A Travellerspoint blog

December 2010

Having a Hippy Holiday

sunny 30 °C

We’ve packed away our backpacks, hung up our hiking boots, pocketed or sightseeing specs, and headed off to the beach for a hippy holiday.
It’s not a typo – we’re at the Arabian Sea resort of Varkala which has long been the hippy backpackers’ idea of Nirvana. This place is crammed with ayurvedic clinics, yoga studios, massage parlours, pot purveyors and tie-dye emporiums...Hippy_market.jpg
But all is not well in this hippy haven. With airline prices soaring, student fees rising, pensions decreasing, and the bottom dropping out of the pound and the euro, this usually packed resort is a shadow of its former self. We spent our first few nights alone in a 25 roomed hotel – just us and a staff of 12. All the traders are hoping that things will pick up now that the holidays have started in earnest but, wherever we walk, we are accosted by desperate hoteliers offering rooms for as little as seven dollars. Here’s the pool at our place - not seven bucks a night, but it won’t break our bank…
Here’s our waiter climbing a nearby tree to get us a couple of fresh coconuts…Waiter.jpg

And these guys are out early to catch our dinner…
The sun shines from dawn to dusk, the sea is warm and welcoming and we can’t believe that it’s nearly Christmas. Wish you were here.
P.S. Be sure to bring your yoga mat!

Posted by Hawkson 02:39 Archived in India Comments (7)

Haystacks Ahoy!

Slow boats to nowhere.

semi-overcast 31 °C

Hundreds of these traditional houseboats, resembling mammoth floating haystacks, meander around the placid backwaters of Kerala and are a ‘must’ for every visitor.
But the tradition is only skin deep, and the elaborately woven bamboo superstructure is a mere frippery. Under each hood lies an amphibious, air-conditioned, tourist hotel complete with bedrooms, bathrooms, dining room and kitchen. We sought peace and solitude so we took a single-bedroom’d boat, with a crew of three, and spent a day trolling the myriad man-made canals and lakes that have turned these coastal wetlands into the Venice of India.
Riverside stores and restaurants dot the narrow banks which separate the canals from the surrounding rice paddies…
But this year has been disastrously rainy for the rice farmers. This season’s crop should have been planted months ago but many of the paddies are still knee deep in water. However, the fishermen are having a high time and this old guy was happy to take our ropes in the hope that we would buy his tiger prawns…
As night fell, our captain found a quiet mooring place and we ate under the stars …until the mosquitoes and midges caused us to retreat. And then we were lulled to a peaceful sleep by the gentlest of rocking, unaware that we were not alone on our seemingly serene stretch of riverbank and that a raucous morning awaited around the bend.
The day began at precisely 5am when the nearby temple turned up the volume and blasted us awake with discordant chants. Then, as the worshippers let off firecrackers to welcome the day, the dogs, cockerels and goats joined in the din. By 6am, as dawn broke, life on the riverbank was in full flood, with maritime hotshots revving up their outboards, and mothers dragging all the kids, the laundry and the dishes to the river to wash. We ate breakfast to the screeching of wet babies and the rhythmic slap of wet clothes on age-polished stones; then fifty canoeists and their coach, a motorized madman with a megaphone, sped by…
And then, as hundreds of houseboats all raced back to dock at precisely 9am, we found ourselves embroiled in a nautical melee reminiscent of the chaotic streets of Calcutta and Chennai.
“It’s the same every day,” our frustrated skipper informed us as he tried to blast his way home with his horn, but it would never occur to him, or the others, to stagger their departure and arrival times.

Posted by Hawkson 04:06 Archived in India Comments (2)

Tales of the Riverbank

sunny 30 °C

As we lounge under a tropical sun on the bank of the Pampa river we are reminded of Mole in ‘The Wind in the Willows.’ (With apologies to Kenneth Grahame).
“It all seems too good to be true,” mused Mole, “Hither and thither through the rice paddies we ramble, along the canals, across little wooden bridges, finding everywhere birds singing, flowers bursting, rice thrusting – everyone happy, and progressive, and occupied. And instead of having an uneasy conscience pricking us and whispering, “snow, ice and rain” we somehow can only feel jolly to be idle among all these busy citizens.”
Here in the tranquil backwaters of Kerala it is easy to echo Mole’s sentiments when he says, “The best part of a holiday is perhaps not so much to be resting yourself, as to see other fellows busy working.”

The punter, (bottom right), is really putting his back into it as he struggles against the current to deliver a load of bricks, while the fisherman goes to empty his net and the potter takes his pots to market.

All life here, from birth to death, revolves around the rivers and canals, and the day begins for everyone, with a cold bath – although it’s not always appreciated, while others have a shave and clean their teeth…
And then the kids go off on the school boat…
With the kids at school, there’s the morning chores. Many of the waterside houses seem to have piped water, but the clothes, and the pots and pans, still get washed in the murky river…
Life in this watery paradise is simple and slow and we are happy just to watch the world pass by our front door. But, for your amusement dear blog reader, it is time we took to the water ourselves, for, as Ratty says, “There is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as messing about in boats.”

Posted by Hawkson 02:39 Archived in India Tagged of kerala backwaters Comments (1)

God's Own Country

The backwaters of Kerala

sunny 30 °C

Everyone has their own idea of Paradise, so, if you have Vegas or Blackpool in mind, Champakulam on the Keralan backwaters wouldn't be for you. We, on the other hand, are in heaven.
Heaven is a comfortably rustic cottage on the banks of the serene Pampa river, where a gentle tropical breeze wafts through the fronds of banana and coconut palms from dawn to dusk; where ducks, geese and hens scrabble for worms on the riverbank and a cormorant patiently waits for his lunch to swim by…
And then, while the cormorant dries his outstretched wings in the sun, an implausibly iridescent kingfisher snatches minnows from the lazy water…
The riverside trees and palms are alive with birds: fork-tailed juncos, hummingbirds, parrots and egrets, while multi-hued dragonflies dance above the floating islets of water hyacinths and lilies…
The soft warm air maybe alive with songs of birds and the calls of the wild, but the sultry stillness of the river is broken only by the leap of a fish or the occasional splash of the ferryman’s paddle…
Then, as the equatorial sun reaches its noonday zenith, a few clouds bubble up to give us shade and to paint watercolours for us on an aqueous canvas…
The river is the provider of all life here. Our host serves us crayfish the size of small lobsters from the river, rice from the paddies next door, eggs from his own chickens, and papayas, bananas and coconuts from the nearest riverbank tree. We spend day after day just absorbing the beauty of this river and wondering if we will ever move on.

Posted by Hawkson 21:18 Archived in India Comments (2)

The Spice of Life

sunny 32 °C

Variety is the spice of life, and it’s difficult to imagine a journey more varied than the one we are on. From some of the world’s most populace cities to the pristine snows of the Himalayas; from the beaches of Tamil Nadu to the tea plantations of the Kerelan heights; and now to the tropical tip of India, we have already experienced sufficient diversity to spice our lives for years to come. Our recent excursion from Kochin to the tea estates in Munnar in the Western Ghat mountains is a perfect example. We left our luxurious Kochin homestay at 7am thinking we would avoid the city’s morning crush, but an hour later our driver was still fighting traffic. Kochin and its suburbs have spread deep into the countryside and we were beginning to wonder if we would ever escape urbanization when we came across this chap enjoying a jumbo bath...
Now, with the city finally behind us, we found ourselves in the lush lowlands where every inch of available land is carpeted with rice, tapioca, coconuts, bananas, papayas and pineapples…
Rubber is another important crop. Here the latex is being tapped from the tree…
And these coffee beans are ripe for picking...
But, as in all of India, the line between city and countryside is becoming blurred. Enormous mansions are springing up in the fields as the wealthy escape the pollution and chaos of the cities. However, it is difficult to understand the thinking of those who build monstrous mega-homes in the heart of peasants’ meagre tin shacks and concrete block hovels.
The scenery and the air changed as we left the lowlands and began our ascent into the spice fields of the foothills. Vanilla, pepper, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom, allspice, ginger and lemongrass all grow here in abundance. This is the long pepper which is known here as the King of Spices…
And these are vanilla pods…
And finally, above four thousand feet, we came to the alpine estates where we found honeymooners from all over the country. It’s wedding season in India and it seems that all newlyweds want to spice up their lives with a trip to the tea plantations. We just came for the tea.

Posted by Hawkson 07:41 Archived in India Comments (3)

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