in action – one man in charge of rowing and the other, of fishing. Against the morning sun, the waters, their boat and even their silhouettes seem a dull orange… and as they turn the corner, moving away from the sun, they reappear in dull greys and black and white, in some ways even more fascinating than the “color version”.
The Cherai backwaters are not as lively, as vibrant and full of activity as the ones in say, Alleppey where life exists on and along the water. There are few houses I can see on the banks, even during my hour long boat ride in the evening. But then, Cherai is not for those who crave activity. In any case, if the backwaters get too dull, then they can always head out to the beach just across the road…
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