“Don’t go to Kerala in the rains” they said. I smiled. Born and brought up in Munnar, there is no better time I can imagine being in Kerala. The wedding in Madras done, the OA and I handed our precious brats over to my parents who were spending a week in Madras at my grandma’s village.
First stop was Thekkady. I want to know why I always get the couple making out opposite me. As it is I am a late sleeper and then I have to endure hard core making out on the berth opposite me! The OA grinned wickedly when he saw the couple opposite me slip into the berth together and turned away and fell asleep. I resigned myself to an hour of muffled sounds and much movement, only to realise that they were just lying down to chat. In soft voices that disturbed no one. Just fulfilling the nightly ritual all married couples go through. That last intimate hour when the house is quiet, everyone else turned in. When you take stock of the day. Be it the frustrations of the job, the fact that rice seems to be finishing really fast this last month, that the kids are worrying you for some reason.. and so on. Or maybe that you just missed him today because you didn’t get to talk to him as often as you do on other days or because he came back late from office.
It’s something I always watched with a certain amount of envy before I got married. Whether it was my own parents or couples and family I visited. The low murmurs that arose from each bedroom were so enviable. Laying your last thoughts out at night to an audience that is not judgmental and offers advice, comfort and sometimes just silent acceptance. I often have single friends telling me that marriage is nothing but a bond that stifles. That ‘friends with benefits’, other friends, hobbies, pets, all make up a better life than the one marriage offers. I rarely debate it with them because I cannot put into the words the comfort that this little nightly ritual offers. The comfortable silence, the sound of his breath close to my ear, the knowledge that even after his breathing evens out, I can say something and the worst he’ll respond with is, ‘Shut up, I’m trying to sleep!’… and the best, a comforting ‘Mmmm… ‘ and a response.
As I lay there thinking about it I watched others walk by and stop short as they saw the two pairs of feet sticking out of this particular berth. And then walk on. It was shockingly intimate for a train heading to a small town.
And yet, earlier in the evening the OA and I who had the lower and middle berth had spread out across it. I lay there reading with a couple of pillows under my head and the OA had his nose inside a book at the window seat. What might have raised a few eyebrows? The fact that I had my feet in his lap and he was absent mindedly and dutifully pressing my legs that now give me a lot of trouble. I have rather arched feet and now that I can’t wear heels because of my knee problem, the flats don’t support my arch and I end up with aching legs like a 60 year old! Point being, when you think about it, that is a rather intimate scene too, simply because how often do you sit in public and get your husband to press your feet. And yet trains do give you glimpses of intimacy, rare glimpses.
The drive up to Thekkady was misty and cool. We shivered in anticipation and thanks to the nip in the air. Our resort, Tusker Trails was a stunner. Our room up in the trees, on stilts. Thanks to my bum knee I avoided the serious 8 hour treks but we walked around a lot, up and down the hills, re-discovering my knowledge of hill flowers and plants. I saw Angel’s Trumpet, Morning Glory and even Passion Fruit after years!! Refreshing my Malayalam. And just soaking, soaking up the feeling of timelessness and peace the hills are full of.
I am totally a hill person while the OA is a beach bum. Probably the first sign that we’re a perfect marriage you know – agreeing on NOTHING. That and the fact that we enjoy how hard it is to place an ethnic background on either of us and that between the two of us we understand enough languages to get by most states in the country.
So on the trip we got to hear one couple talk about ‘jungle mein mangal’ (cross my heart and hope to die – I really did!) because they thought we wouldn’t understand Hindi. Another wife telling her husband that he had a five pack instead of a six pack and pointing to his tires at which point he pointed to his butt as the sixth pack. Yes, the OA speaks Gujarati pretty decently! The beauty of this is that we’re not even eavesdropping. Just standing around in queues and waiting for things to get done while people choose to talk loudly, assuming that nobody around can understand them.
What really came to my notice right across Kerala is the fact that be it small towns or Trivandrum, men still wear the mundu. It’s probably the heat but its very endearing to see that there’s atleast a small part of the country where men haven’t switched to trousers. I’ve travelled a lot through village in UP and MP and you’d be hard pressed to find a dhoti even in the smallest hamlet. Women on the other hand, are always in traditional Indian clothing, even if it is the ubiquitious salwar kameez. I don’t know how good or bad that is. So its okay for men to give up traditional wear, but not for women? And why on earth are we giving up traditional wear anyway? Okay that’s a rant I’ve had far too many times to take up again.
That said, there are no real villages there either. Barely any deserted stretches of road. Even on the longest drives we encountered homes plonked in the middle of nowhere. Some of them rather humble but with expensive Skodas and Honda Citys (Cities?) parked up front. Gulf money? I read in the news that with recession close to 5 lakh immigrants have returned to Kerala from the Gulf and the government is at its wit’s end trying to employ them. The homes they’ve built, can’t be maintained now. Very sad.
I always feel a sense of homecoming when I am in Kerala. People are warm and helpful. Even the OA who doesn’t understand a word of Malayalam managed fine because people heard him fumbling and instantly and helpfully spoke to him in broken bits of Hindi. I wore a skirt while sightseeing and not a single person bothered to stare. Kovalam beach was full of families holidaying and no one blinked when hoardes of firangs in bikinis went by. I’d like to see that happen on a similar beach like Marina or Juhu! Fortunately Delhi has no beaches, and enough trouble without them!
Our trip flew by and all we did was eat, sleep, read and take long walks. I do feel bad that the OA was slowed down by my bum knee and I did tell him to go and do all the trekking he wanted to, with other groups, but thats the other thing marriage does. It gets you accustomed to and hooked on to your partner and nothing seems as much fun as it would with them I suppose, because he just hung around me, eating, sleeping, reading and swimming and looking quite pleased with life in general.
Another little thing that made me realise we’d been married long enough! While the honeymoon was fun in all the ways it should be (!) we did have our disagreements about when we wanted to wake up, where we wanted to go for the day, what we wanted to spend and so on. Six years down and its clockwork. From packing our toilet kits to ordering breakfast, we can work silently without exchanging a word, in absolute harmony. I know what adventure activity he’d want to do and he silently suffers the museums with me. Yes, we could go our own way and do our own things, but that again is something our marriage works on. Suffering the other’s interests! And now doing it with some grace.
The backwaters were beautiful and our Ashtamudi resort was quiet and peaceful. They’re a bit of a cliche I suppose but it’s one of those experiences everyone must have. The little boats scooting around doing their business, had me dumbfounded. At some point we hopped off our boat and walked into a village where a cliched old haggard woman had a gaggle of naked babies around her. I bought a chunk of jackfruit off her and sat there and dug into it, much to the OA’s amusement. Hot fried fish, biryani, fried beef – man, we pigged out!
My favourite moment was the last stop. A little known resort in a place where the sea, the backwaters and a river meet. As the cab hurtled down twisting roads, dusty little hamlets and narrowly avoided many a mishap, the storm clouds gathered and I looked up in delight, hoping it would rain soon. And then he came to a dead end and stopped with a sudden jerk. All we could see was a beautiful bower and a rivulet beyond it. This was it? Where was the resort? And then it began to thunder and huge raindrops began to pelt us, almost as though it was the price we had to pay to get to our destination. And then from around the corner came a motor boat. Just in time to rescue us. I can’t tell you how the OA and I grinned at each other. It was just so timely, so breathtaking and so exciting to us untravelled boors.
We threw our luggage in and the motor boat sped off just as the clouds literally ripped open and the rain came down in sheets. THIS was the famed Kerala monsoon. Thunder, lightning, and waves of water lashing us, drenching the little boat and our luggage. Teeth chattering, eyes shining, we enjoyed the zippy ride through the backwaters, the greenery all the more lush, the sea looming large ahead of us. A patch of white sand appeared – an island!
And then on, to a jetty where we docked. We were at the resort. Acres of lush greenery, the waters lapping on all sides, the rains still storming around us, the skies a beautifully purple grey and a long walk up to the reception, flanked by lawns and exotic flowers. I wish the phrase God’s own country hadn’t been coined already. After what I saw, I’d like to have been the first to use it. Simply because there is no better way to describe the state. I leave you with a bunch of pictures taken on holiday.
Dipta – I’m warning you!! Any smart comments and I’m going to post my trolls to you.
Thats me looking up at a canopy of passionfruit. Apparently I loved them as a kid but couldn’t pronounce it correct and called it – partinfruit – which resulted in the ‘adults’ taking my trip and telling me its called Farting fruit. Haha. Cue for you to laugh and get it out of your system.
The resort in Thekkady, our first stop. That is our room!
The window seat in our room that I fell in love with. The room was surrounded by monkeys and birds and walking to the restaurant at night we had frogs leaping over our feet, crickets calling around us and in general a sense of exhileration. Every sound was amplified and it was almost like being out in a tent without the damp coming through your sleeping bag!
Don’t miss the lone bird sitting on that stump in the midst of the river.
Yes, that is bison. My favourite wild life story is about my growing years in Munnar. Ma would plant strawberries, cabbage, lettuce, all sorts. And the wild boar would come at night and dig it up, leaving her livid. One night she decided she was going to stay up if she heard any sounds and kick some wild boar ass. That night the sounds came, the plantation staff came running and Ma opened her window to see – Wild elephants instead of the boar! She was still ready to go out kick some ass because those were her prize winning cabbages. Apparently she had to be physically held back. Now we know that the Bean gets her butt-kicking-spirit and her chicken eating abilities from Nani, not mamma!
A herd of wild elephants hiding a baby in between. Can you spot it?! This is why I am amazed when I see young people wishing kids away or calling parents ‘breeders’ or wanting separate airplanes. Even animals instinctively take care of the young of their species, so where exactly are we going wrong, if we’re going against what should be instinct?
The hills shrouded in mist – so we evilly called up friends in Delhi to find out what the temperature was, so that we could rub it in!
Check it out! Amazing, huh?! (Dipta, I gave you ample warning so control yourself. Preeti, Candy, all of you!) I thought it was a banana tree but Dipali told me differently. She said it’s called a giant bird of paradise. Ravenala madagascariensis strelitziacea. There you go, botany lesson for the day.
This is the next stop. Our room opened up to a view of the lake. Serene and beautiful.
Presenting, tada! the lake! As seen from my door.
Driving down to Kovalam..
The backwaters. Check out the shiv ling in the middle of nowhere. I thought it was a pretty cool idea!
Kovalam beach. It used to be a topless beach a long time ago but the moral police cleaned the place up, much to the OA’s chagrin!
A group of guys making a sand turtle. I asked if I could have a picture and I have another one where they smiled and posed happily for me. In another corner a boy was being sat on by his mates while they covered him in sand and created Pam Anderson-esque breasts for him. He burst through it and pushed them away and went and flung himself on the sand in a rage. Humiliated beyond words that other tourists had seen a woman being made out of him while he was powerless to stop it. I felt a twinge of sadness. Pride and ego and humiliation all come so easy when you’re 20 something or in your late teens. I wanted to go and tell him that by throwing himself on the sand and sulking he was making it worse… No, naturally I didn’t.
People go about their daily business in canoes while we lazily float by on our cruise.
The arch at which the motorboat met us. One minute bright and colourful, the next grey, stormy and hostile.
The entrance to the resort.
The lovely lawns, with the sea beyond, look carefully.
The red bird of paradise right outside our rooms.
A carpet of flowers. I lay under it and read a book while the OA went for a swim.
The pool, for days when the beach was too stormy.