india 1997

 

Southern India 1997

This was my first venture, even adventure, to the Indian sub-continent and to solo unplanned backpacking. I spent two weeks sunbathing in Kovalum interspersed with sightseeing around Kerala and Tamil Nadu, travelling by bus, train and taxi. It was my insight into what one might call ‘ an alternative world’, giving me much food for thought on what colonialism had done for India, and what hard work really meant

  Friday 17 October I had an uneventful check-in at LHR at 8.00 am and departed on time at 10.00 am. I made a change of plane with a 3-hour wait in Bahrain where I met a typical Brit ex-pat. returning to work in Doha, who had just married a non-English speaking Russian woman three days ago. I just didn’t ask I was one of the last to board the Trivandrum plane and when I entered the cabin I was met by the sight of a mass of brown faces, obviously staturely challenged, and all with jet black shiny hair. They were all surrounded by heaps of cabin baggage which was testing the patience of the stewardesses to their limits.
Saturday 18 October After a 1 hour drop in to Muscat I arrived in Trivandrum at7.00 am, a total flying time of c. 12 hours. During the stay at Muscat the cabin crew asked everyone to remain seated whilst they counted the passenger remaining on board. The Indian passengers kept standing up and moving around despite dire warnings. A stewardess came up to me and said in a stage whisper “they think they are on a f……….g bus”. Two sweaty hours later I had completed the endless formalities in Trivandrum Passport control and immigration, and collected my rucksack The whole airport was reminiscent of Khartoum, particularly the baggage conveyor which continued to spew out large cardboard cartons wrapped with copious amounts of rope for a full hour, all of which were frenziedly and preciously seized by their owners. I ventured out into the heat humidity and chaos of the airport car park and was inundated with generous transport offers. I eventually chose a mature Morris Ambassador (ne Oxford) taxi and even more mature driver who agreed to take me to Kovalan beach, for 200 rupees (rps). The journey of c. 25 minutes was, as it turned out later, to be very ordinary. It seemed a nightmare at the time, all at maximum speed with no concession to anything smaller. It appeared to be a constant series of very near misses. The small part of Trivandrum, which we drove through, was very crowded and very basic, dirty and dusty. Outside the town it was very
green and dominated by coconut palm trees. A strange activity, repeated a number of times, by the roadside confused me for while. I observed an old (looking) woman sitting by the side of the road shaded by a few propped up banana leaves, weilding a very long handled hammer. She was labouriously converting a large pile of large rocks into a large pile of gravel. Mechanisation had not yet reached this part of the world. I clearly need to adjust my judgement on such an onerous task – it was employment but I have no idea if it was a reasonbale/realistic earner. This, by now,  very hot backpacker started walking along a quiet hot Kovalan beach. Quiet that is, SCAN0614apart from being hounded by touts wanting to take me to “very cheap sir” accommodation. I chose instead to have a beer and take stock. I selected a very clean 2nd floor en suite double room with an Indian Ocean view (75 metres away) balcony, for 300 rps per night. My accommodation is on Lighthouse beach, the larg
SCAN0617er of the two Kovalam beaches. I spent the majority of the day walking and exploring the beach area, indulging in the occasional beer or coffee. The beach is only about 500 metres long with restaurants shops, hotels and bars in a continuous shambolic row immediately above the sand. There is no promenade – you have to thread your way along through chairs, tables and goods on display. Building development goes back about 200 metres behind the beach. No building is higher than 3 stories, a lot are only one story and temporary at that – constructed of poles lashed with string topped with woven palm tree leaves. Some building work is going on, but is difficult to judge whether it is a building going up or falling down. Johnny Walsh would not prosper here. I had a brief swim in the sea to test the water, and found it extremely pleasant. The water was warm and there is a constant supply of rollers, up to 10 feet high preventing any boredom. The beach has black sand above the high tide line and very gently sloping golden sand into the water. In the evening, the majority of the SCAN0616restaraunt displayed raw fish on a table on the beach. I passed by a number of them, receiving a reducing but earnest quotation from everyone. I selected a large snapper (from swordfish, mullet, tiger prawns, kingfish, tuna, very small lobster, and calamaris – all freshly caught here). It was quite tasty, but the bones were difficult to deal with, as I had to eat it during one of the many load shedding power cuts.
Sunday 19 October I had a breakfast of scrambled egg on sweet bread toast, at a table overlooking the sea in a pleasant 25 C. I was attracted to the eggs as an antidote to the anticipated troubles ahead. I relaxed with a few dips, read a little and fought of the beach sellers. They, in the form of boys, girls, men and women, parading fruit, clothes, beach mats, and jewellery (frequently balanced on their heads), are becoming quite a pest. In the afternoon I met group backpackers (Clare, Andy, Terry, and Alex) and picked their brains on how and what to see beyond Kovalam. It would appear that I am now, according to them, a traveller, not a tourist. I chose fish again for my evening meal, this time, a swordfish steak – a significant improvement on last night’s meal, with no bones and tastier flesh. I talked to an intere
sting girl from Chicago, Veronica, who was on her way home having just completed a two-year voluntary programme with the Peace Corp, teaching English in Armenia.
Monday 20 October This was a very lazy day. I read and swam a bit in the morning, but was confined to the Sea View restaurant in the afternoon and evening due to an extensive monsoon style rainstorm. Veronica dropped in to shelter from the rain and we had a long (and fascinating to me) conversation ranging across most of the world’s problems. The Americans do see things a lot differently from the Brits!!
Tuesday 21 October After a late breakfast and a swim I walked North to the next beach and watched about 30 chanting fishermen haul in 2 long ropes (each c.200 metres) which were both attached to a large fishing net. The whole process took an hour, all for about 6 small fish. Nobody appeared to mind. I met RichardSCAN0616 anSCAN0618d Alison who said they would like to go with me to Varkala the next day. We could therefore share a taxi and travel in some luxury at modest expense. I then walked in-land from the North beach to the post office, posted a few cards, and followed the in-land road south. I eventually, about 2km along, arrived at the top of Lighthouse Road, which took me down to the beach, at the point where I had originally arrived in Kovalam.
Wednesday 22 October I breakfasted with Richard and Allison in front of their hotel on north beach and we then took a taxi to Varkala for the sum of 500 rps. The journey took about 2 hours including a break to photograph an elephant carrying some palm leaves on its tusks, into a temple. After a couple of dubious room previews we settled for rooms in the Hill Top hotel, very close to SCAN0622the cliff overlooking Varkala beach. Varkala has a superb almost deserted sandy beach about 1 km long and nothing else other than a few very grotty looking eating places, not grand enough to be called restaurants. I had long walks in the afternoon south along the beach and north along the cliff top. A surprising number of massage parlours and beauty therapy clinics in the trees on the cliff top. I joined Richard and Alison for an evening meal in our hotel, a very satisfying chicken masala that took over an hour to prepare. This was better service than when we ordered beers at 2.00 pm and they arrived at 7.30 pm. We were told that the guy dispatched on his bike to the shop a couple of miles away, did not want to return until after dark, and then he brought and served them wrapped in newspaper.
Thursday 23October The auto rickshaw ordered the previous day arrived to collect me at 10.00 am and took me to Varkala Junction in time to catch the 11.30 train to Ernakulam. I travelled 2nd class and had a superb upholstered forward facing single seat next to the barred window and immediately to the rear of the open carriage door. I had all the leg room I wanted, good SCAN0623visibility to move around and ample ventilation. Restaurant service, either from regular tea/coffee and food sellers walking down the train or through the windows at the stations, completed a pleasant and interesting 5-hour train journey. Not bad for 43 rps fare and 20 rps for refreshments. As soon as I arrived in Ernakulam I realized my cultural introduction to India had some way to go. This was a city of c.700, 000 population, and the all seemed to in the same street as me, pipping their hooters or blasting me with their air horns. An unhappy blend of heat, humidity, dust, noise and congestion. When, for the first time I found my chosen hotel was full, and their were no other recognizable ones in sight, the backpack seemed to increase in weight, the sun appeared even hotter, And I began if this holiday was a good idea after all. All was not entirely lost and after about half an hours trudging and inquiring, I booked into the Maple Tourist Home in Canon Shed Road. Not ideal but a pleasant relief. I called somewhat hopefully, at a street pharmacy around the corner from my hotel, for some ear drops. I was most surprised to be given a choice of at least 6 brands (more than Gareth ever stocked), the one I chose, which proved to be effective, cost 25 rps. My evening meal in the Indian Coffee House at the end of Canon Shed Road was not my most successful dining experience. I ordered chicken masala and chippati, which turned out to be a very liquid version with few identifiable ingredients, and initially impossible for me to eat until the waiter responded to my request for cutlery. This was the first restaurant I had been in where I was the only person not eating with my hand.
Friday 24 October I decided to walk along the main street, Mahatma Ghandi (MG) Road to get a feel for the place and to find some place to eat breakfast. The shops are, with minor exceptions, typically Indian, but a bit bigger than I have seen to date. The air is hot and humid and laden with traffic fumes, auto rickshaws and buses being the principal contributors. The pavement in MG Road, for most of its length, are constructed of 6 by 2 foot concrete slats covering what looks like a sewer, They can project up to 6 inches above their neighbour. making daytime walking hazardous, not to mention at night during a power cut. Breakfast was paper dosa and masala. The paper dosa was a (paper) thin crisp pancake with a potato and vegetable filling. With the masala (much improved on last nights offering, containing a wide range of tasty but unknown vegetables) and three additional sauces, I was almost speechless until after the coffee. Despite the air conditioning and smart multiple waiter service it only cost 33 rps. I moved accommodation to the Bijus Hotel around the corner in Market Road, another en suite double room, but with air conditioning and a smarter hotel, I was ready for a bit of pampering. Late morning I took an auto rickshaw to Mattencherry on Kochin. I first had a quick look at the uninspiring Jewism. I made a change of plane withg Bazaar Road for about a mile. It was full of active merchants/exporters/importers for a huge range of basic commodities; rice, fruit, spices (grains and powders), rubber, pesticides, hardware, chains, ropes, generators etc. I had lunch at the northern end of the road of fish (a SCAN0625snapper) purchased from a fisherman using the old “Chinese nets” and cooked at the roadside by an enterprising mobile cook. I looked at the spectacle of c. 100 convent girls lined up in front of the Santa Cruz Basilica, making desultory exercises to a slow drumbeat and decided if this is sightseeing, I have had enough. I took a boneshaking ride back to the hotel, updated my diary and enjoyed a well-earned siesta. I returned to MG road, to the Pandhal restaurant for my evening meal. Chicken korma, nan bread and water, to the incongruous music of Chris de Burgh singing “I’ll be missing you”. I was drawn to watching the traffic whilst I was waiting for my meal. It comprises mainly of almost continuous hooting, beeping lines of weaving motor cycles/scooters, Morris Ambassador taxis, auto rickshaws and windowless Ashok Leyland buses. There are hardly any private cars. All the drivers appear to be crazy, but there is some logic to it, albeit it takes a bit of finding. Firstly you only concern yourself with what is in front of you, hence no wing mirrors or at best very small ones, giving you the advantage of a narrower vehicle. You always attempt to pass the vehicle in front of you, regardless of any circumstances. Only give way to oncoming vehicles if they are bigger, or if equal, faster than you. Cut in immediately on the vehicle you have just inched ahead of. Finally, you must sound your horn for every action you take, or would like to take. I have yet to see this fail.
Saturday 25 October I walked to the ferry terminal, c. 200 metres from the hotel, and reserved a place on a 4-hour “back water” trip starting at 9.00 am, which gave me enough time to have a street breatake me to Kovalan beach, for taken 3/4hourby mini-bus to an agricultural area with a network of “back waters”-tidal narrow waterways. We first walked between houses, and through gardens which were actually small farms. The minimum size for family subsistence was quoted to be 400 so metres. The guide, who spoke very good English, showed us the type of plants/crops grown with a limited explanation of the husbandry. We saw coconuts, cardamon, cocoa, coffee including the heavier yielding Arabica, pineapple, plus a wide range of herbs, spices, useful plant and tree leaves, all too numerous to remember. The walk was followed by a 2-hour ride in a narrow boat punted along the network of tidal waterways, which cover this enormous low-lying delta. Who should we pass, sitting on the bank in the middle of the delta, but Richard and Alison from Australia, whom I had left in Varkala. We had a couple of breaks, the first one where one of our boatmen put a loose fibre strap across his ankles, and hopped up a 30 foot coconut palm tree and cut down a coconut for each of us. He then deftly sliced the top off to reveal the inside, and with a straw I drank the water from inside. It was quite sweet but surprisingly thirst quenching. The coconut was then cut in half, and I used the original top sliceSCAN0626 to eat the thin layer of soft flesh, or milk. This is a very wasteful way to harvest coconuts. They are normally harvested every 40 days, split in half (they are now dry inside with all the water now turned SCAN0628into (solid) milk) and the upturned half shells dried in the sun. The now dried milk is removed and the shells submerged in water for 100 days, after which they are sun dried, the outer bark is laboriously removed by hand and the remaining material taken to a private or co-operative “shredder” to separate out the fibres. This coir is then spun into ropes and can be then woven into carpets or mats. On returning to Ernakulam, I spend the rest of the day having a general wander around the streets, and after many false attempts, purchase new batteries for the Psion. Having failed to find anywhere better, I take my evening meal again in the Pandhal restaurant, this time having a very pleasant lamb masala and vegetable fried rice followed by fresh fruit salad with ice cream.
Sunday 26 October I got up a little earlier than usual, at 6.30 am, paid my hotel bill for 2 nights of 700 rps, walked c. 1 mile to the bus station and reserved a seat on the bus to Kumily, the “Madurai express”. A breakfast of 2 veggie samosa’s, a piece of cake and a bottle of water prepared me for what I anticipated was going to an awesome experience of a lifetime. I was not disappointed. We set off from the bus station at breakneck speed down busy narrow streets, swerving, braking, accelerating (all at once), with the air horn almost constantly blaring. My initial thoughts were that the driver was just fresh and showing off – 6 hours later in Kumily I realized he was just relaxing, settling down and warming up for the proper drive. I had a front aisle seat on the nearside and had the full monty through the windscreen. I was genuinely amazed we did not have at least a dozen serious accidents, and that was just getting out of town. When we got out of town (as much as you ever do in India) we were motoring. What should be taken into account is that all the other buses are doing the same thing, but as an express bus we were clearly King of the road – in the 6 hour journey we were only passed 3 times to my knowledge, and that was during an interminable flat out 1st and 2nd gear stretch up the western Ghat mountains. On arrival in Kumily, at 2.00 pm, I was met by an “official” tourist office guide who gave a background into what can be seen and done in the wildlife park. He also supplied me with information and accommodation – I chose an “out of village” double room in Thekkady, with front and back balconies, and a separate bathroom, for 250 rps per night. I walked into Kumily for lunch, a large plateful of rice accompanied by masala and a range of herbs, all for 15 rps. In the evening I had meal in a restaurant that actually serves beer, with Stacey from New Zealand. Chicken masala and rice with vegetables for 70 rps. Stacey recommended the Amuthan restaurant in Madurai (near the corner of West Masi street) as a good place to eat, and where I may find help with a temple guide. It rained heavily during the meal, and the road I went out on had turned into a small river.
Monday 27 October I got up at 5.30 am, showered, and was met by Sebastian plus a German couple, and we set off on a 4-hour jungle hike. As we entered the jungle Sebastian produced anti leach powder which he spread liberally on and in my boots, and on my legs up to my knees. I was the only one in shorts and the only one to actually receive the supposedly therapeutic treatment (only 2). The hike was generally interesting, but we saw very little wild life, only black monkeys and a kingfisher. The wild life reserve is divided into 3 areas, tourist, buffer and core. I suspect that it is increasingly difficult to see the claimed range of game (elephant, tiger, barking deer) in the tourist area. I booked a place on the 4.00 pm backwater trip (forestry version) but was unable to go due to a heavy rainstorm. Took my evening meal in the same restaurant as last night, with the German couple from Frankfurt.
Tuesday 28 October I caught the 8.30 am bus to Madurai, and was settled in to the Grand Hotel, about 200 metres from the railway station and 500 metres from the Meenakshi temple, by 1.00 pm. The drive was marginally less hazardous than the drive SCAN0629into Kumily and landscape was significantly different. It changed from the predominantly trees (coconut palm) and shrubs of northern Kerala to extensive paddy fields and farm animals (cattle, sheep, goats and pigs). The rice was collected on to hard standings and threshed in one case by a small visiting threshing machine. The threshed grain was regularly spread on the road, presumably to dry. To prevent the traffic running over it, the area, covering one third or more of the width of the road, was surrounded by rocks – quite a hazard! One of the herds of cattle being driven along the road had the animals tethered in pairs with a rope through their noses – looked very effective. I thought I had seen chaotic street scenes before, but the centre of Madurai beats the lot by a long margin. Goodness knows what it’s like in Calcutta. Around the temple the roads are 100% full of parked cycles and motorcycles, “market” stalls and pedestrians shoulder to shoulder plus a few cows munching the garbage or just lying there. Superimposed on this are cycle and auto rickshaws, cars and lorries weaving and blasting their way through. I walked all the way round the temple which from the outside at ground level is a 150 metre square with a 15 foot high red and SCAN0639SCAN0635white painted stone wall containing a c.50 metre high gopuram (tower) in the centre of each side. Each gopuram is totally covered with the most highly coloured Hindu sculptures. I took some photographs of the temple from the roof of an adjacent shop and paid a price of some high-pressure salesmanship as I descended through artifacts, back down to street level. After a “cash (£’s) for rupees” transaction in my hotel room I went to the Amuthan restaurant for my evening meal. I hesitated to complain about the enormous cockroach which scuttled across the floor as I suspect their response could easily have been “only one sir”. The meal of fried chicken with chilli sauce, vegetable fried rice, chips (!!), fresh fruit salad and a Kingfisher beer (which I had to go upstairs to drink from a bottle wrapped in brown paper – like prohibition) cost 171 rps.
Wednesday 29 October I made an early morning (7.15) visit to the temple, having first deposited my sandals in a repository. There are five entrances, one each in the middle of the North, West and South sides, and two on the more favoured East side. I entered by the west side but could not find a guide so I decided to have a general look around using my li
SCAN0640mited knowledge of Hinduism to interpret the sights. After about one and a half-hours I was not able to glean any real significance from the images and peoples behavior, nor did I benefit from a visit to the museum in the room of 1000 columns. Eventually I found a guide (or did he find me) who took me round again, with excellent explanations. The one omnipresent Hindu god is represented through three forms, Bramah, Vishnu and Siva. The latter reputed to be an ardent smoker of pot. This temple is dedicated to Meenakshi, a girl born with three breasts, who met Siva where he prophesied that she would become normal and on returning home, marry Lord Sundareshwara . Following her marriage she had three offspring which were represented in various forms throughout the temple, and were responded to by the Hindu worshippers. One of her children mistakenly had his head cut off by his Father, being replaced by the head of the first person the Father looked at. Regrettably this turned out to be an elephant, hence the many images in the temple of Ganesh, the elephant headed god. In another example butter was thrown at one statue to signify displeasure, and what a mess it made, and in another case the worshippers walked seven times around Saturn.I, as a non-Hindu, was not allowed inside the inner temple. I declined my guides offer to smear a white powder on my forehead, as most other people were doing, on learning that the powder, in his words was “cow shit ash”. After completing the temple tour, with an ulterior motive, my guide took me across the road from the east entrance to a temple cum market hall. Here I was shown the original statue of Meenakshi, plus c.120 tailors labouring away at good old-fashioned treadle sewing machines. And what a SCAN0631surprise, his Father and the rest of his family were tailors, and could they make a shirt for me, “400 rps sir in one hour sir”. They did. In the afternoon I took a rickshaw wallah to the Ghandi museum the other side of town. I felt quite guilty, and very vulnerable, as this bedraggled, sweaty skinny old Indian stood on the pedals of his decrepit cycle and nervelesly threaded us through the traffic. The museum was quite an interesting but unimaginative display of Indian history from the first British settlers through to independence, 50 years ago this year. The whole tone was negative to the British, listing all the bad decisions and events perpetrated by the British Raj, with none of the benefits. Today is the Hindu Diwali festival, indicated by the dense crowds and vocal street traders all around the temple, which I regrettably encountered when I returned to the market hall to collect my new shirt. The other festival indicator was the now increasing number of extremely loud firecrackers being indiscriminately set off in the streets. The racket continued throughout the night. I completed the day with a very pleasant meal outside in the garden terrace of Ruby’s restaurant. I had to dash into the shelter of the bar when a monsoon style downpour descended, to find the festival beginning to make its mark on the locals who were all flavouring their Kingfisher beer with shots from their own half bottles of vodka and whisky. At least the rain gave me a temporary lull from the firecrackers.
Thursday 30 October I caught the 8.15 am train, which left one hour late, to Virinudunagar with the intention of connecting to the 9.30 am to Quilon, which in turn was 5 hours late. As I had not eaten any breakfast and none was available in the isolated railway station, I went by rickshaw wallah one km into Virinudinagar and bought a bottle Sprite equivalent and 4 small bananas. Poverty, for some reason, seemed more obvious here than elsewhere – there were rows of palm leaf and cardboard shelters on the edge of what was no more than a large village. Whilst waiting at the station I realized that what I had thought to be extreme irritation from mosquito bites on my legs, was more likely caused by fleas from my bed. I have a 4-berth sleeper compartment to myself for the whole time. This train is on the 1 metre narrower gauge. It is quite a boneshaker – you are bounced of your seat at times and the rocking action when you pick up a modest speed, slides you along the seat when you try to lie down. The land from Madurai almost to Kadayanallur is as flat as fenland with about half the area cultivated and reasonably productive. There are virtually no trees, but many rice paddies, quite a number of herded flocks of sheep and goats, a few saddleback looking pigs, and just before Kadayanallur I saw a few peacocks. Unfortunately it was dark (at 6.00 pm) before we reached the Western Ghats mountain range and I missed the claimed spectacular scenery. Much of the journey through the mountains was very slow. As the train struggled with the inclines, tiptoed over dodgy bridges and dealt with some sharp bends, we were reduced virtually to walking pace and there was insufficient power left to drive the ventilation fans. The train eventually arrived half a day late in a wet Quilon. I took an auto rickshaw to my first choice hotel, the Sudarsan, where I had a pleasant, clean room for 195 rps. I made a thorough cleanliness inspection before accepting! My evening meal in the hotel restaurant included a delicious carrot halwg pudding.
Friday 31 October I squeezed on to the Mangalore to Trivandrum express at 7.50 am (scheduled for 7.30). I arrived in Trivandrum at 9.30 and was tucking in to Bombay toast (fried eggy bread filled with banana and coconut and topped with honey) in the Sea View beach by 10.15 having booked in to possibly my best room yet, in the Hotel Volga Palace (adjacent to my previous Kovalam hotel, the Blue Diamond). I have a private balcony that, over a restaurant and through the palm leaves, you can just see the sea. There is considerable additional activity since my last visit in the form of demolishing and rebuilding hotels and restaurants and the painting of existing establishments, all for the new season of charter holiday makers next week. The remainder of the day was spent sunbathing or in the sea, interspersed with a splendid egg masala and nan bread lunch and a plateful of 8 enormous fresh tiger prawns cooked in garlic and ginger for my evening meal. Saturday 1 November Bombay toast and two pots of coffee in the Sea View started off the day, and despite the attractions of the now more golden sandier beach, I decided only a brief exposure to the sun was in order. After an extremely pleasant dip and a 1 5 minute walk along the beach, I reverted to the shade and brought my diary up to date. Having survived for two weeks on advice from the Lonely Planet Guide, I thought it appropriate to have lunch in their highly recommended vegetarian. I had an excellent meal of a very mild vegetable and cashew nuts curry with pashwari paratha (a pancake topped with nuts) for 45 rps. In the afternoon I made the 2 km walk over the hill past the lighthouse, into the next bay. It contained a totally untouched (by tourists] fishing village of Vishinjam, with dozens of the narrow fishing boats as in Kovalam, lined up on the harbour beach. A 200 metre ugly concrete barrage protected the harbour and the skyline dominated by a large mosque in urgent need of re-painting. The Sea View restaurant, in the form of Nelson their chief waiter/scout, were keen to supply my final meal, and after protracted negotiation, I agreed to tiger prawns, again, cooked in garlic. They were delicious, eaten in the informing company, amongst others, of Davis, an Islam hating Indian Roman Catholic masseur.
Sunday November 2 The taxi organized by Nelson was waiting at the Lighthouse end of the beach, at the duly appointed hour of 6.00 am, and by 8,30, after a frustrating and extensive tour of Trivandrum airport beaurocracy, I boarded the Boeing 767 for the 4 1/2 hour flight to Doha. As I had an exit seat for more leg room, I was joined for take of and landing by the most delightful Maryty Caine look and speak a-like, from Rotherham. She obviously perceived my needs and appeared with an unsolicited gin and tonic immediately we were airborne. This romantic interlude ended abruptly on landing in Doha, where I had a very boring 3-hour wait for my connecting flight. After boarding the aircraft for LHR, we had an unexplained one-hour delay, during which time we had a tropical downpour, which flooded the surrounding desert. We were not flying Aer Lingus!! I sat next to a TV/film director from Sweden (he directed anything from game shows to documentaries), and who had like myself, taken an unscheduled two holiday in and around Kovalam. He had only taken a short two-day excursion away from Kovalam, as he said his main purpose was to relax and meditate. I got the distinct impression that he felt he had missed an opportunity to more of India, and neither was he very relaxed. We made up most of our lost time on a 7-hour flight, only to be stacked for one hour over London, before landing. The drive back to Wales was very tiring, and with a flat battery in my electronic controller, I was fortunate in being able to start the car, but I was unable to lock the car during my service stops. I arrived home at 1.30 am Monday morning.
Reflections a week later It would be inaccurate to say that I had enjoyed all the holiday – how could you with all the delays, the heat and humidity, the bed bugs, the bus drivers…… But it was arguably the most worthwhile and fulfilling holiday I have ever had. There was a real sense of achievement that was not always readily recognizable at the time. That achievement was of course only relative to my own personal previous experience, but it enhanced my awareness, only properly recognized in the last few years, that there are a lot of things to live for in this life, and aren’t I lucky to be here to be able to do some of them. I think this view has been sharpened by experiencing the poverty and less developed state of India in contrast to not only the wealth and development at home, but also to the reticence of so many people around me at home to at least try and live life to the full. I do feel that if I had not been left on my own I would not have extended my horizons in this direction. I recall the expression “its an ill wind……….”, and it is not a totally comforting thought.