Thursday, 17 March 2011

India - The first backwaters

March 9-10

Hello everyone!

Our time in the East had come to a close. A short flight later and we touched down in India’s most south-westerly state, Kerala.

Numerous people had told us of the beauty and serenity of this region. I can’t argue with them. We visited two places – Allapuzha and Kochi – and both are delightful in equal measure. The pace of life is so different, and the people are incredibly nice. One man we bartered with in a shop in Kochi has offered me a place to stay for later in my trip…in Kashmir. That disputed, heavily-fortified place on the Indo-Pakistani border. Could be entertaining, that.

The reason they all seem so friendly is because we have a similar interest to them. This is how a conversation with an Indian will go 95% of the time:
Local: You from?
Us: England/Wales.
Local: You like cricket?
Us: Love it.
Local: Aaah, England are good.
Us: Not they’re not, they lost to Ireland.
Local: Aah but England-India tie!
Us: Yes they did.
And on and on. Surprisingly, they don’t think India will win it. They seem to think England will, which is just laughable.

It’s quite interesting to watch the cricket on TV. The number of adverts is frightening, and the number of sponsors is beyond belief. The postgame show is the worst for this. Each section – such as stylish player, best four, turning point in game – has a different sponsor. It’s extreme. The show itself is also sponsored, as it is called Phillips Cricket Extra.

We haven’t come all this way to watch TV, though. After a bumpy bus ride down to Allapuzha we found utter bliss. Kerala is famous for its backwaters, which are a large network of rivers and canals that connect to one another. It’s a cross between the Everglades in Florida and Venice. There is lots of lush greenery to be seen as the boat glide through villages of local people who are more than happy to smile and wave to you. It’s a stunning place.

Our life for three hours was to sit back and relax whilst our private little motor boat whizzed around these beautiful backwaters. It is not an experience I was expecting to have in India.

Something we did expect to achieve was eternal culinary happiness, and we are not being disappointed. In Kochi we went to a restaurant called Dal Roti. We ate at 2pm. We didn’t need to eat until 6pm. The next day. We were stuffed, but it was also perhaps the notion that we didn’t want to eat anything afterwards, as whatever touched our lips would be vastly inferior. The explosion of spice was perfection in my mouth. I had a double chicken egg kati roll, which essentially is a massive chicken kebab with egg inbetween the bread. One whole small chicken and three eggs – I now know how women feel when they are pregnant.

We also braved the stares of the local clientele to try our first local biryani. Beef biryani. Maybe those cows aren’t so sacred after all. Kerala is a bit different to the rest of India in many ways, and this aspect is just one of many. It may be linked to politics – the state of Kerala was the first place in the world to democratically elect a communist government. I don’t know if this is still the case, but the influence is communism is very visible here. State elections are on the horizon, so people are campaigning. One party is doing so with a method I saw in Korea, and never want to see in Britain – attaching a massive speaker to the back of a car and booming out their broadcast to the outside world.

I don’t really want to see bartering in Britain either. I love doing it, but haggling for a good deal is such hard work. Our methods when dealing with sellers are improving – Chris told a man selling him a drum that he had an African drum which is better, and I somehow managed to speak in French to confuse another into leaving me alone. Some shops try to steal a march on their competition as well, such as the one in the picture below. Contrary to what it says, the man actually hassled us quite a bit.

Kerala is a very nice place. At the time of writing I may be returning there, but further south. It has a charm and a serenity that I really didn’t expect, and really appreciated. There are problems everywhere, and here again we had issues with tuk tuk drivers not knowing our address, but I am a big fan of Kerala, and increasingly loving India. Next stop (after a train delay I will talk about next time)…Goa!!

Love you all


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