Tag Archives: Agriculture in India

Taking travel inspiration from busy bees

Aren’t honeybees good inspirers to travel? In a lifespan that’s as short as just a few days, they find a new place every day, explore a new flower every minute and taste new nectars on every flight! All this while still performing their assigned duties without having any complaints. Living a sweet life while being as busy as a bee!

It was curiosity that led me to learning about bee-keeping. This curiosity was a summation of multiple experiences accumulated through the years of childhood. I have been raised by my grandparents where honey has been an essential part of my life. We used it as a dip for breakfast and as a rice-mix for lunch, as an energy drink with hot water or even as a medicine with brandy or pepper corn. And yeah, stashes of several bottles went packed as souvenirs to guests who visited home and to friends who lived far away. You can call this honey with adjectives like pure, organic, handpicked, homemade, etc. ‘Coorg honey’ it was, after all!

Grandpa was personally enthusiastic about this particular hobby of his. I was often smitten with curiosity when he returned home with either a swollen face or with swollen hands. When I went nearer to him to check for his condition, he would only greet me with a warm smile and a piece of honeycomb dripping with fresh nectar. While at home, he would be busy with his bees in 75+ boxes that were kept around the house. It used to be a festival day for the family when drums of honey used to be extracted from his boxes all by himself. While at his favourite place- the Abbi estate, it was customary for him to have a daily look at this massive ‘Honey Tree’ as we called it, the single large tree where bee hives were formed annually. It was the family night out, an annual event that we all looked forward for. Honey tappers from a specific tribe called ‘Jenu Kurubas’ used to be called in, to climb the tree in pitch darkness on a no-moon night. The family camped in the darkness at midnight on the damp ground of the coffee estate with the rustling sound of the waterfalls in the background. While as a kid, I was amused with the spectacle of blue lights falling down from that tree, only as a grown up adult I realize the lights were indeed bees that were falling down after being smoked up in the process of honey tapping. And not to forget some odd days when he would pick out snakes from mud crevices that he had put his hands to collect honey from. And then there were days, when we made friends over a bottle of honey. These were customers who came to grandpa’s makeshift shop at Abbi falls with their unique ways of testing the quality of the honey sold there! Each customer, a unique character and every conversation, a story in itself.

For me, adding this new dimension to my travel stories was more of an emotional journey.. With the passing away of Granpa, the charm and life that his favourite place held too passed. The ‘Honey Tree’ eventually saw the ground leaving our family to buy honey from the market. Having relished the finest nectars from high tree trunks, deep mud crevices and those handpicked from the several bee boxes kept around the house, our family like all others are really not sure of the quality of those available in the market. That’s when this thought of setting up my own bee box struck me along with traveling in pursuit of knowledge sharing. These things led to me developing an interest about learning about honey bees and eventually respecting these tiny creatures more and more. I think being born in a community of nature worshippers gives me an instant connect with things that are natural and essential for our existence. Home is where primary and the most essential education starts and for me, Grandpa has been the main reason for one of the finest childhood lessons and home education I have picked up.

Albert Einstein said, “The Earth will come to an end in just 4 days if there be NO honeybees on this planet.” Honeybees are such an important part of our very own existence on this planet, Save them! Get in touch with an expert before you get that beehive removed from your concrete dwelling. Alternatively, get in touch with me for I would be more than willing to give a talk for awareness in your community. I signed up for a workshop to learn this art of bee-farming, and a certification came as a bonus. I did my course with ‘HoneyDay Bee farms’ who are thorough professionals and extremely knowledgeable in the field. They work with farmers right from the installation to extraction to marketing thus assuring you a 100% purity in their products. Go try them out!

Backwaters and boat races at Allapuzha

We alighted at Ernakulam railway station at the end of an overnight train journey, from where- another hour’s journey in a local train took us to our destination- Allapuzha or fondly called Alleppey. We were there to experience the festivities of ‘Vallamkali- The Olympics of Kuttanad’. It was the 2nd Friday of August 2012 – A day before the Biiigg sporting event of South India- “The Nehru trophy boat race”. This is an annual event held in the Vembanad lake- the longest lake in India spanning several districts of Kerala. The lake that’s known by different names in different parts of Kerala is refered to as the Punnamada Lake in the Kuttanad region. It was noon by the time we checked into our hotel room. We freshened up and set out to explore the backwater villages of Alleppey.. We hired a ‘Shikhara- the boat which motored us through the narrow stretches of the canals. We cruised on the backwaters, passing through villages- where womenfolk were washing clothes, men were fishing, while a few kids were diving into the waters for a swim. We enjoyed our ride as we picked up some fresh lobsters and pomfret at the local market alongway and got them cooked in the local style at a fisherman’s house.

The Shikara cruise in the narrow canals of Alleppey
The Shikara cruise in the narrow canals of Alleppey

Further, we were oared across to the end of the canal which opened into the wide Vembanad lake where all the teams were practising  and the venue was getting set for the ‘Big’ event. The energy and enthusiasm was no less than the main event itself. Though we wanted to stay there till sunset, the government deadline for cruising in the waters forced us to return to the jetty before 06.00.p.m.

On returning to the mainland, we meandered through the lanes of Alleppey town searching for a heavenly dose of Kerala chai and palam-pori (Banana fritters). We passed across the once famous- now non-functional coir industries of Alleppey as we searched our way to the beach, where we spent the remaining evening until dark.

A stationed shikara enroute to the Alleppey beach
A stationed shikara enroute to the Alleppey beach

The town usually sleeps to silence after 7.00.p.m. in any part of Kerala state. But, we were there to make the most of the little time we had with us and not wanting to waste it sitting in the cosy of the hotel room. We happened to see a hoarding of a concert happening at a stadium and headed there hoping to capture some nice photos of the Theyyam show. We did enjoy theyyam.. But we were in for a surprise when we decided to stay for a little longer- we were smitten by something else.. MUSIC..!! A MIND-BLOWING show by the violin maestro- Balabaskaran and team.. It was there that we were LOST in dreamland..!!

The next morning, we had to reach the racing venue as early as 08.00.a.m. to ensure a place to sit. (Read about the madness of the event) One by one, the snake boats arrived for assembly. Locally called as the Chundan Vallam (Beaked boats), these 100~120 feet long wooden canoes carry 90- 110 rowers and move like snakes through the channels. These boats are the world’s biggest water vessel used for sports. And soon.. The event started. Races took place in different categories with even the women rowers. All through the event, only one thing echoed in the atmosphere- Vanchipattu or the Boat song. Every single soul in the arena was singing songs of cheer. It was a once in a lifetime experience to be a part of that enthusiastic crowd.

The oarsmen '"Women"
The oarsmen ‘”Women”

Post the event, we still had time to explore the town and hence boarded a bus to Champakulam. As we passed through the waterlogged villages of Kuttanad, we were reminded that the region we were passing is the ‘granary of Kerala’ or the rice bowl of Kerala and is one of the few places in the world where farming is done below sea level.

Soon, we reached the St. Mary Forane Church. Since it was a Sunday, we were lucky to take part in the mass. This waterside church, built in 427A.D. is a testimony of time with its finely maintained beautiful mural paintings. From there, we took a boat to reach the other end of the river: the place of the oldest market known as Kalloorkkadu angadi.

Champakulam St. Marys church
Champakulam St. Marys church

If not the race, we’d have some more time to explore Karumadi Thodu and Ambalapuzha Sree Krishna temple. The former is famous for the black granite idol of lord Buddha and the latter being known for the ‘Palpayasam’ or the milk porridge offered as prasad to the diety. You could include these in your itinerary if you are planning a drive to Alleppey.

We then walked to the Latin church in the town from whose terrace, the entire town of Alleppey can be viewed during visiting hours. What particularly captured our attention was the cemetery where all members of a family were buried in the same pit. Hundreds of such graves laid within the church premises.

The premises of the Latin Church
The premises of the Latin Church

We then left for our lodge to check out as our return train was scheduled for the night. The luxury of time with half a day extra would have allowed us to visit the church located at Kokkothamangalam- one of the seven churches founded by St.Thomas, one of the twelve disciples of Jesus Christ. And we’d want to visit the Ayyappan temple, in Mukkal vattam near Muhamma that’s known for the Kalari from which Lord Ayyappa learnt his martial arts. The hermitage where Ayyappan lived during the training period has been preserved in its original form by successive generations of the Cheerappanchira family.

Anyway.. We had to leave the place with a heart soaked and mind filled with beautiful memories of sailing afloat on a boat in the backwaters of the beautiful country of God and hope to return soon.

Must dos:

* Experience the madness of the Snake boat race

Must eat: 

* Freshly caught and cooked seafood while on a backwater cruise tour