Published: March 11th 2012March 4th 2012
Mumbai to Kerala (4th to 10th March) Carla
: Glad to say that my inclination just to slope around at the Manoribel was scuppered by Al who was keen to at least leave the place for a short while on our weekend there. So on Sunday we visited a nearby landmark (literally as you can see the thing for miles in the landscape) called the Global or Vipassana Pagoda. It’s a Burmese Buddhist temple built to encourage world peace and harmony through a meditation style known as Vipassana. Apparently if you practice this art you can achieve peace and freedom from anger, depression and all mental ailments. You have to start by doing a ten-day residential course, the first nine days of which you are to remain silent. So, despite the free board and lodging included, that rather precluded us. There were evidently enough people who had done the course, however, as the world’s largest unsupported stone dome in the central building of the temple complex had a good 80 or 90 people meditating in it when we visited. And you’re only allowed to do that if you’ve completed the course.
On Monday morning we set off early
with the help of the brilliant owner of the Manoribel who sorted our transport all the way to Panvel Station on the other side of Mumbai (and then some) and organised an early breakfast for us. We took a very long cab ride from the ferry landing stage to Panvel, seeing more of the highs and lows of Mumbai along the way. Sitting in an air-conditioned cab doesn’t help with the feeling of detachment from the reality of the city but nonetheless you can’t help but be affected by seeing people living life in corrugated constructions by roads, rivers and railway tracks. Some of them have two stories and satellite dishes but still dusty curtains for doors, clearly no security or privacy and not much sanitation. The general state of the roadsides and pavements doesn’t help the impression of the city and the lack of any obvious litter-clearing provision. There were posters up saying “Keep our city clean and green” but if the authorities don’t provide bins, bin-men or street sweepers then what hope is there? Intermingled with all this there is obvious modernity, middle-class ambition and the evidence that Mumbai is the financial and business capital of India. Get
your smartphone out and let’s do business, just excuse me whilst I step over this cow poo in the open sewer.
From Mumbai we boarded the Kerala train to find we’d been down-graded due to faulty carriages from 2-tier AC to 3-tier AC (made us feel right at home, like we were travelling on Southern Railways back in the UK!). It all turned out OK in the end with us managing to secure six bunks for the four of us in one section of the compartment. The toilets were predictably grim but having been forewarned by a very well-travelled Mumbai lady on the plane from London we were armed with tissues, hand sanitizer and a sense of humour. The journey was uneventful apart from having to share the overnight portion with a rather deaf old gentleman, his wife and their similarly doddery friends. They arrived after all the carriage had retired to bed and proceeded to loudly try to find their berths, putting lights on and repeating themselves endlessly for the benefit of their deaf companion. In the morning they turned the lights back on at 6.30am to perform their ablutions and get dressed which meant, I assumed, that
they were to disembark at the next stop. But no, they were going to the end of the line, just as we were, which wouldn’t be reached until 3pm that day. All slightly annoying, but part of the joy of communal overnight train travel.
Arriving at Kochuveli Station, we were met by Binu our host at the Lotus Jewel Beach House. The house is a little further south than Kovalam Beach on the Poovar Road, in the heart of proper religious Kerala. Christians, Muslims and Hindus all live side-by-side along this bit of the coast, not without conflict apparently. The Hindus were dominating the scene when we arrived as March is Temple Festival Month. This would be a charming event (and probably was in pre-amplifier days) but now it seems to mainly consist of speakers blaring out devotional chat, religious and some, quite definitely not religious, music. This starts at 5am and goes on pretty much to 1am without interruption. However, the house is beautiful, fully-eco, right on the beach and staffed with lovely people who can’t do too much for us. Mustn’t grumble, as they say.
On Thursday we went to visit my friend
and took a stroll to collect her son Abhishek from his school not far down the road from her house. Her eldest son Alex was also there on a short holiday from his school in Trivandrum. He suffers from cerebral palsy and learning difficulties due to problems when he was born. He was sweet and charming when we were there but apparently can be difficult and sometimes violent when his frustration overwhelms him. Abhishek was taking an exam in English Grammar that morning but had special permission to leave school to have lunch with us. Sadly we weren’t allowed inside his school as the strict headmistress (a Catholic Mother Superior) was worried we would disrupt the lessons. Sheela said she is a bit of an old bat (not her words) who shows little flexibility in anything – still she probably gets good results! Abhishek goes to a Catholic primary school (they call it first to fourth standing in India) although he and his family are Anglicans and go to the Church of South India church. We were served a delicious lunch by Sheela, her sister and brother-in-law. Sheela shares her house with her mother-in-law and unmarried sister-in-law. Her
sister and husband were visiting in our honour from the family home in Kaliakkavilai in Tamil Nadu. Whilst we ate lunch the children watched Indian Cartoon Network and George and Abhishek played a Ben10 board game. Monoculture here we come! Alex:
On our final night at Manori Beach we had dinner (with my now customary huge bottle of Kingfisher lager) and went to bed early as we had to be up next morning to catch the ferry. Travelling to the ferry with all four of us and all our bags in a little auto-rickshaw was a bit of a squash but it was just a short journey. They were ready to leave when we got to the ferry dock and we had to run laden with our luggage whilst the captain beeped his horn. We made it and then he stopped beeping and waited a few more minutes. I think he was having a laugh. The train to Kerala was huge and it is well catered. We were offered chai (which was so sweet that George ordered a cup and then drank the remains of Carla’s who couldn’t drink it because it was so sweet), pakora, crisps, strawberries
(which we had some) and omelette and we didn’t have to leave our seats. The arguments over who got the top bunk were finally peacefully resolved – George top, Ruby middle, Carla and me on lower bunks. The journey was to take about 30 hours. Thank goodness we had an electrical point to recharge the iPods!
In Kerala, by Friday, after four days of temple festival music belting out from the speakers strung up all round the village morning, noon and night we were all feeling a little exhausted. Sometimes the music went on until 1am and started up again at 5! The music was part of the 8 deities festival which had its culmination in a parade led by an elephant between the three temples in the village. We thought we’d best see what all the fuss was about. We were led through the back of the village by Binu, the ‘fixer’ for people staying at the house, to the men’s temple, and there was the elephant, standing about 10 feet tall, being given a bath and then fed. We watched and took photos of the elephant, and then watched the first stage of the festival – involving
lots of drumming – take place in the temple. I was invited in, but Carla was not allowed as grown women are forbidden in this temple.
Ruby joined me going into the temple, but we immediately had to leave as it was too loud for her, and it seemed impolite her standing there with her fingers in her ears. We followed the elephant for a while as it walked towards the next temple, along with a small crowd of locals and a couple of other tourists. We had a short break to buy supplies and then returned later to watch the parade. First out was the elephant (which we just missed by a minute), followed by trucks with animatronic lions, leopards and humans, including the demon king with 10 heads. There were boys with elaborately painted faces and peacock feather headdresses, men with what looked like huge colourful decorated flowering plants on their shoulders spinning around and around, and lots more drumming. It was all over in about 15 minutes, with a short delay as one of the trucks got caught in the telephone wires overhead. It caused a big traffic jam and that would very likely
continue for some time as the elephant slowly walked up the road, followed by the trucks and the crowd. It was very loud and very colourful, and I’m sure we’ll all remember it for a long, long time. Ruby: 3rd March:
It was just a lazy day today so we decided we were going to go to the beach again. We splashed around a lot this time. It was much colder. We got dry in a towel and got a drink. I ordered apple juice, I didn’t like it but my Mum and Dad forced me to drink it. I asked to have a sip of George’s coke. He said “Yes” so I had a sip and found I liked it. We went home and had showers. Then we went to lunch and ordered noodles and they were lovely. Then we went back to the beach AGAIN!! 4th March:
Today we got into a three-wheeled taxi with no doors. We were going to the Global Pagoda. When we got there I was wishing that it was our house because it was golden and red and those are two of my favourite colours. We went inside and we
had to take our shoes off and had to be very quiet, in fact silent. 5th March:
Today we left the hotel and we got on the sleeping train to Kerala. I liked it in the train. We had an argument. I wanted to go to the top bunk on my own but my mum said I had to go with her. 6th March:
When we arrived it was boiling. We waited for someone called Binu to take us to a house that we were staying at. I liked Kerala. Then Binu arrived we got into the car, me and George sat in the boot of the car with all the bags. We had a look around the house George said it was royal, it was 8 o’clock at night my bedtime, so we went to bed. I couldn’t get to sleep because the whole town was having a festival. 7th March:
Today my Dad promised we would go to the beach. The beach is our garden so we went to the beach. 8th March:
My mum knows someone in India, she is called Sheela. We went to see her son’s school. It looked really good and nice then we
went home to Sheela’s house and had lunch. 10th March:
Yesterday there was a festival. We saw an elephant. It was noisy so I slept in my mum’s room. This morning George found a mouse in his room. George: 3rd March:
I accidently sleep until 9 o’clock so Dad has to wake me up. We have breakfast and then we go back to the apartment to get our swimming kits. We go back to the sea but this time Mum comes. We come back from the beach and take a shower then we go down to the restaurant area. Me and Ruby have veggie pizza because Dad says that we could get sick if have meat from India. Oops, it turns out we can’t have veg pizza because it’s on the snack menu and they are not serving snacks at lunchtime. So we have noodles instead. 4th March:
Today is our last day in the Manoribel Hotel. We go to the beach and meet a person called Talib. Then we go to the Global Pagoda temple. It is the largest stone dome in the world! After I have written in my diary and in my ‘Diary of a
Wimpy Kid Do-it-yourself’ book we go down to the restaurant for tea. 5th March:
We go to Platform 7 of Panvel Station and board a train to Kerala. We will be on the train overnight because it is a super long journey. 6th March:
We get off the train at Kochuveli. It is very desert-like. The hotel manager’s assistant (sic) Binu picks us up and takes us to a house right by the beach. We go down to Kovalam, a town near us and have dinner at the Swiss Café. I have calamari with chips, yum! 10th March:
This morning I wake up and there is a mouse in my bed. Dad gets woken up by me and he tries to get rid of it. We go down to Binu’s tailor shop and we get long trousers for me and mummy and a skirt for Ruby. We have fish and rice for lunch, yum! I forgot to mention, yesterday there was an elephant going around the village and it was all dressed up for the festival and people were taming him. And the day before we went to my mum’s pen pal’s house.. We went to her son’s school.
The school was tall and brown and it was still not finished. It felt weird to see other kids working at school but I wasn’t.