Incredible India

Posted: October 11, 2011 in Uncategorized

Well hello from Kerala… South West India.

Here’s a quick run down of events..

Pokhara… All in all – 8/10…. I highly recommend.

Someone told me that Kerala is the most relaxing part of India. Beaches, backwaters, the origin of Ayurveda, Yoga everywhere, you name it. After a bout of HAPE, I think it’s worth considering. So I take a tiny plane from Pokhara to Kathmandu, the same rickety plane I described to you countless times, flown in the same manner, with the same risks! I land in Kathmandu, settle some final bills with Babu (our logistics guy- always smiling). We stop at his golf club (very fancy) to kill some time in between flights. I order a cheese toasty and an ice tea, some monkeys come to greet us:

I jump on a more sophisticated… medium size plane for my two hour flight from KTM to Mumbai. Wish I had my camera to show the shanty town(s) on our descent to Mumbai Int’l (Largest slum in the world apparently). Overwhelming. In Mumbai my layover is a couple of hours, and luckily I don’t need to transfer to the domestic terminal. From there I board a jumbo jet bound for Saudi, stopping in the “capital” of Kerala- Trivandrum.

I have arranged to live at a “homestay” – India’s version of B&Bs. You basically rent a room and live with an Indian family. There I got to meet Giles and Sylvia (brother and sister)- my hosts. Probably the most wonderful hosts on the planet. Giles has been a graphic designer since the 70s, he’s a little guy, full of geeky knowledge of things, and loves to converse. I was the only guest there and we ended up chatting for hours every day. What a great man. Fantastic place. They inherited it from their grandfather and built an annex for guests to live in. Within their land they grow organic fruits and veggies that they serve at breakfast. Fantastic papayas. I ate breakfast and dinner with the familia almost everyday. Giles’s wife (who’s name escaped me very quickly) cooked every meal. One of the things about Kerala, is the cuisine… I can’t get enough of it! I have had dish after dish, and if you bear with me I will try to describe in time. My room balcony gives onto their groves and some epic sunsets:

Doesn’t get more relaxing.

I do my washing… And learn how to use a semi-automatic washing machine. A 60’s timewarp. Works like a charm. They have 4 dobermans that guard the house, they release them every night. I love dogs, but these guys are not pets… They are there to kill any intruder. They were mean to me 😦 Funny thing… There is a mosque in the distance… and when the call to prayer happens the dogs start howling for the first 60 seconds, then stop. I guess in this part of the world… if it’s not a rooster, its going to be dogs howling 5 times a day right? I figure its the perfect wake up call for my morning yoga session which I’ve organised with the world famous Sivananda yoga centre.

They send me my yogamaster – Jinu… Every day at 6:30. Great way to start your day! He’s shorter than giles, maybe 5’4. He’s strict – doesn’t quite beat me with a stick but still… You don’t wanna make any mistakes with this guy. We train every morning on my balcony. We start with a prayer of which I understand not a single word. This is followed by about 40mins of breathing exercises that I must say I really enjoyed- you truly mellow out. Then the hard work starts. Starts easy then gets really tough. Sivananda is known to hit you with some hard moves every now and again even though you are a complete beginner (like moi).

The balcony:

We finish our session with another Hindu prayer I do not understand the words to.

Its now about 8am. I go downstairs to the kitchen for breaky. This ranges from a boiled egg curry, to rice flower with coconuts and banana to egg toasties! Always very filling.

Being in the epicentre of Ayurveda, I decide to book myself for a week-long treatment. On the first day my Ayurvedic doctor met me, took my pulse and blood pressure. 100 / 70. Apparently a little low. So he suggests I do some treatments that will sort it out, rejuvenate and energise me. I’m in. This happens every day at 9 and takes 2 hours, so by the time i’m done i’ve got the rest of the day to explore.

A note on Ayurveda…It’s ancient. Like before Christ ancient. Its an alternative form of medicine. Hinduism being a serious focal point of the medicine. Everything gets done in 3s or 5s. So you can’t just rock up for a quick-massage. Some people come for 2 weeks to 2months to even 3months of the treatment. I settled for a week. So I got two treatments 3 days each:

The first intro day, I had an full body oil massage- only thing is, the massage table is made entirely of one piece of wood. Carved out of an enormous tree, no joints. Impressive I think… Until I lie down on the WOOD surface. What… no padding? No sir… The wood, is medicated apparently. Uncomfortable beyond words… But medicated. Ouchies. After the massage they give me a steam treatment. Also archeic. This is what it looks like (sorry picture borrowed from another source). Really weird. The steam, is medicated… Thats all i know.

3 days of oil treatment. After a full body massage they set up a contraption where hot oil (medicated..) is poured onto your forehead for 30-40mins. Amazing feeling. It claims to release any trapped nerves and improves brain flow. Must be the medicated oil… But it does work.

Almost there…

3 days of more oil treatment. Same as above but on your entire body. Hot oil. And yes… medicated! They first pound you with small wrap of leaves that have been prepared overnight. These leaves (with medicinal properties) get boiled with other herbs and rapped tightly in cloth-balls. They heat these balls in hot oil, and gently tap you all over with it.

By the end of the week I’m feeling refreshed. Please go to this place if you want to be brought back to life! It is right next to Giles and Sylvia’s ($40/night, inc breaky), and a week long’s treatment will set you back about £120 ($240)- Very small price to pay vs UK/Rest of World prices.

Advice, do not do more than a week of treatments, it gets very repetitive… and OILY.

I end it with a handshake. He gives me a pill, says take it at 6am. It is for purging he says. You will “go to the toilet” 5-6 times, so make no plans. You will also feel nausea, and stomach cramps. I say thank you and put the pill in my pocket. I leave the centre, I take the pill out of my pocket and into the next trash can. F that.

During my days I take walks and rickshaws everywhere:

Loads of fun, filled with close-calls. Story of my trip… and I’m used to it by now!

I sip on Chai while being stared down by a one-legged crow. I see the occasional rodent (will not go into detail here). Explore the city. Very busy. Very loud. Very horny. Car-horns that is. Unfortunately. Alcohol is hard to come by. It is only sold in state run shops. Strangely similar to Sweden’s systembolaget, minus the uniformity. Trivandrum is the first city in India that took to communism. There are hammer and sickle grafitis everywhere. It has the best religious cohesion in India i’m told. Giles tells me his muslim neighbours invite him for Iftar during ramadan and they return the invites during Easter and Christmas, same for Hindus. They are famous for having a church, mosque and hindu temple all in the same block in the city’s bustling centre.

I ate at an Indian Coffee House. Probably the most interesting dining experience of my life. You sit and ask for a meal. There is a no menu, you get what they are serving that day. They slam down a huge plate of rice with a poppadum on top. With it comes a fish curry, grilled fish and a plate of condiments (Curry powder and pickled lime were the only ones I recognised… I probably should have asked about the others). You eat with your right hand (big faux pas to use the left- which is traditionally reserved for wiping your ass and putting shoes on, right is for eating and hand shakes… what if you’re a lefty?). It’s eat all you want, the only way to signal the end of your meal (and their incessant re-serving/topping up) is to get up and head to the sinks where you wash your hands. Fantastic and filling meal, for $1.20! including a coffee!

I took the bus to Kovalam beach. A beach resort 45mins away from Trivandrum. I went from struggling to find tourists in Trivandrum to struggling to find locals in Kovalam. Culture shock. Still, it was nice to spend the day at the beach. I had a beer and a meal, and witnessed a phenomenal sunset (10/10!) I managed to snap a shot:

Had to hit you with the larger size…

Heres one with my meal:

A good end to a good day? Nope… The bus ride back. I faux-pas. I always thought with my Middle Eastern background I could dance around faux pas’ing in most of the world. But I managed it. I sit next to a woman at the front of the bus. It takes me a while to realise why all the women at the front of the bus were giving me dirty looks. The ticket man asks me kindly to sit at the back of the bus, where there is no space, I say no thanks. He asks again. Please sir, move to the back of the bus. The penny drops. All the women sit in the front and the men in the back. I get taunted at in Hindi, I have no idea what they are saying. I quietly move to the back. I spent the rest of the bus-ride in some dudes arm-pit. Nice. A kodak moment I couldn’t capture. I witness countless fights. All in Hindi. Probably about bus fares. No clue.

On my last day in Trivandrum I walk through the market.

Its full of colour. The market. I understand it. Its the closest thing to my work. Its sales. Its the trading floor. Its the screams and the shouts. I walk past the banana lady. “More banana’s than you can throw a starving monkey at” according to lonely planet. Very true. I snap a shot for your enjoyment.

All the big food groups are here. I walk through the market during the “rush”, when everyone is finished with work and are on their way home. They need their fresh groceries. Hence the rush. Screams in Hindi. Fresh Fish! Fresh Garlic! Fresh fresh fresh. I stop to ask where they get their produce. Some local some from abroad. They are proud of their produce. The fish so fresh you need to slap it. I pass through the salted fish section. Very smelly.

I walk by the onions and garlic. So colourful..

Can’t get enough of this place. But I have to move on. I leave Giles and Sylvia’s, move further North towards the coast and head to Varkala. Where I now write to you.

I promise the next one will be shorter. I hope you enjoyed.

But until then…I remain forever yours.


PS… Here’s a monkey I saw on the road. What a sweetheart. Love my monkey piccies…


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