Daily Archives: December 10, 2017

The God of Small things

Anyway, enough of the fellow travellers, let’s get back to the Backwaters! After our really, really rough nights sleep it was good to get up and sit out on the shady verandah to have our breakfast. The fan above our heads was already whirring as the temperature in the sun must have been up in the high 80s. That day Jane and I had two plans to explore the local village , on the recommendation of the other guests. In the morning we’d take a short walk around the block to see the local village life and in the afternoon we’d go out in the traditional wooden canoe which enables you to explore the narrow waterways that the bigger houseboats just won’t get to.
Well, what a fantastic day we had! The walk around the village took us along narrow paths wide enough only for bicycles and mopeds and we slowly wandered about greeting all the locals we met. As always they were all incredibly friendly and whilst they’re not all desperate to get in your photos down here in Kerala, like they were in the north, they are more than happy to have their photos taken.
Early on in the walk I wasn’t sure I’d be able to carry on because my banana belly was really painful. But after a short break sitting on a wall I was able to carry on. Banana belly is not as bad as Delhi belly but it is painful and seemed to require me to mostly be sitting or lying down.
The colours and reflections here in the water are beautiful and it was just what I’d wanted to see here so it was great. We saw lots of lovely birds whilst we were out and especially Kingfishers which are quite large and vivid blue out here. They sit on the wires which run across the waterways helpfully making them easy to spot. The other favourite sight is of people using the river to wash everything from pots, to clothes and even themselves. I think by the time we’d finished we taken photos of pretty much everyone’s washing on the line.
After a light lunch and a short rest lying on a swinging day bed on the verandah, it was time for our 4pm canoe boat ride with Vashu. He is a tiny little 75 year old man who had worked for Xavier all his life and their fathers had done the same before this. He said hardly a word and looked very stern most of the time and he would be punting our canoe along today. Poor chap. He’d carried my suitcase in, which was probably about as big as he is, on his head the previous day so he wasn’t going to be daunted by this. Ekaterina had done the same trip in the morning and said we shouldn’t expect him to be pointing out birds or anything else of interest to us but it would be very peaceful.
And indeed it was. We set off in the long heavy, wooden canoe directly from the steps into the waterway in the homestay garden and slowly, slowly Vashu glided us along. The waterways here are mostly very narrow and quiet and they are tributaries of the Meenachal River. They’re surrounded by lush vegetation and coconut and banana trees. The waters aren’t that clean but you do pass people swimming in it joyfully after a long, hard day at work or school to cool down.
You may have heard of this river and if you have it’s probably because you’ve read Arundhati Roy’s Booker prize winning novel ‘The God of Small things’ . I’ve been reading this during our trip and seeing the place it is set in has really brought it to life, which is good because back home I was finding it a tough read! It’s become easy to picture the characters in this book (Ammu, Mammachi, Esthappen and Rahel and the Paradise Pickle and Preserve Company) going about their ill fated lives.
One of the highlights of our canoe trip came as we approached the village and suddenly we realised that the ‘normal’ blaring of music from the back of a tuk tuk wasn’t the communist party chanting like it ‘normally’ is but religious music. Along the riverbank at 5pm on a Wednesday there was a Catholic Church procession going on which most of the village seemed to have joined. We boated alongside them and although they were taking it quite seriously, I managed to get a shy wave and smile out of a few of them.
When we were ready to go back, after about an hour we just had to tell Vashu to ‘go back’ and then he did just that. It had been an absolutely awesome day. That evening we spent with Linda, the children’s author and then we also swapped rooms to the newer block hoping to get a bit of sleep. Hurrah!

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The people you meet at a Backwater homestay

When we went to Northern India one of my blog posts was about the three people you meet when you go to Varannasi. On that occasion they were all local Indian people we came across and who made a strong impression on me.
This time around I want to tell you about the different people we met at our Homestay in the Backwaters of Kerala because they were fascinating and we found it bizarre, the mix of people who rock up at this basic Homestay.
Firstly, we met a young Indian couple (Varun and Amrita) who now lived and worked in New York, USA. He was a Sikh and she was half Sikh, half Hindu. They helped run the family garment manufacturing business out of NY and were clearly from a very wealthy family. They owned and lived in an apartment near Grand Central Station in Manhattan. They were really sweet and funny and desperate to open their bottle of wine but didn’t have a corkscrew. As the Homestay didn’t have one either they had resorted to drinking the toddy complete with insects. They contemplated several alternatives but in the end we agreed to open ours and we all shared that. We chatted a lot about politics (American, UK and Indian) and travels and I particularly liked their wicked sense of humour. We’ve exchanged email addresses so I hope we will get to meet them again, maybe in NY
Next up was the tall skinny girl who was travelling by herself. It turned out that she was an International model , Ekaterina who was 35 and originated from Vladivostok in Russia. She was ‘spotted’ when she was just 16 and had then lived and worked in Japan, Paris and New York. She’d been partying pretty hard and had been travelling to India regularly in the last year to try and sort her life out. She was doing lots of yoga, Vipassana practice (hours sat in silence) and now exploring Ayurvedic healing with her ‘doctor’. She was also really good company and had been at the Homestay for about five days so was useful in terms of ‘the knowledge’. For example, she explained to us that, at this place you only have to ask and they’ll get you something, but if you don’t ask very specifically, then they’re unlikely to make an assumption. For example, if you BOTH want a banana dosa for breakfast, then you have to specify that or you’ll just get one. Ekaterina was largely travelling on her own and would be here until Jan when she had to return to Paris to work for US designer, Thom Browne. She seemed very chilled out here in Kerala so I hope she continues to travel safely and find herself, as that seemed to be what she was doing.
Finally, on our last night at the homestay we had a new guest who arrived in a taxi. She was a lovely American lady in her 60s and her name was Linda and she was an award winning children’s author and illustrator, who lived in The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina with her husband. She again was travelling by herself round India for a month. Her reason for travelling was that she’d had a bad accident about a year ago and clearly it had been very serious and she took time to recover. As a result she’d clearly decided it was time to get out there and see some more of the world, even if her husband didn’t want to go with her. She was great to talk to about writing, art and of course travels. She was having the most amazing, scary adventures. For example on day 1 of her arrival in India, she found herself being deposited by the busy roadside in Mumbai, expected to find her way onto her bus to Mysore. It sounded horrendous but she was adopted by some kindly Indian ladies who made sure she got safely on board. It was a sleeper and she had to spend the next 14 hours on there with no toilet. ‘How does that work?’ she asked herself and to be honest, we never did find out the answer to that. I loved Linda’s attitude when, having woken up on the bus the next morning she said to herself ‘Well, I survived that so everything else is gong to be ok!’ I hope that Linda again continues to travel safely and enjoy the wonderful encounters with other people that India serves up daily.
Namaste, one and all xxxx

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