Published: October 10th 2009December 31st 2008
The Daily Sunset Bag-on-your-head Race, Agonda
As the sun drops into the Arabian Sea, the bag ladies of Agonda prepare for the daily race from one end of the beach to the other.
As she stepped across the threshold of Aunt May’s house into the land of Oz, Judy Garland wasn’t seen to sniff her own armpits and wince in disgust. Neither did she curse the curry stains and samosa crumbs on her clothing or run her fingers through greasy unwashed facial hair. But then Dorothy travelled in style. She’d clearly booked ahead thereby avoiding the somewhat slower and less comfortable option of Indian Railways Kerala Express which runs from Delhi in the North to Trivandrum in the South and so spent her travel time asleep with just a friendly mutt for company.
Had young Dorothy spent 45 hours as we did, trapped in a compartment the size of a small garden shed with an Indian Freedom fighter who hated the British, a drunk who kept inviting her back to his place and a guy pleasuring himself with the aid of mobile phone video porn, I’m pretty sure she’d have spilled out into Oz with a little less grace, with clothing that would never recover and the only companions she’d have picked up along the way would have been those hoping the wizard would gift them with a sense of smell.
Muscles like Moodonna
The beaches of Kerela are awash with stick thin Western women who find earthy connections, spiritual awakening and tranquility in stretching. That and sand in awkward places. Cows too are known to enjoy a bit of yoga and pilates - thats why the dairy produce round here is all low fat.
some bizarre reason, the windows on the left hand side of our carriage aboard the Kerala Express had been tinted a dramatic yellow, while on the right hand side they had a girly pink hue. The experience of sitting in the train would have been like being in a giant pair of those 3D glasses you used to get on the backs of cereal packets had both sides not suffered from warped glass and a layer of dirt so engrained that you would have thought the glass was frosted.
This had the effect, as we strained to see through gaps in the dirt on the glass to steal glimpses of the passing countryside, of turning India into a pantomime fantasy land of odd colours and even odder looking people. Bertie Bassett, the Oompa Loompas from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and of course, the Lollipop League from Munchkin Land in Oz all sprang to mind as the scenery became more alien the further south we travelled.
When the door was finally flung open and we escaped the curry smelling, garden shed sized kaleidoscopic box of pervs, drunks and bigots; we stepped out onto the platform, and were temporarily
Goat in a Boat, Alleppey
The lesser known sequel to the movie "Snakes on a Plane" was the Bollywood hit "Goat in a Boat". It focused less on the action/thriller element of the original but was about one goats life journey through the backwaters of Kerela to rediscover his roots. Goats like roots you see. Chewy. The movie was a big hit in agricultural circles but failed to make it mainstream.
blinded by our first sight of natural light in what felt like months. Due to the layers of smog that linger over most of Northern India’s cities, we hadn’t experienced a bright sun in so clear a blue sky since we left Nepal. As soon as our eyes had adjusted I made sure to check for legs sticking out from under the train. There were no dead witches to report.
She may have maintained perfect hair and flawless clothing during her journey, but Dorothy also killed someone, stole their shoes and then callously fled the scene - all of which went largely unpunished in Oz where theft and murder are acceptable so long as the victim is suspected of dabbling in witchcraft. We may have looked like we’d spent a month living on soup kitchen handouts and sleeping on benches but in terms of body count and petty theft we were at least fairing a little better than young Dot and her vicious pooch.
'I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore' Dorothy told Toto. Of course, this wasn’t news to Toto. He may have spent most of his life tucked under Dorothy’s rose scented arm like some sort
Why do fish complain?
Being caught in a net that you can't get out of isn't all that bad. Infact its damn nice sometimes. Relaxing. Calming. Until dizzy bees fall on you. Design flaw with this hammock. The flowers made pollen that made bees weak at the knees. Or wings. Bees probably don't use their knees when flying - unless of course they're used as some sort of steering device like the flaps on the wing of a plane; but then I guess they'd need quite odd shaped knees. I've never noticed what bees knees actually look like. Are they rudder shaped?? The thoughts you get in a hammock can be quite exhausting sometimes.
of armpit cosy, but his sharp canine instincts were more than alert to the scent of, or rather the lack of a scent of, the normal dungy smells of rural Kansas that his fuzzy, wet, inquisitive nose had become accustomed to getting stuck into on those rare occasions when Dorothy let him out of her sight. If he’d been the talkative type, the ever scathing Toto (known in the dog world for his quick satirical wit) would have pointed out that it would only have been a complete moron who, in a landscape consisting of talking scarecrows, giant lollipops and bright yellow roads, would have mistaken their surroundings for rural Kansas.
Having said that, it could have been that Dorothy was suffering from the same mental disorder that Vik is afflicted with: the one where, on arriving in a new place she feels compelled to compare it directly with somewhere familiar and say 'it looks just like…' For example, most mountainous areas in the world according to Vik seem to look just like Glencoe while Tokyo was much like Inverness and what’s the point in visiting Varanasi and the Ganges when the beach at Caol - not 20 minutes
Only 1 oar and a lot of pond weed? No problem...
from her doorstep - is fairly much the same (they even burn bodies there sometimes and the place has an abundance of snake charmers).
However, it’s similarities to Aberdeen-shire aside, there was no doubting that in Kerela in the South of India felt like an entirely different prospect to it’s Northern cousins. The difference was immediate and staggering. We didn’t need talking scarecrows, giant lollipops or flying monkeys to see that this place was vastly different from the place we’d left two long days ago. Where were the people hassling us to take their tuk-tuk, go to their hotel or polish my trainers? Where had all the staring gone? Why was nobody other then me attempting to honk Viks boobs? Why did nobody ask us where we were from before trying to sell us powerful muscle relaxants?
And then we saw it. Our very own yellow brick road... a thing of great wonder and awe. In Southern India they have pavements! Usable ones! This was a revelation for us as we’d spent most of our time in the north sharing the road with cows, cars, tuk-tuks, bicycles, buses and elephants in an effort to avoid using the few
pavements available which were largely occupied by flooding open urinals, beggars and salesmen: sometimes all at the same time. 'Look!', I called to Vik with the enthusiasm of a bearded, loin cloth wearing castaway who’d just seen the QE2 on the horizon, 'PAVEMENTS! Pavements you can walk on without falling down a hole or stepping in shit!' It was a beautiful moment and I think we may even have linked arms and skipped off toward the sunset singing 'Follow the yellow brick pavement'.
I never liked the lion in Wizard of Oz - his little fat pouchy cheeks and stupid voice freaked me out. And I never liked the tin man because I found it odd that anyone would want to make a man out of tin in the first place. The scarecrow had clearly never considered further education as a possibility and was simply looking for a quick surgical fix - who could respect that? But on our journey along the wonderful pavements of Southern India we were fortunate not to meet any such personality deficient characters (not Indian ones at least).
The people here are great. They're like jovial, helpful, proud versions of their northern neighbours.
Kalaripayattu (Keralan martial arts) demonstration, Kathakali Centre, Fort Cochin. Amazing stuff. Take some sort of sheild with you though - one of the demonstrations resulted in a piece of weaponry accidentally flying into the small crowd. Nobody was hurt and we all chuckled nervously, but deep inside us all, everytime a weapon was swung at pace in sweaty hands, we were all praying.
The contrast is astonishing. Its like comparing the happy, jolly laughing policeman from Noddy with the edgy, unpredictable madness and aggression of Riggs in Lethal Weapon. Maybe its because they can see the sun here. Maybe its the number of palm trees and coconuts. Actually, I suspect it's the bananas.
They ate a lot of bananas in the Emerald city too. Ever wondered about the economy in Oz? It's all about the banana trade. You think the yellow brick road was just yellow because it's a fun colour? Or that flying monkeys were just a coincidence? Bananas baby - its all about the bananas.
At the simply fantastic and highly recommended, uber-chilled, family run Malayalam Resort that sits on the stunning backwaters near Alleppey our host Thomas would give us little bananas with every meal. But he never called them bananas. He called them 'medicine'. And it wasn't like when Mum used to give me that delicious banana flavoured cough medicine - the stuff that was so sweet you wanted to throw away the wee plastic spoon and down the damn whole bottle - no, as far as I'm aware there were no pharmaceuticals involved, it was just
Linda Evangelista has let herself go a bit...
At the Maybelline demonstration stand in Kochi the audience could hardly believe the effect the new moustache volumiser and lengthener had on Linda Evangelista. Maybe she's born with it... or maybe it's just a lifetimes worth of curry.
natural banana goodness.
All the food we had was like that. Oh God it was good. I don't think we had a bad meal in India. I don't think we stopped eating in India. I don't think we could stop eating.
When we stayed at Beena's Homestay in Kochin, which was probably one of the best places we stayed in our entire 2.5yr trip and is recommended as highly as one can recommend a place, Beena made it extremely difficult for us to actually get out of the house to see anything of Fort Kochi. Breakfast was a feast of vegetable curries, appam pancake things, fruit (of the fresh off the tree variety) and a multitude of other delights. And it never seemed to end - Beena wouldn't let it - she just kept bringing out more. 'Thank you so much Beena, but this must be my last one' you'd tell her, your contented, purring stomach pushing against your waistband like a cat stretching out after a satisfying nap. 'OK, last one', she'd say and lay a gigantic pancake on your plate and push a bowl of the most sensational vegetable curry toward you. And you'd want to
Eye Catching Kathakali show, Kochi
It's all in the eyes. The whole show is communicated by the eye movements of the actors and the colours they wear. Its like a cross between Priscilla Queen of the Desert and the Diving Bell and the Butterfly.
just lie down and undo your top button but politeness and the taste - that amazing taste - would make you push on toward the peak that is that last mouthful. And just when you thought you'd got there, with that goal in sight Beena would sneak up and lay another pancake on the plate saying 'OK, last, last one'.
When we did finish breakfast we could barely walk. In some respects it was good. We saved money on lunch and snacks because between breakfast and the equally taste bud pleasuring endless dinner there was no need for anything else. We'd spend our days waddling round the sights without the faintest desire to eat anything.
By the time we arrived at our beach hut in tiny, tropical, Agonda we were well and truly adapted to life in Southern India and spent our last week in India - our last week in Asia - doing exactly as we'd hoped. Nothing. On a beach, sleeping, eating fantastic food in front of the most amazing sunsets... this is truly how life is supposed to be.
Here, in the south of India where the tea and coffee plantations pour down the
cool green hills of the Western Ghats to meet the calm backwaters, canals and rice paddies that separate them from the palms and beach huts that bask on the sunshine coast of the Arabian Sea, we happily found the India we'd always wanted and always hoped for - exotic, charming, delicious, welcoming and above all, incredibly, relaxing.
There are more photos below