A man’s voice, deep and pure, sings line after line of a prayer. He begins always on the same note, rising in simple melodic steps, before returning again to the original base sound. Each phrase lasts just one breath. Each note is savoured. As I listen, faintly behind his voice, I hear the line repeated by others. Hundreds of unrehearsed, unconscious whispers – like the echo of a single thought.
Beside the dark canals of the Kumarakom River, I follow this sound. Weaving through the forest, darkened by shadow of the new moon, to the edge of the fire temple. There, covering the walls like a veil of flame, a thousand candles hang, too delicate and still to be real. No statues, no ornate carvings, just plain stone surrounded by drops of fire. “A breath of wind and they’d all be gone,” I think. And perhaps that is the point. The song rises and falls, and is answered with a stillness that demands reciprocation.
In Verberand Lake, the mirror quiet of the water matches the light blue sky so perfectly it appears that we are floating in the midst of a giant bubble. Seshi – the captain of our boat – taps me excitedly on the shoulder. We share no common tongue, but nod at each other and smile. There is a quiet beauty here that no language need articulate.
This is my home for the next two days: a wicker hobbit’s house perched on top of a 70ft long jet-black canoe. From the side she appears like a sea dragon with arched reptilian vertebrae popping out of wicker skin and windows with eyelids about to blink lazily into the sun. Seshi steers the boat, propping up a small black umbrella over his shoulder and pointing to rustles in the mangroves: an egret wading by the water’s edge, a kingfisher skimming the surface. We pass through canals blanketed with floating lilies, meandering through riverside villages where mothers slap clothes dry on rocks and children swim, running dripping by the bank to race our boat.
That afternoon we moor beside a rice field of the brightest green I have ever seen – like holding a single leaf to the sun. Seshi dives for mussles, emerging from the murky water with handfuls and triumphant shouts. Later a fisherman pulls up to the edge of our boat, perched on the far end of his thin canoe with expert poise and balance, to weigh us half a kilo of his morning’s catch – the biggest tiger prawns I have ever seen.
We feast on river curry and then float the day away, meandering through the confines of narrow canals framed by stone cottage villages and trees of pineapple, papaya and banana. This is the most relaxed I have ever been. The thought comes to me suddenly, and with utter certainty. Seshi points to a grey Heron standing rigid by the mangrove’s edge. I am like that bird, I think. I’ve spent my entire life tense: waiting, wanting, always looking for the next thing. I have never truly stopped, but here in the backwater canals of southern India I let all that go. There is only the sway of the boat, the sound of water and the perfect circularity of the sun. The Heron darts its head under water and soars suddenly into the sky, a silver fish in its beak.
ABOUT AARON MILLER
Aaron Millar is a freelance journalist specialising in travel. His work has been seen in the Guardian, Financial Times, Independent and more. He is also the travel editor of Positive News, the world’s leading positive newspaper, where authentic sustainable travel is promoted. Aaron writes an interesting blog called thebluedotperspective.com, and he is also an accomplished photographer.