Friday, 14 February 2014

I went to Cochin and Guruvayur and this is what happened...

A passing train in Kerala, India

Tuesday 11th February

5:30 am: Beep beep beep BEEP BEEP beep beep beep. The mind’s response: Goooood morning! You have served your time in the cottage, my friend. It’s time to leave Ooty. Pack your things and let’s get out of here! Yipeee! The body’s: I am very tired. It is five degrees outside and pitch black. And despite those suspicious-looking stains, this blanket feels rather cosy, doesn’t it? You don’t really care about the stains, do you? You’re disgusting. But you’re also comfortable. So very comfortable. So shut the hell up and go back to sleep. When you do, that annoyingly chirpy mind of yours will take you wherever you want to go: a spring meadow with bunny rabbits; a chocolate factory without Oompa-Loompas; maybe even somewhere less innocent like, um, Carol Vorderman’s cockpit.

Don’t get me wrong: I think Carol is one fine piece of pilot, but that last image was all it took for my mind to conquer the slumbering mass of flesh and bones it lives in, something I immediately regretted on the rickshaw ride to Ooty’s bus station. The wind-chill factor made it feel freezing, a deeply unpleasant sensation worsened by the donning of flip-flops and a wafer-thin hoody. But that didn’t really matter: in 13 hours I’d be in Fort Cochin sipping beer from a teapot by the sea, underneath a palm tree or beside a Chinese fishing net. Which at this point felt comparable to bridging the gap between Blackburn and Barbados.

The bus to Coimbatore, from where I would be boarding a train to Cochin, had already departed by the time we reached the station, but my driver had no trouble catching up and persuading Mr Conductor Man to let me clamber aboard. He looked concerned at the amount of baggage I was carrying and told me in Tamil that I could spend the journey’s duration in his seat at the front. It was just as well my language skills are so fantastic because within half an hour it was standing room only, which didn't look much fun on the precarious mountain roads. For the princely sum of 55 rupees, it was an absolute steal.

The bus from Ooty to Coimbatore
It took approximately three hours to wind down the Nilgiris (during which the temperature had risen to the low 30s) and another two to reach non-descript Coimbatore. Shortly after midday, I boarded my train compartment to find an item of unattended baggage in my seat. If this was England all hell would have broken loose, and I would have almost certainly wet myself in the ensuing panic. But this was India, so I had to man the hell up. Squinting my eyes and gritting my teeth, I placed the bag’s strap between by thumb and index finger, which undoubtedly looked super-duper camp, and pulled it slowly towards me (which in hindsight is absolutely not what a bomb disposal expert would do. Had I learned nothing from day one?). Nothing happened. THANK GOD. Feeling rather smug I sat down in my rightful place, but no sooner had I started surveying the scene from my window did the bag owner interrupt. “Sir, I placed my bag on that seat.” I won’t bore you with the minutiae of our conversation, but it ended with him condescendingly “allowing” me to sit there, despite the fact I had reserved this specific spot. Another man opposite felt my frustration and offered me an Oreo, which seemed a fitting empathic gesture, but by accepting I was actually granting him permission to rest his bare feet on the end of my seat for the next few hours. Such are the unwritten rules of Indian train travel.

I checked into my Fort Cochin hotel at 8pm and then I had a nice dinner and then I experienced an overwhelming sense of relief and then I fell asleep and dreamed of puppies and at no point did Carol Vorderman enter my subconscious.

Wednesday 12th - Thursday 13th February

I essentially tortured myself by arriving in Fort Cochin when I did. A place I know and love, this morning I had to prise myself away for a hot date with a temple town by the name of Guruvayur. 58 km north of Cochin (which I should really start spelling Kochi), the big draw here is the Hindu-only Shri Krishna Temple, particularly during Pooram season, which it happens to be. It seemed I was the only Westerner in town, which was rather exciting, and while I was able to soak up the atmosphere from a respectful distance, I wasn’t able to throw myself into proceedings, not being a Hindu and all. Which was a little disappointing. So, after another wonderful night’s sleep (this time of dreams unremembered), I boarded a local passenger train back to Cochin and engrossed myself in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, because I'm like, so well read. About two hours in I realised my arm, dangling from the window in direct sunlight, was essentially on fire. It's now as pink as Peppa the Pig’s facial blemish, and I'm in so much pain that typing this paragraph has taken the best part of a day, which means Friday 14th’s entry will really be something to look forward to.

Chinese fishing nets Cochin

Friday 14th February

I had a really nice day in Cochin. I am going to Varkala tomorrow. Which should also be nice.

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