Francis (neonchameleon) wrote,

Travellog 4: All Good Things

I'm now down in Kochi/Cochin and this is where my trip appears to both have stalled and be ending. And unless my flight home is particularly amusing (as it may be - it promises to be a bad one anyway - far too long and too many changes, but better than the 41 hour train journey before flying) this is my final update.

The reason it stalled was an incident sufficient for the Indian Health and Safety Inspectorate to have got involved (not with me personally). And I'm sure by now if you've been reading my log (or know much about India) you'll know that that must have taken something depressingly spectacular. I was planning on heading to the Periyar Nature Reserve (and tiger sanctuary). But a boat sank there with 44 on board, and the boats (which are the best way to see the nature reserve - especially if you don't want to see a tiger sanctuary on foot) are therefore beached for the moment (and the inspector has been arrested). And it was a long way to go south beyond that - plus the fact I need to leave fairly soon, so wanted to be somewhere with an airport. Which means I've been in and around Kochi for almost a week, watching the world turn.

That's not to say I haven't done some travelling. First Kochi - which is incredibly hot and sweaty due to being a port. (I like to see the sea, but I detest this humidity). Portugese headquarters (with a house claimed to be belonging to Vasco Di Gama), taken over by the Dutch after the South Indian empire I mentioned in travellog 2 fell (and the Portugese had behaved abominably enough no one wanted anything to do with them), and then later taken over by the British (I think as a part of the trade of India for the world's supply of Nutmeg).l I looked at one building and thought "Bloody hell. I didn't know that colonial architecture got that stereotypical." It only turned out to be the headquarters of the Dutch East India Company.

But I'm enjoying Kochi. It is not really on the tourist trail (although there are things for tourists to do here - see the old part of the city I mentioned earlier) which means I'm not being pestered every five seconds or so by people either trying to sell me things or to con me, and instead get to see more of what is actually happening. And for all I complained about Mysore, there is nowhere in India I've felt actually unsafe in any way - just harassed.

I'm down here in Kerala in part because I like the sea and travelling round backwaters (which were lovely and peaceful although nothing spectacular), and in part because the sociology sounded interesting - Kerala has 99% literacy (with some places claiming 100%), and a decent social welfare system - but limited employment opportunities as no one invests in Kerala (I'm not sure why - I think it's been a long time since they nationalised too much). Possibly correlated with the low violence and accidental death rate, but the very high suicide rate. Anyway, one huge advantage of here is that whereas in Mysore if someone spoke English it was to probably rip off the tourists, here they speak it because they speak it - and they seem to like Tourism (it being one of the few sources of money for the region). Means it's a lovely place - and full of energy (this being the largest city in the region even if not the capital). But it's not easy to explain. It's a city with a tourist reservation attached (I'm staying in the city part but currently in the tourist reservation).

But other than see things I can't really describe without taking a long time, and go on nice quiet backwater cruises, what have I done? Gone up into the hills where things are lovely and cool to see the elephants and to watch the tea being picked. And to see some lovely views. The hills of Kerala look (like other tea plantations in my experience) as if someone had taken an idealised picture of unspoiled soft green English landscape and inflated it. Thousand metre high mountains covered in mottled light and dark green (the light green being unpicked tea bushes, the dark green having been picked more recently), plunging valleys (with some beautiful and high waterfalls - although I wish the Indians wouldn't drop litter all over them, as apparently does every other backpacker I've heard mention it). And the day we went there was low cloud cover. So although we couldn't see above us, we could look down along a valley 500 or so metres below us, and wisps of cloud clung to the mountainside like the breath of a sleeping green dragon, the mottling only adding to the effect.

Of course in order to get to that view, we had to *get* to that view. In the car of our local driver - who seemed to believe that the speed to take mountain hairpin turns was between 25 and 30 mph (the two of us in the third row of seats were bouncing around like peas in a can). That was mildly worrying even if the tarmac was fairly new (it had been dirt less than ten years ago). But even more worrying was, for about quarter of an hour, hearing this choking sound behind us - tuk-tuk-tuk-tuk-tuk. Yup, we were being tailgated over those roads and at that speed by a tuk-tuk.

(For those of you who haven't been to India (or elsewhere in the far east), a tuk-tuk is a small three wheeled vehicle with open sides, a motorcycle engine, and ... limited suspension. An integral part of India and you find them absolutely everywhere. But they really do not feel safe. Great fun tho. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auto_rickshaw )

On that trip, as well as visiting a tea factory (and being inundated by corporate propoganda) we also saw and scrubbed elephants, and watched the handlers shave them (I hadn't realised elephants were bristly creatures). I was surprised by how roughly the handlers were scraping over the elephant's eyelids as well as everywhere else when they bathed them. And amused by how most of the tourists were scrubbing with the flat of the husk rather than the edge that the handlers were using and cutting. Which brings me onto the subject of coconuts (sorry if I'm rambling).

Coconuts in India are sold everywhere as green things by men with kukris. You buy them and they hack the top off and hand you a straw (sometimes used) for you to drink the fairly pure milk inside - a nice, slightly sweet drink. Then you hand it back to the seller and he cuts a piece off as a scraper and cuts it in half so you can eat the thin layer of coconut on the inside. An older one has a much harder shell round the meat and milk - and when fully ripe they turn into the solid brown coconuts I normally think of. But that's not the cool part - not only do you eat the meat and use the outside as a scraper (or elephant scrubber or to make a ladder for toddy-tapping or...), the green outside decays into fibres from which the fairly rough coir rope (doormat quality, but pretty strong) that you find everywhere. You use every part of the coconut (and not as fertiliser), and the number of uses brought to mind Flanders and Swann's Wampom http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rgxKeezq7DI

Tuk-tuks and coconuts. I'm rambling. But I hope these updates have been entertaining reading and given some clue about my trip to India and what I've found. And I fly home between tomorrow evening and Friday so this is me signing off from India. Hope to see many of you soon.
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