Sunday, 23 February 2014

I went to Varkala, Alleppey and Munnar and this is what happened...

A empty bus in Fort Cochin, Kerala

Saturday 15th - Sunday 16th February

I’m becoming rather partial to travelling alone on Indian local buses, primarily because it puts me in point-blank proximity with people and situations I fundamentally do not understand. It’s essentially like being three-years-old, when everything is new and entertaining but you’ve got no real idea what’s going on or what people are saying. And then you fall asleep. This morning’s journey from Cochin to Kollam followed this exact pattern - half-an-hour in an elderly lady boards and sits herself down (that’s right readers, we’re rolling in the present tense; hold on to your hats). Seconds later, she stands up and starts shouting in Malayalam at a seemingly random man a few seats across. He ignores her and retains a nonchalant expression. Frustrated by his lack of response, the orthodontically-challenged woman starts gesticulating and upping the decibel levels. It’s becoming a little awkward - maybe this man has done something unspeakable? He quite rightly makes the decision to stand up and move to another seat a few rows back, at which point the woman directs her attention at someone else. Her anger is making me claustrophobic. She catches a whiff of my fear and she likes it; another trapped victim lies helplessly in wait, somewhere in front of these cataracts. Like Chucky off of Child’s Play, her neck turns mechanically until her eyes meet mine (she thinks - thank you cataracts #LOLLE), at which point I realise her diatribe is arbitrarily directed towards me. Resisting the need to hold the hand of the man next to me, I instead turn to offer him a nervous smile, which he interprets as: “Oh, you find this funny too! I thought you were about to shit yourself. But your facial expression now suggests otherwise! Ha ha ha!” Or words to that effect. In Malayalam. He proceeds to slap the back of the man next to him, repeating his assertion that I think the whole thing is hilarious, at which point they both start belly-laughing before five others join in for good measure. Feeling left out despite unwittingly initiating the hilarity, I half-heartedly laugh along with them, seemingly prompting angry woman to sit down and shut up, which makes me comfortable enough to fall asleep. I have no idea what just happened.

Kollam train station in Kerala
I didn’t really know how to get to Varkala, today’s final destination, from Kollam. I thought a train might be cheaper, faster and less witchy than another bus, so I caught a rickshaw, auto or tuk-tuk to the station and shared my hopes and dreams with the man at the ticket counter. He sold me a general compartment ticket for a measly 10 rupees, and I didn’t say thank you when he handed it to me. Not because I wasn’t brought up proper, but because I’m trying to blend in and shed the blithering Englishman perception I’m lumbered with (sporting a pony tail is also helping, I’m discovering). To keep up appearances, I coughed up a ball of spittle on the walk to the platform and rather majestically gobbed it onto the tracks. No one batted an eyelid. Then I burped really loudly and some teenagers started laughing at me and my pony tail. One step too far. Perhaps two, come to think of it.

Before I knew it, I was watching the Varkala sunset while sipping a vanilla latte, which pretty much set a precedent for the day to follow: a blissful 24 hours spent mainly on the beach chatting to stray dogs. I can only presume the waves had swallowed their boyfriends and husbands, but my goodness there were lots of them. On the steps back up to North Cliff, where most hotels, guesthouses and restaurants are located, I was unfortunate enough to be walking right behind one wearing a thong, which was inappropriate and disgusting in equal measure. To show my disdain I coughed up a ball of spittle and rather majestically gobbed it into the adjacent undergrowth. She didn’t bat an eyelid - clearly she had been desensitised. Which is ironic, because she thought nothing of walking around a town famous for its 2,000-year-old temple with nothing more than a piece of string between her lobster-pink arse cheeks.


Monday 17th February

It looked so easy: a two-and-a-half train ride north to Alleppey, gateway to Kerala’s face-slappingly beautiful backwaters. I was hoping to ride another local passenger train, but the 16346 Netravati Express (a name worthy of inclusion in any self-respecting train spotter’s wet dream) that rolled in was rammed to the point of inducing a sweat-riddled panic attack. Anyone familiar with Indian trains will know that carriages have upper and lower berths, with the former acting as luggage racks during daytime journeys. Which is absolutely fascinating. Upon boarding I persuaded a disinterested couple occupying an LB (if you’ll permit me to casually adopt Indian Railways’ terminology) to let me have the window-less bench above them, which resembled a high street household goods stores. God, I sound like such a racist. Soon after jerking myself (excuse me) into a borderline-comfortable position I felt a disconcerting tickle on my upper arm. It was a cockroach, and in the ensuing frenzy I beat the six-legged scuttlebucket with that copy of 100 Years of Solitude I was boasting about in my previous post. Until it was dead. Which wasn’t easy, considering cockroaches are the honey badgers of the invertebrate world. Afterwards, I noticed the whites of approximately 50 people’s eyes on mine; their blank expressions beyond interpretation. I like to think they were impressed, but on reflection it’s more likely that my aggression repulsed them and that they were quietly maintaining their dignity after I had so violently lost mine, which made me feel smaller than the pathetic pile of bent kindling that poor, innocent cockroach, whose only crime was to find itself a new playground, had become.

Because my berth was window-less, I had no idea when we reached Alleppey. And because the gentle chugging of Indian trains is the most soporific sensation known to man, I happened to be semi-conscious by the time we arrived. Fortunately, screams of “Is this Alappuzha?” from a middle-aged German couple a couple of berths back awoke me from my slumber. We disembarked together, skipping along the platform hand-in-hand to begin the next chapter of our respective holidays. Alles klar.

A house boat on the Kerala backwaters

Tuesday 18th - Wednesday 19th February

A brief deviation: cast your mind back to when your parents picked you up from school and asked how your day had been. Chances are you shrugged your shoulders while sorting your football sticker swaps (David Batty AGAIN, Jesus Christ), mumbling something along the lines of “Fine” or “OK”, because you couldn’t be arsed to go into further detail. And your day was fine - you grew some water cress, sang a couple of songs from Bugsy Malone and learned your seven times table. In a few years you’d look back at these being among the most pleasant and carefree days of your life. Which is precisely how I feel about the nicer, incident-free parts of this trip; like, for example, Alleppey and the backwaters. I rode on a houseboat, ate some delicious Keralan food and basked in the serenity of one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited. The same goes for the next chapter, in which I travelled up to Munnar, whose surrounding hills are decorated with tea plantations and more cardamom and pepper than you can shake a cinnamon stick at.

Rest assured that things will spice up in the next post, in which I meet a man with a penchant for inserting nails into his oesophagus and… no, that’ll do for now.

1 comment:

  1. Very nice article and images are very impressive. Kerala is the Gods Own city. Varkala to Alappuzha by road is 116 km and there are many buses plying between both cities.